Don’t be dismayed if you just get a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. That box of creamy goodness represents millennia of some of the most prized confection known to human history.
Actually, chocolate wasn’t always a confection. Early on, in its native Central and South American cultures, it was known as the “bitter” drink.
The cacao bean, from which chocolate is derived, would be fermented and then roasted before it was ground into a powder that would be mixed into a hot beverage. In Mayan, Olmec and later Aztec cultures, the drink was primarily known only to the wealthy.
“It was always something of high value,” says Kathy Dowdy, owner of The Chocolate House in Southgate Mall.
Dowdy has been a chocolatier for seven years now. It’s something she had always dreamed of and when she first opened her shop in 2007, she began a tradition of fresh, high quality chocolate in a market saturated with mass-produced confection.
“It was once used as commerce,” says Dowdy of chocolate’s long history.
For just about all of its history, chocolate has been used as a drink. Even the earliest sweet, milk chocolate was served as a liquid, before the creation of a process that would produce solid chocolate.
According to the journal Antiquity, the earliest recorded use of chocolate was by the Olmec people of what is now Mexico. The cacao bean would be used to make the bitter drink that was believed to fend off fatigue and would eventually find favor with the European invaders.
The drink would remain bitter until it was brought to Spain. In Spain, like with the Americas, the wealthy class prized the cacao bean.
“It used to be only for the royalty,” said Dowdy.
In Spain the vanilla, cinnamon and other spices were added to the drink.
Eventually sugar would be introduced and in the 17th century the first milk chocolate drink would be created in Jamaica by an apothecary. The recipe would one day be sold to the British Cadbury brothers in 1897.
In the 19th century names such as Lindt, Nestle, Cadbury and Hershey would become synonymous with chocolate. The confections would become mass-produced and today these names are still producing the sweet product in many forms.
Although chocolate is mass-produced, it is inevitable that someone such as Dowdy would come along and bring us back to its roots as a specialty item. Her chocolate is no mere hunk of candy thrown into a nice display case.
“We use real chocolate and we temper it ourselves at the store,” said Dowdy of a process that keeps the chocolate at a certain temperature allowing it be used in production.
Her chocolate is a French variety produced in the United States. This allows Dowdy to create popular confections such as truffles or her very popular Valentine’s Day item, chocolate covered strawberries.
“Chocolate covered strawberries you buy at stores are not made with real chocolate,” says Dowdy. But her strawberries are covered with real chocolate and they are, she says, as fresh as they come.
She says the rush on these strawberries begins Thursday and runs through Saturday. She and her staff will be dipping strawberries all three days.
They’ll also be dipping Anjou pears – the entire pear covered in chocolate.
Those are the big items but there is more. Dowdy carries on the millennia old tradition and she does it with a big smile. She’s smiling because when she opened her doors back in 2007, it was a dream come true – a chocolate dream.