Teenager Aims to Un-Junk Junk Food with Unreal Candy

Unreal candy comes in five varieties, including Candy Coated Chocolates. Image: Unreal.

I’m a candy geek. I know in today’s healthified world, it’s not proper to say such things. But, I do love me some Twizzlers, M&Ms, and even the occasional filling-pulling Mary Jane. I know these things aren’t good for me. Some are downright awful. However, there’s a relatively new company out there named Unreal, and they’re applying different methods and familiar ingredients in an effort to un-junk some of our favorite junk foods.

Now, it’s a bit of a stretch to use the words “candy” and “healthy” in the same sentence. “Healthy candy is an oxymoron,” says Adam Melonas, Unreal’s co-founder and chief innovation officer. “Candy is candy.”

It’s true that each Unreal product has both calories and fat, so there’s no miracle at work here. However, the Boston-based company has made it a mission to eliminate all of the unrecognizable, unacceptable ingredients from its products. In other words, the company is cutting out most of the stuff that you’d find filling out today’s candy section.

Even more impressive, Unreal was the brainchild of Nicky Bonner, who came up with the idea for the company at the ripe age of 13.

It all started a few years back, after a fruitful Halloween haul. “I went trick-or-treating one night, woke up, and half of my candy was gone,” Nicky says. “My dad took it.” Like many parents, Michael Bonner didn’t like the idea of so many chemicals at Nicky’s disposal. Determined to show his dad that candy wasn’t so bad after all, Nicky did some research. “It was the only time in my life that I had to say he was right,” he says. Nicky then decided that there had to be a better way.

With Michael’s help, Nicky talked to doctors, food scientists, and several other experts all over the world. He also spoke to Adam, a renowned chef.

“I’m not sure how many chefs you know, but generally we take ourselves very seriously. This kind of threw me off-balance at the beginning,” Adam says. “However, it was literally seconds after we started speaking that I knew that this was no ordinary 13-year-old child. The power that existed within the message he was spreading; it was very contagious.”

Nicky had an idea to create an indulgence, without all of the bad stuff. “We wanted it to be made out of all real ingredients, less sugar, no artificials, ” Nicky says. “All good stuff and none of the junk.”

Adam Melonas sourcing ingredients for Unreal in Equador. Image: Unreal/Casey Neistat.

Currently, Unreal offers five types of candy using real ingredients — stuff you’d actually recognize and would be able to pronounce. The lineup includes options that are similar to a few of the candy classics. There are Candy Coated Chocolates, Candy Coated Chocolate with Peanuts, a Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar, a Chocolate Caramel Peanuts Nougat Bar, and Peanut Butter Cups (Nicky’s personal favorite). To keep the costs down, it’s not 100-percent organic. That said, Unreal promises to deliver its products without the use of corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and colors, or even GMOs.

Adam says that coming up with Unreal’s lineup was a bit of a science project. The staff went through thousands of recipes, as well as testing on Nicky’s friends and countless others. “It would make your head spin if you understood how we went through 18 months on roasting peanuts,” Adam says. “Selecting the right peanuts, roasting the perfect roast on the peanuts; it sounds like the most inefficient or unskilled process you could imagine. It was literally that level of detail to give the people what they want.”

Another important part of the experimentation process involved reducing the amount of sugar in every product. Adam says that at one point, they actually took out so much sugar, it stopped tasting like candy. “Sugar on the market today is the greatest possible filler because it’s the cheapest possible ingredient,” he says. “We did the opposite and put in protein and fiber. However, we will never call it healthy or a healthier candy. The aim of the company and the aim of the mission was merely to give people a better alternative.”

Unlike some of those candy companies using faux ingredients, there’s no secret to Unreal candy. “We got back to basics,” Adam says. “We used real ingredients and it sounds cliché — but we used ingredients that your grandmother would recognize.”

My husband, 6-year-old son, and I tested out some of the Unreal lineup and were pleasantly surprised. While it doesn’t have the same level of sweetness as our old favorites, it also doesn’t have that toxic taste. It also includes a hearty dose of fiber, which makes having less of the candy a lot more satisfying.

Unreal just launched a year ago. The company is working on wider distribution, as well as making better candy. Adam says that each Unreal product is a project that’s never complete. Nicky is also very involved in day-to-day operations, in between his home-schooling and all of the other normal responsibilities of a 16-year-old. Besides the actual candy, Nicky is always thinking about the company’s potential and new innovations. He says that he hopes to expand the Unreal line to sodas and snack foods in the near future.

Unreal makes candy that’s very similar to some of your old favorites. Image: Unreal.

Unreal candy is currently available across the U.S. Check out the company’s website for a list of retailers.

Subscription Box Review: Candy Japan

Sample Candy Japan package.

Sample Candy Japan package. Good thing I took a picture because it’s all been devoured now.

Here’s the thing: I am crazy about Japanese candy. Ask GeekMom Kristen: Last time she made a trip to Tokyo, I all but pushed an empty suitcase on her. Fortunately we are complete kindred spirits in Candyland, and upon her return she loaded me up with all the sweets I crave but can’t get easily. Japan has Grapefruit Mentos, you guys. And craaaaazy flavors of KitKat. Pear! Purple Sweet Potato! Matcha-Green Tea! And–my absolute favorite, despite its unfortunate name–Calpis, little chewy yogurt-based candies that are to die for. Oh, and Puccho! Also chewy, with bizarre gummy bits and tiny, fizzy mini-candies embedded in them. It’s hard to go back to plain old Starburst after a Puccho encounter. (Oh how I suffer.)

So when I heard about Candy Japan, a twice-monthly subscription service bringing you THE MANY DELECTABLE CANDIES OF JAPAN, yeah, they had me at hello. And when I discovered that each shipment includes a description of all the candies, I was even more enthusiastic. That’s the one hitch with my penchant for foreign sweets: inscrutable labels. Sometimes you find yourself chomping down on what you thought was going to be lemon and it turns out to be flavored with fishpaste. (True story.)

Squid-flavored candy is where I draw the lline

Squid-flavored treat, now with more fishpaste! Image source: Candy Japan.

To make sure you know what you’re sinking your teeth into, Candy Japan emails you a brief and entertaining description of each item: Gokigen Yogurt: Strangely packaged sheets of something soft and white. Tearing one open you can find a new way to enjoy yogurt.”

(More yogurt candy! Confectioners of Japan, you complete me.)

The company is run by a young couple who thought up this brilliant way to share their favorite sweets with foreign friends. Bemmu and Nachi sent me pictures of their homegrown operation–cartons and cartons of candy overtaking their little flat. Twice a month, they mail subscribers as much candy as will fit in a standard Japanese envelope. (See example above.) If you’re looking for a unique gift for someone with a sweet tooth (like, say, me), Candy Japan is a scrumptious choice.

Price: $25/month. Each month includes two envelopes full of candy.

Review sample provided by Candy Japan.

Father’s Day Gift Guide 2013

Father and Son \ Image: Redboy Kliq

Father and Son \ Image: Redboy Kliq

Welcome to this years Father’s Day Gift Guide. Geeky dads can be a lot of fun to shop for, so lets get the ball rolling on our picks this year.

IMAX tickets to see the Man of Steel – IMAX is a really cool viewing experience and the only way my husband and son will be seeing The Man of Steel on June 14th. $17 and up

CafePress Star Trek Merchandise – For the dad who loves Star Trek (and the child on a budget), CafePress has some great ideas. With everything from the original series to Next GenerationVoyager, and Deep Space 9, there is something for every Star Trek dad. $3.99 and up

[Read more…]

Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

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My daughter recently had a Harry Potter themed birthday party. The festivities of the day are for another article, but part of the Honeydukes gift bags were homemade Peppermint Toads.

My husband and I are foodies. Why do something food related halfway when you can do it right? This includes candy recipes that call for those Wilton flavored discs that are used as candy coating. Why make candy if you are going to use those? [Read more…]

Would Bacon By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

ThinkGeek Bacon-Palooza, Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s sort of a universally accepted fact that bacon is one of the best foods known to mankind. No other food garners quite the same level of fanatic devotion and adoration. As a result, it’s been incorporated into all sorts of recipes in an effort to create the ultimate bacon experience. I am guilty of adding more bacon than required whenever it’s called for because, it’s bacon, why not? I thought I was really living on the edge when I bought a bacon chocolate bar. This was at a little specialty shop in Boston and I walked out clutching my treasure, ready to fend off the masses who would obviously kill to have this for themselves.

I sat down on a bench and unwrapped my treasure thinking of all those shows you see on TV with people savoring weird foods. I decided to follow their lead and started with the aroma. It smelled like chocolate, which, although a wonderful smell, did not hold the promise of bacon. Then I cracked a piece off and looked at what I was about to eat. I saw teeny tiny little bits of bacon. Teeny. Tiny. This did not make me happy but I popped a piece into my mouth anyway. The chocolate was as good as it smelled, but the bacon was barely noticeable. I had just paid nearly $10 for a chocolate bar that did not live up to my expecations. The bacon was a lie.

Months later, I purchased a Talking Bacon plush from ThinkGeek. You press his side and he says “I’m bacon.” It was what my daughter wanted for her birthday more than anything. Yes, I was equal parts thrilled and scared. Bacon plush has been a big hit with every child in our neighborhood. He went in for show and tell and I had half a dozen parents contact me to find out where they could get him. Talking Bacon is the man!

One afternoon, my daughter’s friend, James, was marveling at the wonder of  Talking Bacon and asked where I’d gotten this amazing creation. I told him and then loaded up the site so he could see it for himself. It’s fair to say that his eyes bugged out of his head when he saw the assortment of geeky goods on the screen. Bacon popcorn! Bacon gumballs! Bacon jelly beans! I don’t think he could have been more excited if I’d told him school was cancelled for the rest of the year.

When his Mom came to pick him up, I told her that he might be asking for a bunch of bacon stuff, and then did the obligatory “Oops, sorry, I kinda set you up there. My bad.” apology.  She rolled her eyes, looked at her son, and told him she was not buying him a bunch of bacon stuff. He looked sullen. He gave her a masterful pout. He even made his lip quiver. No luck. So, James turned his charms on me. Me. Keeper of all things geeky. Writer of geeky stuff. Player of video games. I was his only hope.

I put this off for months, thinking he’d forget, but every single time I saw him, he asked if I’d gotten the goods. My answer was always “Not yet.” Then he showed up for a playdate with my daughters in an Angry Birds shirt which he proudly wore and, I thought, I just had to help this burgeoning little geek in the making. I contacted ThinkGeek.

And because ThinkGeek is so cool, they sent me a whole box full of bacon goodness. I was excited to try these bacony treats, but a little nervous. Unlike the bacon chocolate bar with barely discernible bacon, the whole box smelled like bacon when I opened it. Popcorn, gumballs, jelly beans, lollipop. Where to start?

I opened the tin of  Bacon Gumballs. They sure smelled like bacon. And they were a brick red color that looked like bacon. I decided it was best to have something to drink handy, like when my kids are forced to try something new, just in case the flavor killed me. I put it in my mouth and it was bacony. I chewed it and holy overwhelming bacon flavor! I didn’t think it was possible but it was actually too much bacon. I made it through maybe half a dozen chews before I had to spit it out and chug half a glass of milk.

My kids found this hysterical.

I moved on to the Bacon Beans. I’d learned from the gumballs and had a glass of milk actually in my hand as I popped a jelly bean in my mouth. I chewed, and chewed and, bacon explosion! Out with the jelly bean, down with the milk.  This left the lollipop and the popcorn. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but, I persevered and went for the Bacon Lollipop. Again, milk in hand, I gave the lollipop a few licks. It was tasty! It was sweet and had just a hint of bacon and, I liked it, I really liked it. My kids now wanted to try it but I told them they had to have a jelly bean and a gumball first. They declined.

Once the husband was home, I decided it was time to pop the popcorn. You know how, in an office, someone can pop popcorn on the other side of the building and you can smell it? Yeah, well I think my neighbors may have smelled the Bacon Pop right through the walls of my house. It smelled like the gumballs tasted and I was, um, terrified. I held my nose, grabbed a new glass of milk, and tried a few pieces. And then a few more. Another bacony success! If you can get past the overwhelming aroma, the darn stuff actually tastes really good.

So, in my quest for bacon I found two tasty treats in the lollipop and popcorn, and two that didn’t quite cut it in the gumballs and jelly beans. They are, however, the perfect thing to keep at your desk, luring in unsuspecting co-workers. Trust me, it’ll be good for a laugh. I even conned the kids over for a playdate yesterday into giving them a try and the looks on their faces, absolutely priceless. They did not like, except for one girl who liked the gumballs. She’s either exceptionally brave or crazy. I’ve yet to decide.

Ah, but what about the boy that started it all? What did James think? Well, oddly his Mom, who is a good friend, hasn’t responded to the texts I sent her about the bacon stuff. She must be really busy because she couldn’t possibly be ignoring me. I’m going to continue testing this on the neighborhood kids, but not to worry. Next time I see James I’ve saved a whole pile of bacon flavored tastiness for his geeky little heart.

Thanks to ThinkGeek for sending me (and James) all this bacon goodness!

Cue The Imperial March: The Death Star Pinata

We have been busy at our house preparing for the galactic event that is our kid’s birthdays. Geekette will be turning 7 and little bro will be hitting the big one, all within 6 days of each other. How we did that I will never know, but my mom and her dad were born on the same day and my husband and his dad were born a day apart. Must be genetic. At any rate, as our theme is the original Star Wars movies, I have had to make pretty much every decoration we have. This year, big sis decided she wanted a pinata. I found several good pictures of death star pinatas on the web so I set to  work.

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I just saw that spot I missed. Sigh. Image Jennifer D.

Things you need to make a planet destroying space station:

I purchased a soccer ball pinata at a local craft store. It was covered in this weird tissue paper that was fluffed out so I proceeded to tear that all off. The death star is definitely NOT fluffy. Once it was pretty much denuded of tissue paper, I filled it with candy left over from Halloween. This step is very important. In my zeal to get the thing painted I nearly forgot to put the goodies in it. That would have been an epic fail.

Once the candy was inside, I pulled the area closed as best I could, put masking tape over the hole and spray painted it with a flat gray spray paint. Another important step, be sure you are standing up wind while spray painting. I let that dry for a couple of hours and then, using my illustration as a guide, I attacked it with a black sharpie. I had thought about using a paintbrush, but my hand is just not that steady and I was worried I would screw up the details. Which I would have. Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect because it will ultimately be destroyed thus saving the galaxy. Unfortunately it is too late for Alderaan.

Candy Corn: Demon Confection or Harmless Fun?

IMGP4389W.jpg-1I really hate candy corn. Growing up in a family with a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth, hating any candy, let alone such a classic symbol of pure unadulterated sugar love, was a capital crime. Come Halloween we’d dress up and lumber over to my Grandmother’s house to meet the rest of the cousins for some hardcore trick or treating in Nana’s upscale neighborhood. I remember scrambling in the front door and making a beeline for the living room, anxious to see what delicious candy she’d chosen to set out.

Every holiday, every year, our Nana would set out tiny bowlfuls of colorful candies placed strategically around the house, in key snacking locations.  Christmas featured rows of Andes mints and mini candy canes. Easter was Cadbury Eggs and pastel peanut M&Ms. At Thanksgiving she’d mix it up with some roasted nuts, and if we were lucky, caramels. But Halloween was always dangerously unpredictable for a kid with extreme candy prejudices. Would this be a Reese’s and M&Ms year? (Oh Please!) Or would those glittering crystal bowls be filled with my dreaded flavor nemesis, the Candy Corn? Talk about Halloween Horrors!

Originally created in the 1880s by Wunderlee Candy Company, candy corn was designed to imitate, well, corn of course. (What was up with boring candy back then? Who thought making a corn shaped candy was a great idea?) Its primary ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, color and binders. The original recipe was considered a “mellow cream” — a type of candy with a marshmallow flavor.  In fact, they achieved this flavor by throwing marshmallows into the slurry as they cooked it. This slurry was then poured into molds using a three pass method, to create the  tricolor that is candy corn’s signature.

Now while this is the official recipe, I think anyone that grew up in the 60s and 70s is likely to agree with me that at some point, a major component of that recipe, was replaced with wax. In fact personally I think the recipe was revised to just corn syrup and cheap wax. How else do you explain the pale “wax bloom” present on the hard coating of most candy corn kernels? Combine that with the crumbly cheap

crayon texture, the persistent orange finger stain of candy corn addicts, and the ability to write on paper with the bitten off ends of these things, and I think we have very good reason to suspect that all the candy corn of the past century was really manufactured by a defunct crayon company looking to unload some cheap product. And I’m not alone in my candy corn conspiracy theories! (VIDEO)

For many, candy corn has become as familiar a marker of Halloween as pumpkins. My friend, artist Ash Evans tweeted to me: “Candy corn is like the kid your Mom made you invite to your party. Nobody really wants them there, but it is required.” She’s got a very good point. Candy corn sticks around because it hits all the right nostalgic notes with people. It’s only available seasonally, which means we don’t get jaded by the sight of it the rest of the year. In fact, its presence in the stores signifies the beginning the winter holidays, and triggers warm and fuzzy childhood memories.

For years I’ve conducted an informal poll on the nature of candy lover’s relationships to candy corn. And my research has borne out the nostalgia over taste hypothesis. Do people love what candy corn symbolizes? Yes. Do they actually EAT the stuff? Not necessarily. When pressed to consider the question, I’ve found very few people who actually admit to liking the way it tastes.

Shockingly, one of the rare exceptions I’ve found is, alas, my own daughter. While she’s definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, I’m happy to report she exercises restraint, and has a discerning palette. Well, I should say she usually has a discerning palette. Her love of candy corn is clearly a tragic lapse in good taste. After I got over my initial shock to the horrifying revelation, I of course quizzed the little candy traitor thoroughly.

“Why do you like it!” I demanded.

“It’s fun! It’s colorful! It’s Halloween!” she shamelessly declared.

I suspected as much. My own daughter has been thoroughly brainwashed by the candy corn Illuminati. “But what about the texture? The taste?” I cried.

“Mom!” she rolled her eyes. “You can’t just eat any brand! Brach’s is the best!” Why? Well, my daughter reports, it the only brand she’s found that has a “flavor”.  In fact Brach’s now has many “flavors” of candy corn aside from the original. Somehow that feels like cheating.

Ugh, what’s a mother to do? The Candy Corn Demon has come after my own kin! Next thing you know she’ll be joining that candy corn lovers group on Facebook.

Maybe I’ll just make a Facebook group of my own. (Insert maniacal laughter here).

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