With proto versions manufactured in the early 1860’s, NECCO’s venerable Sweethearts Candies are practically as old as love itself. Their earliest ancestors were confections of pressed sugar and flour shaped like scallop shells with amorous messages printed on thin strips of colored paper rolled inside, much like the modern day fortune-cookie. Enterprising chaps that they were, the folks at NECCO (or what would become known as NECCO) kept experimenting with the confection throughout the latter half of the 19th century, eventually designing a process that allowed them to scrawl sweet-nothings directly onto the popular lozenges by way of vegetable dye and tiny felt-pad rollers. Slogans from this era included the ominous: “Married in satin, Love will not be lasting” and “Married in Pink, He will take to drink” as well as the encouraging “Married in white, You have chosen right,” and proved to be a big hoot at the weddin’s, hitchin’s, pledgin’s, sealin’s, and swearnin’s of undyin’ fealty-as-long-as-we-both-shall-have-yon scatter-gun-to-our-backs, so in vogue at the time. By 1902, the prosaic lozenges had evolved into the far more telegraphic Conversation Hearts known today, but included shapes such as baseballs, postcards, horseshoes and watches.
As of 2010, NECCO has replaced all its traditional slogans with customer suggestions, revamped the treats’ color and texture and even added some new flavors. How do the changes stack up?
As with the upgraded NECCO Wafers, I’d say pretty well. I was never a huge fan of the taste or texture of Conversation Hearts to begin with, and while I still doubt I would buy them at any other time of the year, I appreciate the positive difference NECCO’s efforts have made. *A short corollary, almost all of the 8 billion conversation hearts produced by Necco annually are sold in the month leading up to Valentines Day.* The only flavors that remain from the original sextet are Lemon, Grape and Orange, with Wintergreen, Banana, and Cherry replaced by Strawberry, Green Apple and (dun-dun-duh!) Blue Raspberry. I can’t say I miss any of the old flavors too terribly much, and while Blue Raspberry shares the typical “wrung-from-a-scented-marker” taste affecting most confections victimized by the flavor, I was pleasantly surprised by the tartness of green apple (even though it actually tastes more like a golden delicious) and genuinely loved Strawberry for its similarity to the ever amazing pink Starburst. Elsewhere, Orange seemed in fine form with a surprisingly genuine flavor– especially when chewed— though I’m still convinced that Grape contains Dimetapp and Lemon (appropriately now yellow instead of green) a dash of pine-sol and or beefeaters gin. A definite improvement in the texture department meant none of the hearts crunched quite as unapologetically as raw chalk between my teeth, though I couldn’t entirely banish thoughts of Flintstone vitamins from my mind. Since I enjoyed my Conversation Hearts “En Español!” (another fairly recent innovation) I can’t comment on the results of the 100% consumer-chosen slogans in English, but can certainly say I enjoyed being literally romanced via such old-world posies as “Beunos Dias,” “Mi Joya,” “Paz,” “Dulce” and the apparently misprinted “llamo me.” It seems even the pros get nervous confessing their deepest feelings.
“Sweets to the Sweet.”