Conversation hearts are a Valentine’s Day staple — but let’s be honest, store-bought candy hearts are kind of chalky and weird-tasting. They also contain gelatin, which is not only neither vegan nor vegetarian-friendly, it’s also a little icky when you know more about it. But if you’re craving a little message on a heart-shaped candy, why not make your own that are vegan, and free of artificial dyes and flavors?
The recipe I used for these conversation hearts is based on this one from Brave Tart, which is so brilliantly simple (and also happens to be gluten-free), that I couldn’t help but try it. But instead of using gelatin, I subbed out Agar Agar flakes, which you can get at any natural foods store. These vegetarian flakes are made of seaweed, and behave pretty much just like gelatin. I also subsituted the Sprite out for a low-sugar, naturally-flavored lemon-lime soda. For the sugar, well, it’s candy so you can’t really get that far away from using a substantial amount.
For this demonstration, I just made the one color/flavor of conversation hearts, although you can make a lot more — and get creative. For this pretty purple color, I used freeze-dried blueberries and clove extract. You could also use strawberries with some rose extract, a bit of pomegranate juice, beet juice, a dash of turmeric (really!), peppermint, wintermint, orange, lemon, or any other kind of extract or coloring ingredient you like. Or you could even use artisan bitters, if you wanted to make your hearts a little saucy. Feel free to play around with that — but using fruit and extract is definitely preferable to artificial dye and flavors.
Of course, these sweet treats aren’t going to be nearly as pretty as the real deal — that’s kind of what happens when you don’t use food science — but they are still quite tasty, and a super-fun project for little ones who want to get their hands dirty in the kitchen.
Alright, here’s the recipe: