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