A History on Candy Hearts
by Olivia Gauthier
The days surrounding Valentine's Day see the seasonal revival of a candy that has been loved by many for over a century and a half. Conversation hearts are a traditional treat shared between sweethearts of all ages. Next to chocolate, they are the most popular candy of the holiday season of love.
For a number of years, pharmacists masked the bitter taste of medicine by either mixing it into a liquid cocktail or pressing it into a lozenge. In 1847, Boston druggist Oliver R. Chase invented a machine that rolled out lozenge dough, created wafers, and then cut them into discs. After using it solely for medicine, Chase soon began to use the machine to create candy.
In 1847 Oliver, along with his brothers Silas and Daniel, founded the New England Confectionary Company (or NECCO, pronounced “neck-oh”). Conversation hearts came about when Daniel began experimenting with printing messages on candy. Originally, there was a cockle shell shaped cookie that existed with rolled up messages inside. These were popular during the Civil War. However, Daniel figured out that with vegetable dye, messages could be printed directly on the candy.
Interestingly enough, the original conversation hearts were not heart-shaped! The wafers were scalloped and pastel colored, and came in a variety of shapes and sizes to match the differing lengths in messages that were printed. It was not until 1902 that the heart shapes made their appearance. The original printed messages were similar to those seen today, however they reflected the colloquialisms of the time. For example, one of the earlier messages read “Married in pink, He will take to drink.” The messages on the candy are usually updated to fit with the times. In the 1990’s, messages like “Fax Me” and “Email Me” appeared, while in 2009 “Text Me” and “Tweet Me” began to be printed. In any case, many of the original messages printed on the candy still appear today, such as “Hug Me” and “Kiss Me.”
In addition to their shape and adaptive messages, conversation hearts have changed in respect to flavor. In 2010, the company tried jazzing up the candy by replacing beloved flavors, such as banana and wintergreen, with new flavors like green apple and strawberry. In addition, the formula was altered so that the candy was not as chalky in texture. People were not pleased with the change and fought back against NECCO with phone calls, emails, and even Facebook groups. In response, in 2011 the company muted the flavors and went back somewhat to the original formula so that the candies were more similar to their predecessors. Seems like in this case, old is definitely gold!
Presently, approximately 100,000 pounds of conversation hearts are made every day throughout the year in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Over eight billion hearts are rolled out annually (weighing in at about 50 tons). This massive amount of candy will be sold in a span of six weeks to eager consumers. No matter the changes they have and will undergo over the years, conversation hearts remain a treasured tradition of Valentine’s Day, a love that is sweet and edible!