Like fruitless hot cross buns and morning alarms, chocolate provenance is too often ignored or given little thought over Easter. Now an award-winning chocolatier and "cacao evangelist" is encouraging Australians to consider how cheap chocolate is made and support South Pacific farmers instead of supermarkets.
"Many first-world kids grow up believing that a rabbit lays chocolate eggs for them to scoff," says Jessica Pedemont, director of social enterprise South Pacific Cacao.
"It's a far more palatable tale than the truth that farmers in developing tropical countries risk their lives to produce cacao [the seeds from an evergreen tree used to make cocoa and chocolate].
"Traders pay these farmers barely subsistence prices, while commodities wholesalers and exporters generate bidding wars over beans that earned their grower a pittance. All this before a single square of chocolate is made."
With the goal of empowering cacao farmers in the Solomon Islands, Pedemont has created a limited run of "Ethical Easter Eggs" for 2021. Shaped like a cacao pod and available from the chocolatier's online store and Haberfield shop, all sales of the "eggs" will support the social enterprise to keep working with farming communities in the south Pacific.
The pod eggs are 75 per cent dark chocolate, using cacao from Foxwood village, near Honiara in the Solomons. Each is filled with a special paste made with native ngali nuts, which Pedemont says taste like a cross between a pine nut, cashew and macadamia.
"We use ngali because I don't know anyone else bringing it into Australia. I put in pesto and my Italian family thinks it's amazing. The eggs also contain desiccated Solomons coconut and vanilla from Papua New Guinea. These are beautiful ingredients that deserve a global platform."
Pedemont began her hospitality career in the 1990s at Rockpool before working in Michelin-starred pastry kitchens in the US and Europe. She launched Sydney-based sweets business Chocolate Artisan in 2008 and, eager to know more about the source of her ingredients, also worked for a time at a Hawaiian cacao plantation.
It was in Hawaii that Pedemont met Brisbane entrepreneur Brian Atkin, whose Solomon Islander family are cacao farmers. Together they formed South Pacific Cacao, which borrows equipment and floorspace from Chocolate Artisan.
"Brian already had a business selling Solomon Islands sun-dried organic cacao beans to Europe, North America and Australia," says Pedemont. "After getting to know each other over five years, it just made sense to start a social enterprise."
Atkin's company, Makira Gold, aims to eliminate the smoke-drying beds stoked around the clock by cacao workers suffering crippling respiratory issues. New solar drying methods in the Solomons have produced a premium, single origin cacao that now earns double what the farmers received when selling to Asia for mass-produced confectionery.
As co-director of South Pacific Cacao with Atkin, Pedemont's job is to craft Solomons produce into premium bean-to-bar chocolate for the Australian market. Proceeds flow directly to the communities that grow the ingredients.
"We want to lift the bar for ethical supply chain partnerships, making fairness and transparency the norm and directly supporting rural communities with other projects," says Pedemont.
A parcel of six small Ethical Easter Eggs costs $24, significantly more expensive than the bags of treasure hunt eggs found in supermarkets. South Pacific Cacao chocolate bars start at $13.20.
"A chocolate bar should never cost $1," says Pedemont. "When someone takes a lot of care to make something special and delicious, then yes, more than likely it will be expensive. Profit margins aren't huge when you don't cut corners."
As a general Easter buying guide, Pedemont suggests aiming for eggs and rabbits with 60 per cent dark chocolate or more.
"It means you'll be eating more cacao than milk powder and sugar. Also look at the ingredients list. If there are any trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable fats, palm or kernel oil – any of that disgusting stuff – put it back on the shelf and walk away."