For hundreds of years, sugar and cacao were precious commodities available only to the elite. Even so, for nearly 700 years leading up to the Industrial Revolution, children celebrated a sugar-free Valentine’s Day by parading door-to-door asking for treats (Remind you of anything?).
Without candy hearts with flirty quips to express their feelings, the day inspired courtiers to exchange gifts of poetry, jewels, and silk as a display of their talent and wealth. The tradition of exchanging cards became popular by the 19th century with the mass production of print materials, allowing the creation of elaborate and artistic valentines. Today, Americans spend $1 billion to exchange 190 million cards on Valentine’s Day.
Thanks to the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution, candy and chocolate became more widely available, laying the way for mass-produced chocolates to take center stage on Valentine’s Day. In the 1840s, Richard Cadbury was the first to produce varieties of “eating chocolate” made from the excess cocoa butter extracted from whole beans, which he sold in decorative boxes that are still prized by collectors today.
The commercialization of Valentine’s Day was not fully underway until a fitting confection made its debut in the 20th century – the Hershey’s Kiss, named for the sound the machines made during production. And what romantic holiday would be complete without Russell Stover’s seemingly decadent “Secret Lace Heart” chocolate boxes, now commonly found at drugstores and big-box retailers.
Americans spend $1.7 billion on candy for Valentine’s Day. The most popular sweets remain those that hearken back to Victorian valentines with their sentimental images and wordplay, including these decorative boxes of chocolate and the ubiquitous NECCO Sweethearts. Starting out as large sugar-wafer candies found in a variety of shapes, NECCO now produces 100,000 pounds of tiny candy hearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day.
If you’d prefer a healthier treat to share with your special someone, try one of these guilt-free sweets – Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge and Banana Caramel Custards are sure to make a lasting impression.
As we say every day at the Food Bank, what you do matters to those you love!
(1) Davis, Sara. “The Surprising History of Valentine’s Day Candy.” Table Matters, 2 Feb. 2016.
(2) Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015.
(3) Butler, Stephanie. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day With a Box of Chocolates.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 8 Feb. 2013.
(4) Blakemore, Erin. “The Origin of the Conversation Heart.” The History of the Conversation Heart, Mental Floss, 14 Feb. 2017.
(5) Andreano, Caterina, and Emily Shapiro. “Valentine’s Day by the Numbers: See How Much Money Is Spent on Flowers, Candy and Cards.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 14 Feb. 2017.