For those sugar conscious, you can adapt this recipe to have no sweeteners. Add some extra lemon or sprinkle some salt on top.
Just like all our recipes, you can substitute the Hazelnut Cacao Butter for any of our other nut butters, so if you prefer a sugar-free recipe, try one of our Almond Butters in place of the Hazelnut Cacao.
I am often really amazed at the things that I have learned since starting this business, as the most important lessons or bits of knowledge are things that I never anticipated.
One of those things – and I know that I am really giving myself away here, so please forgive me – is the relative scarcity of really good local ingredients. I’m not saying it’s not there, it’s just that it can be vey hard to find and secure an ongoing supply of.
Before I started 99th Monkey I had very little to do with primary food suppliers beyond the occasional visit to farmers markets and some friends and family who are farmers.
So going into this whole thing I was quite naïve. When I decided that I wanted to use local, organic ingredients I blithely assumed that they would be readily available – it would just be a matter of being prepared to pay extra for them. Of course it is not that simple. For one thing, there are a lot of organic products that Australia simply does not produce – cacao (with one small exception), sweeteners such as coconut sugar, and many types of nut (almonds being the one significant exception to that rule).
Luckily for me I managed to find the one organic peanut farmer in Australia and get some nuts from then. Thus I assumed that part of my job was done and I could get on with building an organic Australian peanut butter business. It did not take long – on my second order in fact – for me to learn that even if you have a direct line to the one grower of organic peanuts in the country that is no guarantee they’re going to have enough to supply you with. And so it has been for me for the past three seasons – never having enough of those wonderful peanuts to satisfy the demand of my lovely customers.
While this can all be very challenging, it also has a very rewarding side. Number one is the thrill associated with finding those ingredients that you have wanted so desperately for so long and that you know nobody else is using. Then there are the relationships that I have formed with the people who grow the food that I use, such as the lovely couple down in Gippsland who grow my hazelnuts and the ever-cheerful Eric who grows pistachios just outside of Mildura in north-west Victoria.
And another, simpler pleasure is the simple joy of receiving the first produce of the new season – particularly if it’s bee a good one for the farmer, which means better produce and happier farmers and is always cause to be happy.
It’s that time of year right now and luckily it has been a good year for hazelnuts and the pistachios are looking green and beautiful. I am still waiting to hear a final report from my peanut farmers (though the reports out of East Timor are good), but the last I heard things weren’t looking great, so I have my fingers crossed there – both for their sake and for mine.
Regardless of the outcome of each particular season, one thing this whole experience has impressed upon me is how unpredictable our food supply really is and how much we take it for granted when really we should all be so thankful for the food that we have access to and the people who produce it for us.
Just recently I’ve started listening to Marvin Gaye, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do so! I know I’m not the first to say this, but What’s Goin’ On is a beautiful album.
If the album has a low point artistically, I’d have to say it’s track four – Save The Children. As beautiful as it sounds (let’s face it, the whole album sounds incredible), it is just way too cheesy for even Marvin’s incredible voice to pull off convincingly.
That said, the message is sound. And the song has been in my head ever since someone gave me a Lindt chocolate bunny for easter. You may think I’m drawing a long bow you here, but stick with me.
As you’d know by now, I put a lot of time and effort into making sure the ingredients I source are not just healthy and sustainable, but have also been ethically sourced and produced. This is part of what I believe to be the quadruple bottom line of good food production – delicious, healthy, environmentally sustainable and ethical.
Of all the reasons I choose to use specific ingredients, I’d say there are two that really seem to cut through with customers. The fact that I’s organic, and the fact that it’s local (in that order). Then there are the facts that my products are refined sugar, gluten, dairy, preservative and palm oil-free.
Another point that I am really keen to make to my customers is that not only is the cacao I use raw, organic and delicious, it’s also Fairtrade. The thing is, I’m often struck at how far down the list of priorities this seems to be for a lot of people. Which brings me back to that Lindt bunny.
According to World Vision’s Chocolate Scorecard, Lindt is just one of five of the major chocolate brands that does not use ethically sourced cocoa in it’s entire range. I was shocked to see that Green and Blacks is also on that list. So too is Ferrero, which makes Nutella.
Given what we know about the use of slavery and child labour in the cocoa industry, I find this really upsetting. More so because I feel that many people are either unaware of the full extent of this issue, or are somehow inured to it.
That’s why from now on if you see me in a market or a store talking about my products, you may notice that I am spending more time talking about the importance of fairtrade practices in procuring my ingredients than I do about their other good attributes. Not because I believe that eating organic or local or palm oil-free is any less important, but because I feel that in the process of raising these issues up in the public’s consciousness, the issue of human exploitation is being drowned out, and as a committed humanist, I believe it needs to be placed front and centre in our minds and our decision-making when we are buying food and other products.
These are not just personal decisions we are making when we buy food or indeed any other product, they affect the lives of many people, often in multiple countries, and we need to be conscious of the role we play in that. I believe that food is political, and every item that you buy is a vote for the kind of world that you want to live in. And I for one shall never vote for slavery or any other kind of human exploitation.
Until next time, may all of your ideas be irrepressible.
When people ask me whether my products are vegan, or whether they have palm oil, my first thought is not about why I do not use those kinds of ingredients in my products, but rather to wonder why on earth anyone would feel the need to make nut butters that do include them.
Michael Pollan writes that, as a general rule, you should be suspicious of any food that contains more than six ingredients. When it comes to peanut butter that number can be reduced to two.
If there is anything more than peanuts and salt in your peanut butter, then there are a few things happening. First, the manufacturers are trying to mask the taste of the peanuts they’re using because they’re most likely from the bottom of the barrel. That explains the sugar in most commercial peanut butters.
But what about the rest of the ingredients? Last time I looked, the biggest producer of peanut butter I can think of had nine ingredients listed on their product.
These are there for three reasons. One, to make the product last a ridiculously long time on the shelf. Two, to achieve that bizarrely smooth paste consistency that no natural peanut will ever achieve. And third, simply to pad the thing out with stuff that’s even cheaper than the cheapest peanuts.
This is the approach of big food companies, and this is the reason I am so passionate about doing what I do. These companies don’t care about food or about nourishing the people who buy their products. All they care about is making as much uniform product as they can for the lowest cost possible, and then passing it off as food through concerted marketing.
It is this kind of approach that leads to the large-scale adoption of products like palm oil as a key ingredient, despite its massive environmental cost.
Of course because of this I would not use palm oil in any of my products even if it did add to it’s flavour or quality in some way, but that is not the reason these companies are using it. They are using it simply because it is cheap and it’s easy and they really do not care about the consequences of that choice beyond its influence on their bottom line.
That strikes me as perverse and unforgiveable, and I can promise you that it will never be the way that I do business. That’s what I mean when I say that I aim to make food without compromise – so you do not need to feel compromised when you’re eating food that you enjoy.
Until next time, may all of your ideas be irrepressible.
It’s funny how much things can change over time, and what things stay the same. To look at 99th Monkey now, you would have no idea that my initial idea for the business was to make one product and one product only: cocoa-nutty butter.
That is my version of chocolate peanut butter and it was the whole reason I started this business. I loved that recipe. I still do. However it was not as popular as I thought it would be. In fact, I don’t even sell it anymore. But I do still make it for myself to eat at home.
While I no longer make that particular product, the ethos that drove me to create a business around it remains. The idea was simple – I wanted to do something that nobody else was doing. Over time, as I added peanut butter and almond butter to my repertoire, that ethos expanded to include the following caveat – if what I was making wasn’t entirely original, then it had to be better than anything else like it. This quality is not just limited to the flavour – it also had to be uncompromised in the nature and provenance of its ingredients (the healthy/sustainable/ethical factor).
That is why I was so excited about being able to source my peanuts from the only organic peanut farmers in Australia. How many times have you looked at a food product and been happy that it’s organic, but disappointed that it’s been imported from halfway across the world? Or happy that it’s made here in Australia from local ingredients, then bamboozled by the long list of ingredients and numbers that look like it’s more science experiment than food? That happens to me all the time, so I wanted to make sure what I put out there into the market place for other people to consume was different. I wanted what I put in it to be so simple in terms of where it comes from and its nutritional value that it would be a no brainer for people who care about the food they eat.
However, being so particular about where I get my ingredients from does gives rise to its own set of challenges. For example, some time in April I will run out of those organic Aussie peanuts until the next crop is ready to go in October. This will be the third year running that I have faced that challenge, and this time around I have had to think hard about my alternatives.
All of the other organic peanut butters in Australia are made using nuts imported from either China or Argentina. I’m not prepared to do the same for two reasons. First, I’m not keen on importing ingredients from so far away when I’m sure they can be sourced from somewhere much closer. Second, why would I just want to do the same as everyone else?
So all of this has driven me back to an idea I had before I had even sold my first jar of chocolate peanut butter. In late 2012, I visited East Timor and while I was there I learned that not only do they grow a lot of peanuts, but everything grown there is organic as the people have never had enough money to be viewed as a worthwhile market by the big chemical companies. I even visited a community that grew peanuts in the region of Baucau, and I was struck by the idea of one day importing their peanuts into Australia.
Timor is still a massively underdeveloped country, and a huge majority of the population are still subsistence farmers with little or no participation in the broader economy. This is a big challenge for the nation as it develops, and it is one of the things that prevents so many people from those farming communities from accessing the basic things like a year-round supply of food and clean water, not to mention education and health care, that they need to improve their lives.
So with all of those things in mind, I have been quietly building a plan to establish a direct trade relationship with peanut farmers in East Timor – bringing them a fair price for their products and contributing to the development of their communities, while also ensuring a year-round supply of organic peanut butter for 99th Monkey fans. And believe me, these peanuts do not represent a compromise in terms of flavour. I received a sample of them late last year, thanks to my friends at Wild Timor Coffee who carried them back for me, and they are delicious!
I am now just waiting until the crop is ready in May and then I plan to head over there to make a final agreement with the farmers and get those peanuts back here. They aren’t certified organic (nothing in Timor is at the moment, but I am looking at ways to get them certified in the future), but I believe that this is an exciting way to make a great product that really does have a positive impact on the lives of all who play a part in making it. Who says peanut butter can’t change the world?
Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning of this post – it really is funny to see what’s changed and what stays the same. In a way, my plan to import Timorese peanuts is a big departure from the way I have done things through the life of my business (at present I only use Australian nuts). But in another way, I am staying true to an idea that has been with me from the very beginning of this adventure. I guess for me the lesson is that you never know where business is going to take you, but so long as you can stay true to the principles that led you into it in the first place, then you’re probably on the right path.
Until next time, may all of your ideas be irrepressible!
There’s been a bit of controversy swirling about in the health food industry over the past few weeks, with the scandal over Healing Belle and the veracity of her life story, and then chef Pete Evans’ widely repudiated advice about Paleo baby food.
While I’m not qualified to give a commentary on either of those cases specifically, it does remind me of a promise I made to myself when I started out with this business – I will never make a health claim about my food that is not widely supported as fact.
I do believe that good food is medicine, but I do not believe that specific foods should be sold as specifically medicinal. There is so much good, natural food out there for us to nourish ourselves with in order to give ourselves the best opportunity for good health. But human nutrition is a complex thing and much about it remains unknown, so I feel that by concentrating on whatever certain aspect of nutrition that is so hot right now (antioxidants are a bit passé now, but there was once a time where you couldn’t eat anything that didn’t claim to contain enough of the things to wipe out entire continents worth of free radicals in a single serve – I suppose the current equivalent is all those perfect proteins we’ve apparently been languishing for so long without), we risk neglecting the balance and variety needed to satisfy our remarkably resilient omnivorous constitutions.
If I were to subscribe to the approach of any one person towards food, it would definitely be that of American writer, Michael Pollan. Pollan writes that the best advice he knows of pertaining to diet is this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He explains that by food he means stuff that occurs in nature – stuff that your great grandmother would recognise as food, and not all of those edible food-like substances that are marketed to us – both as mainstream and supposedly natural, healthy alternatives. His essay, Unhappy Meals, remains one of the most enlightening and liberating things I have ever read on this topic.
It is with this approach in mind – which I have paraphrased for myself into the maxim simple food is good food – that I set out to start my own food business. I mean, you can’t get much simpler than peanut butter (at least the way I make it!)
As I spend a lot of time selling my products in farmers markets and health food stores, people frequently ask me what are the health benefits of my products. To this I really only have one answer – they’re simple and natural and nourishing, and in the end that’s what food should be. The way I see it, I am always striving to make my food as healthy as possible, but I did not set out to make health food per se.
There are two more dimensions to what I make, however. Simplicity should not be an excuse for blandness, so each product has to be able to stand on its flavour alone if it’s going to provide a really compelling alternative to all the sugar and salt-loaded processed foods out there. But when you’re using lovingly produced natural products that are out there in abundance (if you know where to look), then really that is not so hard to achieve.
Then there is the ethical aspect. I felt when I was developing these products that I wanted to make really good food – that is food that you can feel unconditionally good about eating because not only is it good for your health and it tastes amazing, but it is also good for our planet and the communities that produced it. The truth of the matter is that I did not start out on this journey fully convinced of the benefits of organic farming (that has come since), but I did know for certain that I did not ever want to use an ingredient in any of my products that had reached me as the result of any kind of human exploitation. It just so happens that all of the cacao that I found that is Fairtrade is also organic, which is what set me down that path, though that is a story that is probably best left for another day, which is what I shall do.
Until next time, may all of your ideas be irrepressible!