Everybody stop panicking. Despite what you’re reading, there is no 2019 conversation heart shortage, in part because “conversation heart” is the candy equivalent of Kleenex. The phrase gained popularity when Brach’s began selling its own candy hearts in 1960, but is now used to refer to all heart-shaped candies with printed text.
While it’s true that Sweethearts candies won’t be on shelves again until 2020, plenty of other companies are working to fill the heart-shaped hole they’ve left behind.
Because some of those options are better than others, our three-person team here at snackdinner HQ tried them for you. We sampled SweeTarts Hearts, Sour Patch Kids Conversation Hearts, four varieties of Brach’s hearts (Tiny Conversation Hearts, Sweet & Sour, Tropical Fruit, and Very Berry), and a checkout-fare, unbranded tube of hearts.
We rated each heart for crunch, flavor, readability and—if you’re attempting to fake fate —variety.
The generic hearts-in-a-tube feel just like you would expect hearts in a thin plastic tube to taste: crispy-crunchy. If you’re looking for the closest replacement to this year’s missing Necco Sweethearts, these are the hearts for you.
If you like even more crunch and have good dental insurance, Sour Patch Kids Conversation Hearts are a good choice. These hearts are more like hard candy than the rest of those in our test, and are therefore, like the original Sour Patch Kids, best sucked before chewed.
If you like your hearts a little chewier, Brach’s are a good bet, although there’s some textural inconsistency across flavors. The original Tiny Conversation Hearts were the crunchiest, and the “sour” offerings in the Sweet & Sour mix were the chewiest.
The chewiest candy were the SweeTarts Hearts, which we think may be a bit thicker than regular SweeTarts. We did not verify this opinion because Taster #1 said the candy drawer is full and we’re not buying any more candy until we’ve finished eating the taste test candy.
Conversation hearts are traditionally prized for their distinctive chalky taste, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Brach’s Tiny Conversation Hearts are your winner, with the hearts-in-a-tube a close second.
Recent entrants to the Valentine’s candy aisle, perhaps recognizing that chalk isn’t for everyone, are varying the flavor profiles of conversation hearts. SweeTarts Hearts taste like SweetTarts. Sour Patch Kids Conversation Hearts taste like hardened Sour Patch Kids without the sugary exterior, a fact Taster #2 will have to take our word for because Taster #3 ate all the samples before he got home from work.
Those looking for the the purest sugar flavor should opt for Brach’s Very Berry mix. Although these hearts (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, and berry punch) list the same caloric content as other Brach’s varieties, they taste sweeter. Taster #2 described the taste as cotton candy. Taster #3 asked “What’s cotton candy?”
Those seeking candies that taste as advertised should opt for Brach’s Tropical Fruit mix. Taster #1 thought the mix smelled like Watermelon Bubblicious, and so adjusted the candy buying ban to exclude gum purchases. The flavors are the closest approximations to those listed on the bag (coconut, mango, banana, pomegranate, and pineapple). As with the white wintergreen candies in the traditional bag, the white coconut candies in this bag are the closest to expected flavor.
The most contested entrant in our test was the Brach’s Sweet & Sour mix, which contains three “sweet” flavors (strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry) and three “sour” flavors (lemon, green apple, orange). Taster #1 found the aroma reminiscent of upholstery cleaner on a urine-soaked couch cushion. This reviewer did find that, unlike some of the other mixes, the flavors in the Sweet & Sour mix were distinct. Sour lemon offered an overpowering Lysol finish, while sour orange tasted like industrial bathroom soap. Green apple has top notes of granny smith with a foaming carpet cleaner finish.
Taster #3, however, preferred the three sour flavors to all the other candies in the taste test. This reviewer does not like peanut butter and buys Nutella & Gos for the breadsticks, so his food recommendations should be taken with the grain of salt that he also refuses to eat.
In a 2013 interview for The Atlantic, then NECCO production manager Hugh G. Albert explained why PUCKER UP will never appear on a candy heart: printing errors can make a “P” look like an “F.” He also recalls an angry parent whose son had received a MILF heart, which was really only a misprinted SMILE.
Many messages across the bags of printed hearts made Tasters #1 and #2 recall the dot matrix printers of their childhoods, especially when the report was due tomorrow and the ribbon was running out of ink. It took our team six hearts to figure out one of the Brach’s varieties said SMOO-CHES, not SHOOTERS or HOT MESS.
Every bag of printed candy hearts in our test contained at least one serious readability problem, which is why we’ve brand-blinded the following errors.
The clear winners in the readability category are SweeTarts Hearts and Sour Patch Kids Conversation Hearts, because both brands have embossed phrases.
For those who want high variety without repeats, hearts-in-a-tube are best for you. Our test tube included 22 hearts, only one of which (U-R CUTE) was repeated. But the phrases suggest an imperfect command of English. If you’re using the hearts as part of a romantic overture, MEGA KISS and LOVE TIME might not work for you.
If you want candy hearts that feel like fate, you need a big sample size. Those seeking a sugary magic 8 ball should opt for Brach’s, which, while they do not offer as many phrase varieties as the sitting-out-for-2019 Sweethearts, still have somewhere between 40-42 phrases per bag, a fact our research team could not verify between the hungry participants and occasional printing errors.
You may think you can widen the available phrases with multiple Brach’s bags, because each flavor advertises different phrases on the exterior. The bag for Brach’s Tropical Fruit, for example, depicts hearts like HUGS AND KISSES, FOREVER YOURS, HEART BREAKER, YOU’RE SO FINE, FOR KEEPS, and SWEET THING, but none of these phrases are printed on hearts contained within the bag. Perhaps Brach’s had plans for a much larger run of phrases than they were able to complete as they tried to occupy the market gap created by Necco.
If, like George Michael Bluth, you’d just like to pretend that it’s fate, opt for the SweeTarts Hearts. They feature just eight phrases, and where your odds of selecting one of the two imperatives (HUG ME, KISS ME) is about 25%, assuming an equal distribution of hearts, a fact not lost on Taster #3, who demanded near-continuous shows of affection during our test.
The Sour Patch Kids Conversation Hearts offer your next best delusional odds. With just 11 phrases, you’ve got a 9% chance at pulling BAE. Then again, you have a roughly 18% chance of drawing EW NO or STOP.
Our overall winner
Conversation hearts, as we hope we’ve demonstrated, are a matter of personal taste. One taster’s floor cleaner is another taster’s favorite candy. But pressed to pick a favorite, we’d recommend the SweeTarts Hearts: readable, good for fate-faking, and unlikely to crack a tooth.
Just as we were closing our voting in the 2019 conversation heart taste test, we found a new candy that took top prize across all four categories:
Yes, it’s chocolate and not heart-shaped. But the humble Hershey’s Kiss is the perfect candy to fill that Necco-shaped hole in 2019. Crunch? It’s not crunchy, but it’s chocolate. Flavor? Again, it’s chocolate. Readability? The phrases are printed on the wrapper instead of the candy, making them both cleaner and more prominent. Variety? If you’re trying to fake fate, this is the candy for you. Each bag includes 14 phrases, 7 of which contain references to kissing, meaning you have a roughly 50% chance of selecting a kiss-related heart. On a conversation heart, Wanna KISS? or Gimme A KISS would be too pushy, but on the Hershey’s Conversation Kisses they’re both seasonal and on-brand.
Our final choice was not at all influenced by Taster #3, who says that he doesn’t want to eat any more conversation hearts and that Hershey Kisses are his favorite candy.