I admit I was a little (okay, a lot) worried when I read that one of my favorite childhood candies, Necco wafers and sweethearts, was being reformulated after a whopping 163 years of tradition and success. Necco wafers were good enough to accompany two explorers on their expeditions (Admiral Byrd’s to the South Pole and Donald MacMillan’s to the Arctic) as well as feed the WWII troops, plus they featured the most wonderful iconic bright colors and flavors — Why would the company want to mess with that?
Mostly, as it turns out, to replace artificial ingredients with natural ones, an endeavor it’s hard to argue with. According to the Necco site, the roll contains the same flavors it always did: Orange, Lemon, Chocolate, Clove, Cinnamon, Wintergreen and Licorice. Artificial ingredients have been replaced with natural flavors and colors from red beets, purple cabbage, turmeric and cocoa powder.
A panel of adult and teen tasters assembled by Slow Family Online tasted the company’s Sweethearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day. The group applauded the inclusion of natural over artificial ingredients and even liked the new, slightly softer, texture of the candies. While some of the new flavors were fine, others didn’t fare as well in the transfer and we bemoaned their loss.
The group found Purple (grape) to retain the most classic Necco flavor. The grape flavor is actually a little more pronounced than it was before. We all continue to like Orange (color and flavor), a favorite, which is definitely more citrus-y than its predecessor. The Green (green apple) has a new flavor, instead of its traditional, vaguely lime one, which I had really liked. Like the Purple, it retains the Necco chalky quality we like. The apple flavor got mixed reviews. I found it somewhat cloying. Light blue (blue raspberry) is brand new, in flavor and color. It’s a bit sugary tasting, but then the tartness of the raspberry comes on. This one could grow on me, despite the additional strange newness of its color. My daughter was particularly disappointed with Yellow (lemon), which she says used to have a more banana flavor. I was particularly let down with Pink (strawberry). Gone is the classic, nostalgic, unclassifiable Necco pink flavor. In its place is the much too bright strawberry.
I’m glad to report that the bright colors definitely remain intact. I’ve watched the sayings get updated over the years, as new ones like FAX ME and E MAIL ME came on. This year brings TWEET ME as an addition to classics like SOUL MATE, SWEET PEA, SAY YES, and ALL MINE. The Necco Sweetheart page tells us that all the previous sayings were scrapped to make way for sayings that were voted on by the public. I’m glad, then, that the voters thought to include LOVE YOU along with U R HOT.
Sweethearts are the top-selling nonchocolate Valentine’s Day candy. 6 billion little Sweethearts are produced each year. They’re so successful that they are now going to be produced for occasions other than Valentine’s Day. You’ll soon see Sweethearts with sayings targeted to the Twilight vampire book series, as well as a patriotic line.
I’m eager to try a Necco wafer roll next. I’m looking forward to Chocolate I remember. They wouldn’t mess with that, would they?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Bonus Trivia Question: What does Necco stand for?
Answer: New England Confectionary Company