If taste is linked to memory, then one of the easiest ways to jump back to childhood is to eat a Necco Wafer, America’s oldest continuously manufactured candy.
Even tearing the paper to unroll the tube does it — the puff of powdered sugar and mingling flavor-scents, both sweet and spicy, hitting your nose. Lemon? Wintergreen? Chocolate? Yes, the combination can seem odd by today’s candy standards, but the flavor blend is a familiar one if you grew up eating Necco Wafers, and just one bite (which is more of a “SNAP”) makes the time-travel complete.
For your tastebuds, anyway.
Necco Wafers are proudly made using the candy’s original formula (they leave modern influences to the brand’s ever-changing Sweethearts “conversation hearts” each Valentine’s Day), but despite the classic approach they’ve held on to their place at the checkout next to richer, fattier, and fruitier candies. Nostalgia aside, I suspect that Necco Wafer’s exceptional use as gingerbread house shingles, edible poker chips, or practice hosts for a first communion helps keep wafer sales strong, and it’s likely the wafers partnered with the aforementioned Sweethearts (the top-selling Valentine’s Day candy) that bring in enough to keep the company’s many brands (including Mary Janes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Candy Buttons, Clark Bars, Sky Bars, Haviland Mints, and more) going — much to the delight of many classic candy consumers.
Here’s a little background info. The wafers are made by the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO…see that?) in Revere, MA, but while NECCO the company wasn’t formed until 1901, the wafer candies have been made the exact same way since 1847. That means that while Abraham Lincoln was in the White House and Thomas Edison was inventing the light bulb, the familiar rolls of flavored wafers were for sale (wouldn’t you like to guess which flavor would have been each man’s favorite?). During the early 20th century explorers took them to the Arctic and the South Pole, while the army sent them to soldiers overseas during WWII because the wafers didn’t melt or spoil.
The original flavor lineup (orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice, and wintergreen) hasn’t budged, but if you want, you can also buy rolls of just chocolate Necco wafers, and another variety that I’ve never seen, Tropical Necco Wafers, which have coconut, passion fruit, strawberry, lime, banana, and mango flavors. Curious about how the wafers are made? Check out the “How Necco Wafers are Made” photo page on the NECCO website.
While it’s true that there are many folks who find Necco Wafers chalky and bland (the candy routinely come in last alongside the marshmallow circus peanut on the annual list of “What’s the worst Halloween candy?”), the wafers also have their loyal fans that will buy them as long as NECCO keeps making them, and they do. Approximately 4 billion wafers a year are produced and sold — all without advertising! — for a candy recipe from the days of the Mexican–American War. It’s hard to beat that…
So which camp do you belong to? Necco lover or not? Personally, I can’t get enough of the clove.