I tried 'unreal' peanut butter cups, and they tasted better than the real thing

When a food startup selling “better for you” candy approached me, I was sceptical.
I grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town that calls itself “the sweetest place on earth,” so UNREAL Candy — a brand touting peanut butter cups and M&M-like sweets made without GMOs, gluten, corn, or soy — had a lot to live up to.

I wasn’t disappointed.

UNREAL doesn’t use any partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial ingredients, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or preservatives. Instead, the company relies on natural ingredients.

Its sweets are made with 40% less sugar than candies from major brands. It uses sustainably sourced and fair trade ingredients. Its dark chocolate candies are vegan.

UNREAL’s candy is made with ingredients like quinoa, palm oil, and organic dairy, and coloured with natural ingredients like beet root and carrot juice. So no, it’s not “healthy” for you in the way that chomping on an apple would be, but it’s certainly less junky.

UNREAL, which has raised $US18.7 million in funding from investment firms MDC Dream Ventures and Raptor Ventures, gave us a bunch of its new products to try, including its milk chocolate crispy quinoa peanut butter cups, dark chocolate coconut peanut butter cups, and its candy-coated milk-chocolate “gems,” which are like M&Ms.

We weren’t disappointed by the better-for-you candy. In fact, we really liked it.

The coconut dark chocolate peanut butter cups tasted slightly different than the peanut butter cups you’re probably familiar with. The chocolate is a bit less sturdy and the peanut butter is a little runnier — one Business Insider reporter described it as “a little mushier than Reese’s” — but it’s delicious. “I want to be buried with these peanut butter cups,” another Business Insider reporter said.

And its chocolate “gem” candies were pretty good too. One Business Insider editor said, “as a lifetime fan of M&Ms, and someone who, as a kid, wrote countless letters to the company asking for new colours and M&M styles, I can tell you that these healthy M&Ms are legit and almost a little sweeter than the real thing.”

What’s even more surprising than the fact that UNREAL Candy tastes either similar to or better than normal candy is that its co-founder is a teenager.

After a night of trick-or-treating five years ago, Nicky Bronner, then 13, woke up the day after Halloween to find a big chunk of his candy stash had gone missing.

Bronner knew exactly who to start yelling at. His dad had taken it away and told him “candy isn’t good for you.”

Outraged, Bronner tried to prove his father otherwise. “It was my first year of being homeschooled, so I said, ‘I don’t think it’s that bad for you.’ It’s just peanut butter and chocolate — how bad could it possibly be for me? We have peanut butter and chocolate in the house.”

But Bronner looked it up, and found out that his dad had a point.

“It was the only time I ever admitted to my dad that he was right,” Bronner told Business Insider.

Nicky bronner UNREAL CandyNicky Bronner, co-founder at UNREAL Candy

From there, Bronner and his dad set out to find a way to make candy that would still taste good, but be less bad for you. Their journey eventually took them all the way to Europe, where a food scientist helped them develop a formula to make candy taste good, but also be better for you than normal candy.

Bonner is a senior in high school this year, and while he’s still helping out with UNREAL, he plans to take a gap year next year and then apply to colleges.

UNREAL is rolling out its revamped products to places like Kroger grocery stores, Whole Foods, and Target’s natural food aisles. The company is starting to target more natural foods-oriented demographics, including millennials who are into organic foods.

Instead of simply creating a simpler, better-for-you version of candy you like, the company is reinventing these candies, incorporating trendy ingredients like quinoa in inventive ways. Its bright colour scheme is a far cry from its former techy, dark packaging.

While UNREAL is focused on cleaning up candy right now, the company eventually would like to unjunk more of your favourite junk foods. If its current candy is any indication, the company has a pretty good grasp on how to make less-bad-for-you versions of the food you love.

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