Conversation Hearts


Do you remember the excitement and anticipation that came with every Valentine’s Day when we were kids? It became almost a competition to see which kid in your classroom managed to garner the most of the flimsy punch-out Valentine’s cards with their even flimsier envelopes. In spite of the enthusiasm for the cards portraying the cultural icons of that particular year, the biggest attraction of the day was getting Conversation Hearts, the more the merrier. That’s what Valentine’s Day was and still is for most kids.

The idea of Conversation Hearts has been around since the late 1800s. The first “conversations” candies were not in the shape of a heart but rather shaped as sea shells. The text was printed on a foil wrapper and not on the actual candy.

The first Motto Candy was invented in 1900 but it still was not heart-shaped. For some strange reason, perhaps to allow for longer imprinted sayings, these Sweet Heart candies were in the shape of baseballs, horseshoes, postcards, and watches. With the passage of time, the sayings got shorter and shorter and were reduced to one or two lines of sentiment which fit perfectly on a heart-shaped candy.

In 1900, four candy companies merged together to become the New England Confectionary Company or NECCO. The candy companies NECCO, Brachs, and Jelly Belly are the three primary manufacturers of the Conversation Hearts in the early 21st century. No matter who makes this Valentine treat, about 8 billion hearts are produced each year. Even though the peak selling season is a mere 6 weeks, the confectionary companies produce the hearts for 11 months of the year. Gee, I wonder what kind of preservative is used to give them such a long shelf life. Maybe I don’t want to know.

Conversation Hearts are made by man and machine working together. There are 7 major steps in creating these candies:
  1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch, flavors, gums, and colors into the mixing machine;
  2. The machine mixes the ingredients together until they form a dough, much like the consistency of Play-Doh©;
  3. The dough goes through a machine that presses the dough until it is flat;
  4. The “conversation” words are applied to the dough and are then cut out of the dough in heart shapes. The candy drops onto a conveyor belt;
  5. The hearts take a 30-minute ride through a drying tunnel;
  6. The six different flavors are mixed together; and
  7. The Conversation Hearts are bagged, boxed, and ready to eat.
In 2006, NECCO added a preposition and conjunction to its mix of sayings so that sweet sentiments might be spelled out more grammatically. NECCO has attempted, over the years, to include sentiments inline with the current culture. The candies come in 2 sizes - small and large. The small heart has room for approximately two words of four letters each while the larger hearts can contain two words of five letters each.

Whatever their size or sayings, Conversation Hearts are and will be timeless.


©2007 Terry Kaufman for Niftykitchen.com
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