Valentine candy hearts, ranked

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Illustration: Allison Corr

Although a classic Valentine’s Day standby, the conversation heart is a feat of engineering we don’t often take time to appreciate. Necco Sweethearts have gone through hell and back to make it to store shelves this year, following the closure of the Necco plant in 2018, the purchase of the Sweethearts brand later that year by Spangler Candy Company, the transfer of delicate conversation-heart-printing equipment from Massachusetts to a new home in Ohio, a delay in 2019 production, damaged machinery, higher demand leading to shortages in 2020, and now, finally, a return to relative normalcy—just in time for a world that is anything but normal.

Other candy companies produce conversation hearts, too; new iterations pop up every year, eager to win us over with their hip lingo, their sass, or their improved flavor and texture (the latter being the easiest way to gain an edge over the bland, chalky Necco Sweetheart). But can these ephemeral Valentine’s slogans surpass their more traditional counterparts? Which sweet nothings are the sweetest of all? We cleared the seasonal candy shelves at CVS to find out.

SweeTARTS Conversation Hearts

Illustration for article titled Valentine candy hearts, ranked
Photo: Marnie Shure
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According to a press release emailed to The Takeout, SweeTARTS Conversation Hearts “bring their tantalizingly tangy sensation to this classic Valentine’s Day treat.” This is 100% accurate, as these candies are just SweeTARTS pressed into fun new shapes, complete with engraved slogans. This bag of Valentine’s cheer is not trying to win any awards for originality; indeed, it seems to have taken up the Sweethearts mantle while the latter faced an uncertain future. A ranking of SweeTARTS slogans, from worst to best, is as follows:

8. KISS ME
7. MAYBE
6. XOXO
5. LOVE YOU
4. YES
3. HUG ME
2. I [heart] U
1. CUTIE

“Hug me” seems like a much gentler and less expectant demand than “Kiss me,” earning it much higher favor. But the best is “Cutie,” which can apply to both the giver and the recipient of the candy. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

Brach’s Wisecracks! End The Conversation Hearts

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Photo: Marnie Shure
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I’ve written about Brach’s laser-printed candy hearts with derision in the past, but this goofy, irreverent bag of rejection hearts seems to have been spearheaded by a team that actually had fun ideas of where to take the conceit. I’m honestly shocked. This idea has been attempted by Sour Patch Kids in the past (and numerous other novelties purveyors, I’m sure), but here, the messages somehow don’t come off mean-spirited. Instead, they read like inside jokes with your friends; I can see cracking open a bag of these with my friends over Zoom and reading the slogans to each other like fortune cookies. Plus, the digital printing method means that a greater variety of messages can be transferred to the candies without having to change over to new stamps or molds. That’s good message-per-bag value. As such, I’m sure I don’t even have a complete set of slogans within my bag, but the ones I have are ranked from worst to best below:

18. Emoji with rolling eyes
17. Frowning emoij
16. Thumbs down emoji [Can you tell I prefer my conversation hearts textual rather than pictorial?]
15. TRY AGAIN
14. YEAH RIGHT
13. PASS
12. BYE BYE
11. WHATEVER
10. 4 NEVER
9. #NEXT
8. ZZZ
7. UR FUNNY
6. NAH
5. NA
4. NO TY
3. [blank]
2. SALTY
1. LMBO

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As you can see, the phrases that sound most like they came from a 1990s brainstorming session about How The Youths Speak (Yeah right; Pass; Whatever) fared poorly overall. The low-effort “nah” and even lower-effort “na” earn high marks for scathing brevity—but is there anything more scathing than a blank heart that couldn’t even bother to convey lack of interest? “Salty,” meanwhile, nearly clinched it for obvious reasons. Ultimately, though, I have to give it up for “LMBO,” an acronym that everyone, from concerned parents to Weird Twitter to non-vulgar candy companies, can agree is hilarious. Imagine ceremoniously handing someone an “LMBO” heart. Hysterical. I’m going to mail one to all my loved ones.

Brach’s Heart “2” Heart Tiny Conversation Hearts

No, the Banana flavor is not as Banana-y as the banana in a bag of Runts
No, the Banana flavor is not as Banana-y as the banana in a bag of Runts
Photo: Marnie Shure
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The innovation here is that there are messages on either side of the candy heart. But I’m less interested in the technological marvel of having “double the fun,” and more interested in the idea that this changes how Brach’s produces the candy. Gone are the dry, crumbly hearts with digital phrases lasered on. These are sturdier, like the SweeTARTS ones, and the messages are not indentations in the surface of the candy, but embossed protrusions—a very attractive upgrade. The mix of phrases wed classic and modern sentiments, sometimes erring too much on the side of technology (call me, beep me, if ya wanna reach me), but providing a huge cross-section of the types of love we have for one another, celebrating friends, significant others, and everyone in between. There’s a heart for everyone in this bag!

27. KISS ME [enough of this!!!!!!]
26. LOVE
25. LOL
24. YOU + ME
23. DATE NITE
22. DM ME
21. LUV U
20. FRIEND ME
19. 4EVER
18. HUG ME
17. ONE 4 ME
16. STILL THE 1
15. ONE LOVE
14. SWEET
13. CUTIE
12. OUR SONG
11. ROCK STAR
10. DREAMY
9. BFF
8. U R GREAT
7. BESTIE
6. BAE
5. GAL PAL
4. LAUGH
3. GOAT
2. MY BOO
1. YAAAS

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In this ranking, “Cutie” fared a lot worse than it did in the SweeTARTS bag, simply because there were so many other interesting and appealing options. Who would want to be someone’s “Cutie” when you could be their BAE, or the undisputed GOAT? But of course, in the end, there was only one contender for the top spot. It just doesn’t get better, or more 2021, than YAAAS. This is a bag that trusts its customer is hip to the times.

The Original Sweethearts

I’m so sorry that you have to see them this way
I’m so sorry that you have to see them this way
Photo: Marnie Shure
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I’m afraid I have some terrible news. When the Necco stamping equipment was damaged in its move to Spangler’s Ohio factory, it would seem that some of the magic might have been lost forever. The photo above represents 100% of the contents of my classic Valentine-sized box of Sweethearts, and as you can see, nary a one is as legible as it should be. Was it the damaged equipment? The rush to accommodate 2021 demand? Someone blasting bass-filled music on the factory floor all day? Whatever the case, I can only rank the slogans that are actually readable. That ranking is as follows:

11. 1000 YEARS
10. SOUL MATE
9. LOVE SHAK
8. STUCK ON U
7. ALL MY LOVE
6. MELT MY [heart]
5. YOU + ME
4. I GOT U BABE [see note below]
3. BESTIE
2. TRUE LOVE
1. XOXO

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These poor, mangled Sweethearts were in no condition to be attempting modern slogans or cheeky phrases, so the old standbys ranked highest here. Thanks to the drippy, erratic printing on the surface of each candy, phrases like LOVE SHAK and 1000 YEARS appeared to be forged in blood and far more sinister than intended. I managed to decipher “I GOT U BABE” after a solid six minutes of thinking it said “I GON BARF,” and the pleasant surprise of its actual message earned it a top-five spot—if that’s its actual message. But I still don’t know if that’s what it says. Decide for yourselves:

Illustration for article titled Valentine candy hearts, ranked
Photo: Marnie Shure
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I do hope that conversation hearts, despite their lackluster flavors and manufacturing headaches, remain a Valentine’s Day tradition. Sure, Dove Chocolate wrappers and popsicle sticks and Snapple caps might contain fun little messages, too, but you’ve got to appreciate the restraint of a candy heart: such an important set of emotions to be telegraphed to the recipient, such a small amount of surface area upon which to say what we ourselves cannot always muster. If you’ve ever used a box of candy hearts to ask someone out, or tell someone you’re sorry, or simply bonded with someone over just how chalky and gross these things are, then you know the power they hold. And for all of us who hold them dear, we can rest assured that the confectionery industry appears to be in a golden age of candy heart creativity. YAAAAAAS.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

mythicfox
Chris Shaffer

I’ll be honest, before my eyes moved to the text below the photo I thought that said “LOVE SHRK” instead of “LOVE SHAK” and thought I’d missed out on some sort of ‘love shark’ meme.