It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day, or your amorous celebration of choice, is somewhere upcoming or in the recent past. If you’re reading this after Valentine’s Day, now is a great chance to pick up a bunch of candy at great discounts, like those weird heart-shaped sugar lumps with little messages on them. You probably know them as Sweethearts candies, but what are they exactly, and where did they come from?
The Origins of Sweethearts Candies
Sweethearts (also known as “conversation hearts”) have their origins in the advent of lozenge-producing technology. It actually turns out you can trace the origin of a lot of candies back to lozenges in this way. So yes, your weird Valentine’s candy got its origins as medicine. Which probably explains why some people don’t really like them at all.
But taste aside, in 1847, a man named Oliver R. Chase invented a machine that could cut lozenges from wafer candy, and he started a candy factory. In 1866, his brother Daniel created a device that could print messages onto the candies. These special candies became popular at weddings, as the often featured sayings related to love.
Around 1902, these candies began to take on different shapes, including hearts.
The original lozenge-pressed candies would eventually become what you, or your parents, may remember as Necco Wafers. After some formula changes and other shenanigans, however, Necco would go defunct in 2018–bought out by the Spangler Candy Company.
This is why you didn’t see many conversation hearts in 2019. Spangler doesn’t actually have all the infrastructure needed to print the Sweethearts’ signature messages. Though they did make a return in 2020 with the original Necco flavors (but in typical 2020 fashion, many of the sayings were either incomplete or missing due to a damaged printer).
Sweethearts Outside of the US
No, the Sweethearts candy phenomenon is not exclusive to America. Produced by Swizzels Matlow, the UK has their own version of Sweethearts; they’re called Love Hearts.
In fact, the English Love Hearts trace their origins to that same Victorian-Era lozenge press–then called “Conversation Lozenges.” We’re not sure a sweet message is what you really want to see with your cold medicine, but whatever floats your boat, we suppose.
However, in contrast to the American treats, the British Love Hearts are not actually shaped like hearts. They actually look like circles with a heart imprinted on them. Which means they should be renamed Love Circles?
Sweethearts are nice candy, so here’s a quiz related to them.