Candy hearts, originally called motto hearts, the brightly colored heart shaped candy with the stamped red sayings, have been iconic Valentine’s Day treats since 1902.
Also known as conversation hearts, motto hearts, and sweethearts, they’re manufactured by NECCO, the New England Confectionery Company, which has been in business since 1847.
How Did Candy Conversation Hearts Get To Be A Symbol Of Valentine’s Day?
Giving a gift of candy with a message inscribed on it can be traced back to the American colonists who gave homemade hard candy with messages etched into the surface to their sweethearts.
Years later, Oliver Chase, the founder NECCO and his brother Daniel, who developed the process of printing red vegetable dye mottos on the candy, turned this tradition into a business.
The candy’s original shape wasn’t a heart, but a seashell shape called a “cockle.” A message was written on a colored slip of paper that was wedged into the cockle’s shell. NECCO started producing candy with mottos stamped on them in 1900, but the candy was in shapes like horseshoes and baseballs that allowed for longer printed sayings like “How long shall I have to wait?” and “Pray be considerate.” The candy called Sweethearts wasn’t shaped as a heart until 1902.
Sweethearts And Motto Hearts
The original candies with printed sayings were called “motto hearts.” The sayings and flavors have been updated over the years with new ones added periodically. Some of the newer flavors are strawberry, green apple, lemon, grape, orange, and blue raspberry and new sayings include “Tweet Me,” “Text Me,” “You Rock,” “Soul Mate,” “Love Bug,” and “Me + You.”
NECCO still uses their original recipe, process, and machines they used at the turn of the century. Putting out approximately 100,000 pounds of candy a day, it takes about 11 months to produce the more than eight billion pieces — or about 13 million pounds – of colorful candy sweethearts that are sold in the six weeks before Valentine’s Day. The little hearts with messages account for 40% of the Valentine candy market, just behind – you guessed it – chocolate!
Although you’d be hard pressed to call them nutritious, they are fat free, sodium free, and a caloric bargain at about 3 calories apiece for the small hearts and about 6 calories apiece for the larger “Motto” hearts.