Conversation hearts — those tiny heart-shaped confections with flirtatious phrases printed on them — are once again one of the top-selling Valentine’s Day candies in North America.
For many people, myself included, those little hearts are reminiscent of Valentine’s Day, and bring back so many memories of exchanging cards and gifts with my classmates in grade school. They have been around for so long that you’ve likely given or received them, even if you think they taste like chalk.
Whether you love or hate conversation hearts, there is no denying that the cheeky sayings on each candy make them the perfect treat for your valentine. But there is more to these iconic candies than just sugar and witty messages.
The sweet history of conversation hearts began in 1847 when Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a machine that would make it easier to produce apothecary lozenges, which were a popular remedy for several ailments at the time.
Making lozenges was a slow and labour-intensive process. It involved cutting and rolling ropes of gum paste mixed with sugar and medicinal ingredients into tablets. While lozenges were relatively simple to make, Chase could not keep up with the high demand, especially when he started offering ones without medicine, like hard candies and breath mints.
When Chase invented the lozenge-cutting machine — often considered America’s first candy-making machine — he shifted his focus from apothecary lozenges to candy, eventually founding Chase and Company, which later became known as the New England Confectionery Company.
After devising a way to print words onto the candy, Oliver’s brother, Daniel, went on to create the prototype for the conversation hearts that we know and love — or love to hate — today.
The candies are made by combining sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch, flavours, gums and dyes to create a dough that is pressed flat, cut into hearts and stamped with unique sayings.
Though the candies were not heart-shaped until 1902, they soon became a huge success.
It is believed that the Chase brothers were inspired by the growing popularity of Valentine’s Day cards, from which the original phrases on the candies were borrowed. Over time, these phrases were shortened to the more familiar sayings such as “BE MINE” and “CRAZY 4 U.”
In 2019, the candy was unavailable for the first time since its invention in 1866. The brand’s new owner, Spangler Candy Company, acquired it too late in the year to begin production for Valentine’s Day, and the candy’s absence was felt.
Conversation hearts are so popular that the company claims to produce eight billion of them each year and sell roughly 100,00 pounds per day in the weeks leading up to Feb 14.
Every year, ten new phrases are added to the mix. This Valentine’s Day, you will be able to find conversation hearts sporting words of encouragement, including phrases like “U GOT THIS” and “CHIN UP.”
While you may not enjoy their taste, these little hearts are here to stay, and I’m sure you will look at them a little differently now that you know their storied past.