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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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Tamtik
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Design
Chocolate Maps Turn the Streets of Famous Cities Into Edible Art
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Chocolate map of Tel Aviv.
Tamtik

At first glance, the gourmet chocolate squares below look like works of modern art. But if you’re familiar with the streets of London, Tel Aviv, or New York City, you might notice that the abstract designs actually look a lot like the maps of these iconic cities.

According to My Modern Met, Tamtik chocolate has partnered with online retailer Nisnas Industries to bring their gorgeous, edible maps to Kickstarter. Each creation is made by pouring liquid dark chocolate into a mold of an urban landscape. Once it has hardened, the treat shows every block, park, and city street as fine chocolate contours and intricate geometric shapes. The three varieties—London, Tel Aviv, and New York City—are each crafted by chocolatiers from their respective cities, further connecting the products to the places they represent.

Making of chocolate city map.
Tamtik

Each chocolate map comes wrapped in artisanal packaging, making it the perfect gift to remind a loved one of their favorite city. There’s also nothing stopping you from opening the box and enjoying the delectable artwork on your own.

Tamtik is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to make these masterpieces, with more than a month left to reach their $10,000 goal. You can reserve a chocolate city map of your own with a pledge of $45 or more. A pledge of just $1 allows you to vote on which city Tamtik should add to their lineup next.

Opening a box that contains a chocolate city map.
Tamtik

[h/t My Modern Met]

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Barry Callebaut
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Food
Ruby Is the Newest Addition to the Chocolate Spectrum
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Barry Callebaut

Dark, milk, and white are the three main types of chocolate recognized by the Food and Drug Administration. But following an exciting new development from a Swiss chocolate maker, a fourth variety may soon be added to the lineup. As Bloomberg reports, the rosy-hued product, dubbed Ruby, is the first chocolate to come in a new, natural color since white chocolate debuted more than 80 years ago.

Ruby chocolate comes from Barry Callebaut, an international chocolate production company with headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland. The new breed of chocolate was the result of about a decade of development from researchers at Barry Callebaut and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. To make the chocolate, they used ruby cocoa beans, which grow in Ecuador, Brazil, and West Africa’s Ivory Coast. The final product “offers a totally new taste experience, which is not bitter, milky, or sweet, but a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness,” according to a press release.

Along with its unique taste, the company hopes the chocolate will interest consumers with its alluring appearance. The CEO of Barry Callebaut, Antoine de Saint-Affrique, told Bloomberg that tests with international markets have been successful, even in China, where traditional chocolate is less mainstream than it is in the West.

Pink chocolate on display.
Barry Callebaut

Barry Callebaut revealed Ruby chocolate to the world at a launch event in Shanghai, China, on September 5. The company is now working on making it available to manufacturers and consumers, which means that any sweet item that comes in dark, milk, and white chocolate may soon come in red as well.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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