Long before texting was a thing, people used another method to send their special someone a sweet message: candy hearts.
You may not think about them any other time during the year, but come Feb. 14, you are all about those conversation hearts. You know, those little candies with messages like "BE MINE" and "KISS ME" written across them in red letters? As Valentine's Day approaches, you know that you crave these chalky confections.
Candy hearts have been around so long, they've just become a tradition for our Valentine's Day celebrations. But did you ever stop and wonder what genius came up with the idea for these candies and why they continue to be such a major part of Valentine's Day? Yeah, you know you have. Pour yourself a bowl of candy hearts and read up on everything you ever wanted to know about these guys.
1. They're Really Old
Founded in 1847, one of the oldest candy companies in the United States, Necco, created the original candy hearts, Sweethearts, in 1866. Daniel Chase built a machine that would press food dye letters onto candy lozenges made famous by his brother and Necco founder Oliver Chase. The company has been making Sweethearts since 1902.
2. They're Still Made the Same Way
Since Necco first began manufacturing Sweethearts, the company has used pretty much the same process. First, corn syrup, sugar, gelatin and food coloring are mixed together to make the dough. Then, it gets put on a machine to be stretched and rolled. A print plate with letters on it places the messages on the dough in red ink. They're then cut into heart shapes and left to dry for two to three days.
3. So Many Candy Hearts, So Little Time
Every year, Necco cranks out 10 to 14 million pounds of Sweethearts, which ends up being about 4.8 billion to 6.7 billion individual hearts. I know these things are addictive, but you should probably not eat that many on Valentine's Day.
4. It Was at First a Big Hit at Weddings
Before Sweethearts became the treat du jour of elementary school Valentine's Day celebrations, they first gained popularity at weddings. Back then, the candy hearts were also quite larger than the ones we eat today, so they could handle longer nuptials-themed sentiments like "Married in White, you have chosen right" or "Married in Pink, he'll take to drink."
5. People Still Have Marriage on the Brain
Even today, Sweethearts have a strong association with marriage. The "Marry Me" message on the hearts is still requested the most among customers, Necco's then-Marketing Director Aimee Scott told Smithsonian.com in 2011.
6. The Hearts, They Are A-Changin'
Perhaps Sweethearts have remained an essential part of American culture for more than 100 years because Necco does an impressive job of adapting the candy hearts to the changing social landscape. The Atlantic's Megan Garber took a deep dive into this topic and showed that the Sweethearts' messages reflect changes in how Americans speak and what they talk about. The Internet revolution of the 1990s ushered in messages like "CALL ME," "EMAIL ME" and "FAX ME." Necco capitalized on Twilight mania a few years ago with vampire-themed messages like "BITE ME," "DAZZLE" and "LIVE 4 EVER." The company even got a little political with an "OCCUPY MY HEART" saying.
7. This Year's New Messages Aren't Just Words
Keeping with the changing times, Necco not only has new messages on Sweethearts this year but also new pictures. You'll notice emoji-like smiley faces and mustaches on your Sweethearts this year, in addition to new phrases that include "PUGS & KITTENS," "TE AMO" and "GIRL POWER."
8. You'll Never See These Messages Again
Some messages haven't stood the test of time, and Necco has retired them from appearing on Sweethearts. These include "SAUCY BOY," "LET'S READ" and "YOU ARE GAY." Yeah, retiring these messages was a good choice. However, one of the sayings on this list was also "GIRL POWER," which as previously mentioned, is one of the new messages on Sweethearts this year. So maybe there is life after death after all.
9. There are Way More Flavors Than You Think
When you think of Sweethearts, the little pastel-colored confections immediately come to mind. However, there are so many different ways to enjoy these candies that you've probably never even tried. These include, chocolate, sugar free and En Espanol Sweethearts. You can even order Sweethearts with custom messages on them, in case "LUV 2 DANCE" does not adequately convey your feelings for your Valentine.
10. Candy Hearts Dominate Valentine's Day
Let's face it. You're probably going to give your date a box of candy hearts this Valentine's Day. Sweethearts make up 40 percent of the Valentine's Day candy market, Scott told Smithsonian.com in 2011. That's just behind chocolate. In fact, health app MyFitnessPal found that Americans are 3,777 percent more likely to eat candy hearts on Valentine's Day, according to data given to The New York Times, making conversation hearts "the most Valentine-specific food."
11. Do This With Your Leftover Candy Hearts
When you've reached the point where you've eaten so many candy hearts that you're only speaking in the little messages written on them, that probably means it's time to put them away for the year. However, that also gives you a chance to try this fun little experiment from Scientific American. If you put candy hearts in a glass of soda, they'll float down to the bottom of the glass and then up again and so on in a kind of "dance." This is because the candy hearts are denser than soda. I bet you didn't think your Valentine's Day plans would be this exciting, did you?
Image: Chris Sloan / Flickr