Posted : 2014-01-19 18:39
Updated : 2014-01-19 18:39

Peralta adds biodynamic element to premium chocolate

Santiago Peralta, founder and CEO of Pacari Chocolate of Ecuador, explains the biodynamic nature of his premium products at COEX in southern Seoul, Saturday. / Korea Times photo by Nho Joon-hun

By Nho Joon-hun

For Santiago Peralta, creating premium chocolate is much more than a business; it is about diversity, originality, flavor preservation and the addition of a "super-organic" element.

Peralta and his wife, Carla Barboto, have not been making what they call "biodynamic" chocolate for long. Their company, Pacari, was only founded in 2001.

The Ecuadorian entrepreneur said he went into the chocolate industry mainly because while his country is famous for cacao production, there wasn't any fine chocolate brand to match this reputation.

"I wanted Ecuador to be known not only as a cacao producer but also a world-class chocolate maker," he said in an interview with The Korea Times at the COEX Inter-Continental in southern Seoul, Saturday.

His desire was to put the terroir of Ecuador, which Peralta is convinced is by far the best cacao producer on Earth ― trailed by a distant Venezuela ― into his chocolate and to share it with the world, using a biodynamic farming method for the first time ever in chocolate making.

He is spreading the organic farming method and benefiting more than 3,000 farmers by paying them more for their cacao through programs of organic and biodynamic certification, even creating a school of organic agriculture.

"These efforts not only protected the environment but also revolutionized the industry in both Ecuador and Latin America," said Peralta who is in Seoul to participate in an industry exhibition.

Getting more technical, he said the biodynamic movement wants to go beyond the overused term organic. He believes biodynamic agriculture is a step further than organic. It yields a superior product. He also thinks it's the future for chocolate ― and sustainable agriculture.

"Biodynamic agriculture is based on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, who launched a more holistic agricultural method. It's an anthro-posophical movement ― a new way of thinking," Peralta said. "It's much more homeopathic than organic, and much more esoteric than organic."

Established in the 1920s, biodynamic agriculture steers away from the view of the farm as a factory. Its goal is not to boost production or sales, but to achieve biodiversity and abide by natural rules, lunar phases and planetary cycles.

Farms focus on self-renewing practices and self-dependence. Fertilizers are not imported. Instead, they are developed naturally from products inside the farm, with specially prepared medicinal plants, minerals and composted animal manure. Biodynamic fertilizers are often compared to homeopathic remedies for humans.

Pacari's successful business model and superior product quality is being recognized by prestigious global chocolate awards.

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association named him the Outstanding Chocolate Maker for 2013, making him the first in Latin America to receive the honor, pushing aside chocolatiers from the likes of Switzerland and Italy.

Peralta was actually in the business of growing the world's first organic flowers but it dawned on him that there could be a more productive challenge in creating premium chocolate from the enormously wide range of superior cacao in his home country, rather small with a population of 15 million and a per capita income of $8,500 (2011).

"Conditions are exceptionally ideal for growing cacao in Ecuador but the margin for this agricultural activity is much lower than fruits like mango," Peralta explained.

Despite this reality, the cultivators have been taking it upon themselves to preserve diversity ― with no pressure from the government ― and he was determined to make good on this commitment.

All of the production takes place in Ecuador, which virtually sits on the equator in South America, and will remain so if the Peraltas have their way.

Pacari ― meaning dawn in the Inca language of Quichua ― has been growing at an annual rate of about 25 percent and it hopes to continue to do so for another few years before leveling off for fear of becoming too commercial.

Perhaps fortunately for Korean chocolate enthusiasts, Pacari will not remain unfamiliar for too long since Peralta is planning to bring the exclusive brand here to Korea in the first half of this year.

"I am happy for the opportunity to introduce our biodynamic chocolate to Korean customers through Salon du Chocolat, Seoul," he said, adding that his brand has gained quite a following in 32 countries around the world.

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