Last night, I was at my local CVS picking up a few things when something caught my eye: a colorful, boldly graphic display with a sign that said “We’re UNREAL & we’re unjunking your candy.” As a lifelong candy lover turned health blogger, I was intrigued. Unjunked? Candy? Might that mean…more healthful candy? I got home and did a little Googling, which brought me to the UNREAL candy website. And voila! UNREAL is a brand-spanking new company that’s making “unjunked” candy: candy without artificial colors or preservatives, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or GMOs.
UNREAL makes a few different varieties of candies, like a peanut butter cup and a nougat bar, as well as two M&M-like products (one with peanuts, one without). At $0.75 a pop, they were too cheap to pass up, especially for a candy freak like me. I bought UNREAL 8, which is a chocolate caramel peanut nougat bar (similar to a Snickers). My verdict? It was good! Definitely less shockingly-sweet than a Snickers bar, and still chewy, gooey and good.
According to the website’s FAQ:
UNREAL™ is starting with candy, because it’s the worst offender when it comes to “junk” – corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, GMOs, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. To “unjunk” means to replace all these ingredients with real cane sugar, real milk, more peanuts, and more cacao.
So basically it sounds like the candy you’d buy at your local natural foods grocery store—a little bit better for you overall, but still candy. One main difference is that, unlike the fair-trade, 75% cacao stuff you get at Whole Foods, UNREAL seems like it’s going to be available in more mainstream outlets, like the CVS where I saw it last night, as well as Walgreens and eventually, Target. So far, their marketing scheme seems awesome: an informative and well-designed website, low cost candy on a highly visible display in a CVS store, Tom Brady in the commercials. I have my doubts about the company’s name, though. I get that UNREAL is supposed to represent that the candy is so good and natural that it’s “unreal,” but isn’t the candy UNREAL makes actually more real (in terms of whole, unprocessed ingredients) than conventional candy? That’s a head scratcher.
But UNREAL makes a real effort to assert that they know their product isn’t a health product; it’s just a healthier product. They go so far as to compare their chocolate candy shell peanuts not only with peanut M&Ms, but with an orange. Yep, an actual fruit, what UNREAL actually recommends you eat and what they call “nature’s candy.” More real talk from the company:
We don’t consider candy to be “healthy” for you. It’s a delicious treat that we love. What we’ve done is give people a better choice, so that when they go looking for candy, they have the option to avoid the junk.
Wow. How crazily, impressively transparent, especially coming from a corporate source. How did this seemingly-conscientious company start? When a 13-year-old boy had his Halloween candy confiscated by his dad. The boy, Nicky, wanted to find a way to make candy better (to unjunk it, if you will), so he, his brother Kris and their dad Michael researched for years, until eventually finding a team of European scientists and chefs who were willing to remake our favorite American candies into healthier, more sustainable versions.
And so far, so good. Here’s the the ingredient list for those chocolate candy shell peanuts: Milk chocolate (chocolate, skim milk, cane sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, organic blue agave inulin, soy lecithin, vanilla extract) peanuts, cane sugar, calcium carbonate, peanut oil, colored with (beetroot juice, turmeric root extract, purple cabbage juice), gum arabic, vanilla extract, carnauba wax & beeswax. Pretty different from peanut M&Ms, which contain corn syrup, Dextrin, and ten different artificial colors.
UNREAL candy has a lot less sugar than its conventional counterparts (on average about 9 grams less), and the candies also have more protein and fiber. There was a special deal at CVS when I bought it, but in the future the candy will be priced pretty much the same as regular candy. As a rule, I try to eat very healthfully, but I am super pumped that there’s a better option out there on those days when I just have to have some chocolate. Not to mention a mission I can totally get behind:
To challenge what we’ve come to accept in our food and its effect on our health. To change the way junk food is made here in America and around the world. To unjunk the world.
Photo: Carrie Murphy