Food Facts & Lore

Conversation Hearts Silenced

Conversation hearts may be the most iconic Valentine’s Day candy, closely followed by Hershey Kisses, of course. But as popular as they are, Conversation Hearts are not a favorite in all States. According to various food statistics sources, Vermont is most definitely a Conversation Hearts state, as are New Jersey, Minnesota, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Florida, to name a few.

It would be interesting to know in what other characteristic food preferences these states may have in common. The Conversation Heart psychology may be far more complex than we know. Is there a study about that somewhere, we wonder? Almost certainly.

As you may already know, the classic Conversation Hearts will not be available this year. Why this would be of interest to us is twofold: First, we’re hooked (aren’t you?) and second, they are a sweet part of our region’s food history as they were manufactured by NECCO, New England Confectionery Company.

The economy takes its toll on people, and on candy. The company went bankrupt in 2018. Thankfully, the Spangler Candy Company bought it back last September. However, production was delayed enough by then to prevent the manufacturing of the millions of boxes of Conversation Hearts required to satisfy every Valentine’s fancy.

Conversation Hearts are not the only sweet guilty pleasure we’ll have to live without this year. Add NECCO Wafers and Sweethearts to the mix. The Spangler Company is hopeful to resume production in time for the 2020 Valentine season. We can call it a season, can we not?

Wind back time for a moment. It all started in 1847, Boston. Lozenges were the trending remedy of the day for treating sore throats and bad breath. Various oils and herbs were used in the fabrication of lozenges. They required much time and resources to produce, and it was difficult to keep up with growing demand as people were literally eating them like candy.

Enter pharmacist Oliver Chase. He imagined a better way to jump on the lozenge craze wagon. He invented a machine that rolled the dough and produced evenly cut candy discs. Success. Chase quit his pharmacy job. This was the birth of America’s first candy machine… and of the birth of the original NECCO Wafers. The Conversation Heart was but a few sweet visions away.

Enter another Boston visionary, Esther Howland. She is credited with popularizing the Valentine’s Day card. This inspired Oliver Chase’s brother, Daniel, to develop a way to print short love messages directly on candy. The first batch was produced in 1866. The heart shape was adopted in 1902.