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The Origin of the Conversation Heart

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Valentine's Day means chalky candy hearts with a lot to say. But what's behind these very loud little candies?

The story of conversation hearts began in 1847, when a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase longed for a way to get in on the apothecary lozenge craze. Lozenges were quickly gaining steam as the medicine conveyance of choice, and were also popular remedies for sore throats and bad breath. But making lozenges was complicated and time-consuming—the process involved a mortar and pestle, kneading dough, rolling it out, and cutting it into discs that would eventually become lozenges.

There had to be a better way, and Oliver came up with it. Inspired by the new wave of gadgets and tools that hit America as it industrialized, he invented a machine that rolled lozenge dough and pressed wafers into perfect discs. Oliver had inadvertently created America’s first candy-making machine, and before long, he had abandoned his pharmacy business to crank out miles of what would become New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) wafers.

Legend has it that Oliver’s NECCO wafers were carried by Civil War soldiers, and some speculate that the tradition of sending loving greetings to the troops morphed into the conversation heart, but those claims are hard to verify. What is clear is that as Oliver built his candy empire, his brother Daniel decided he wanted a piece of the action. 

Inspired by the growing market for Valentine’s cards (which were popularized in the United States by Esther Howland, also a resident of Boston at the time), Daniel wondered if it would be possible to print sentimental messages on candy. In 1866, he figured out a way to print words on candy with vegetable dye during the cutting process.

People loved conversation candies (they weren’t available in heart shapes until 1902) and their witty messages, which could stoke the flames of love or warn off flaky suitors. Daniel’s candies were bigger than today’s version and had phrases like “MARRIED IN WHITE YOU HAVE CHOSEN RIGHT” and “HOW LONG SHALL I HAVE TO WAIT? PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE” emblazoned on a pastel, scalloped wafer. 

By the turn of the century, the conversation heart was a Valentine’s cliché. Here’s how they were used at a Boston party in 1911:

Partners for the evening were found by means of candy “motto” hearts. These were broken in two, and each young lady was given a piece, but the men were obliged to hunt for theirs. As they were carefully hidden, this took some length of time and proved an excellent ‘ice breaker.’ The silly mottoes were read with laughter as the couples chose their tables.

Over the years, conversation hearts lost size, but gained many more phrases. NECCO estimates that it makes nearly 100,000 pounds of the hearts each day throughout the year in preparation for Valentine’s Day. Among this year’s selection? BFF, TE AMO, and GIRL POWER.

Additional Sources: Alfred Stillé and John Michael Maisch,The National Dispensatory: Containing the Natural History, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Actions and Uses of Medicines, Including Those Recognized in the Pharmacopœias of the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, with Numerous References to the French CodexSweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy The Mother of the Valentine,” WBUR News; "Civil War Soldiers and Conversation Hearts,” The Historical SocietyEntertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super BowlThe Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, Volume 15The History of Sweethearts; “2015’s 8 New Phrases for Conversation Hearts,” WGNA.

This post originally ran in 2015.

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Mathew Tucciarone
Candytopia, the Interactive Art Installation Made of Sweet Treats, Is Coming to New York City
Mathew Tucciarone
Mathew Tucciarone

A colorful exhibition is sharing some eye candy—and actual candy—with visitors. The sweet art pop-up, called Candytopia, is heading to New York City this summer following successful stints in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Gothamist reports.

Candytopia feels a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate room. More than a dozen rooms with psychedelic backdrops will be on view, as well as candy-inspired interpretations of famous artworks such as Mona Lisa and The Thinker. The installation is the brainchild of Jackie Sorkin, the star of TLC’s Candy Queen.

Many of the art installations are made from actual candy, but unlike Wonka’s lickable wallpaper, visitors will have to keep their hands and tongues to themselves. Instead, guests will be given samples of various sweet treats like gummies, chocolates, and “nostalgic favorites.”

Forbes named Candytopia one of the best pop-up museums to visit in 2018. New York City seems the perfect place for the exhibit, having formerly hosted other food-inspired pop-ups like the Museum of Pizza and the Museum of Ice Cream.

Candytopia will debut in New York City on August 15 at Penn Plaza at 145 West 32nd Street. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and they can be ordered on Candytopia’s website. Private events and birthday parties can also be arranged.

Keep scrolling to see some more installations from Candytopia.

A wing of the Candytopia exhibit
Mathew Tucciarone

An Egyptian-inspired statue made of candy
Mathew Tucciarone

A candy version of the Mona Lisa
Mathew Tucciarone

A shark statue
Mathew Tucciarone

[h/t Gothamist]

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You Could Design Cadbury’s Next Chocolate Bar
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iStock

Get ready to channel your inner Willy Wonka. Cadbury is asking the public to invent a brand new chocolate bar to complement the confectioner's current crop of Dairy Milk products, The Independent reports.

As part of the contest, would-be chocolatiers can select up to three ingredients to create a custom Cadbury chocolate bar. There are more than 90,000 possible flavor combinations, so if you want to invent a bubblegum-spearmint-coffee chocolate bar, you can knock yourself out. Some of the more unconventional ingredients to choose from include popping candy (as in Pop Rocks), tomato, rose, and dijon mustard. There are also more traditional dessert flavors available, like almond, toffee, and cookie dough.

After you choose your flavors, you'll need to name your candy bar. (If past public naming contests are anything to go by, you'll win points just for keeping it clean.) If you want, you can also provide a short explanation of what inspired your recipe.

A panel of judges will create a shortlist of the best fan-created chocolate bars based on taste and creativity. Three finalists will receive a trip to Cadbury’s headquarters in Birmingham, England, where they’ll have the chance to taste their creations in person. All three finalists' chocolate bars will hit store shelves in the UK and Ireland for a limited run sometime in 2019, and the winning bar—chosen through a combination of sales data and public voting—will stay on shelves for at least a year. The lucky chocolatier who created the bar will receive a yearlong supply for free.

To design your own bar, visit Cadbury’s website and submit your entry before July 31.

[h/t The Independent]

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