Thursday, June 21, 2012
UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cups
UNREAL is a new line of candy that may finally be the solution for people looking for sweets with fewer dubious ingredients. It just launched and I picked up one of each of the new candies at CVS last week. They’re not reinventing candy, each of the products is just a standard tried-and-true candy format, just with “unjunked(tm)” ingredients.
To start with, I thought I’d examine one of my favorite candies of all time: the peanut butter cup.
UNREAL has given their candies some odd code names. Their PB cups are called UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cups. Their other candies also have what seem like arbitrary numbers assigned to them. Their caramel nougat bar is #5 and the candy coated chocolates are #55. I don’t know if there are plans for 77 different candies in the line, or if they’ve gone through 77 different formulas. You can read more about the candy line’s origin story on their website and in this Wall Street Journal article.
The packaging for UNREAL is unlike other candies, that’s for sure. It did not entice me. In fact, I didn’t recognize it as something I’d be looking for. The packaging is black (a heat absorbing color, for the record, which is bad when it comes to chocolate candy) with neon colors and a difficult to read logo. It looks more appropriate for a caffeinated product than a candy touting the purity of its ingredients.
That said, it is different and as an isolated design, it’s interesting. I like the logo as a use of lines and typography. The color choices do not say “delicious” to me, they do not say “natural” or “wholesome.”
The website says:
However, there is no actual statement on the ingredient panel or the candy packages that say that any of the ingredients are actually “grass fed milk” or “non-GMO soy” or “Rainforest Alliance chocolate.” The closest is the web page for each candy does say NO GMOS (but never specifies which ingredients were verified that way).
So the big evil wolf in this story is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, made by Hershey’s in Pennsylvania. The portion is modest, two cups are an ounce an a half and total 210 calories. I did not eat these side by side with the UNREAL #77 for comparison. But I have a great recollection of them, having eaten one about three weeks ago, and hundreds before that. (Including a full bag of the miniatures in May.)
The milk chocolate is cool on the tongue, very sweet and lacking a noticeable cocoa note but a strong taste of dairy. The center is crumbly, salty and with an overwhelming taste of fresh roasted peanuts. It’s grainy, almost crunchy and rustic. The combination is great, the portion size is ideal for me. After eating one I want another but after two I’m completely satisfied.
The ingredients, while not pure nor verified as ethically sourced are also not completely horrible:
The items of contention might be the corn syrup solids (basically dextrose) which are almost assuredly from genetically modified corn, the soy lecithin is also likely to be GMO. The PGPR is also an emulsifier, made from castor beans, last time I checked with Hershey’s. The TBHQ is the biggest item that people complain about in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. TBHQ (also known as E319) stands for Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, which is an antioxidant which keeps the peanut butter from becoming rancid. While high doses of TBHQ are dangerous, rancid oils are also very bad for you.
So, what about this UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cup?
While all those ingredients sound nice and wholesome, I do have a bone to pick with Unreal for putting inulin into the chocolate. First of all, I don’t think the standards of identity for chocolate allow the addition of inulin, as it’s not an accepted sugar. Inulin is a soluble fiber, it’s slightly sweet (only slightly, about 10% of the sweetness of sucrose but generally has no other flavor to it) and has a good, smooth texture that makes it appropriate in both solid foods and liquids (many folks add it to smoothies). In larger quantities, however, it can cause digestive upset in some people. Agave is one of the hot sources for inulin these days, but it’s also found in chicory and Jerusalem artichokes. While it has some lovely qualities, it’s basically an inert filler. (Not a cheap one, by any means, certainly more expensive than sugar, but when you see what it does to the nutritional panel, you see why it may be considered worth it.)
The UNREAL website has a comparison chart (I pulled a screengrab because I think they changed it since I looked at it last week) but it compares them based on the portion size, not ounce for ounce, like I prefer to do things.
Basically, the Reese’s has more sugar and less fiber. If you want sugar in your candy, then you know where to go. If you want more fiber and fat, then get the UNREAL. Oh, wait, I still haven’t reviewed the actual UNREAL #77 cups for you.
The cups look great, and what really impressed me was the attention to detail. The logo on the bottom of the cup? Gorgeous. The cups are not in a little fluted paper cup, but are still protected bu a little white paperboard sleeve inside. This makes it easy to get the candy in and out of the package.
They smell great, like cocoa and peanuts. The chocolate is interesting, and for the record I tried these without reading the ingredients first, so I noticed that the chocolate was a little different without knowing why. It’s a dark milk chocolate, with a lot more discernible chocolate notes than a Reese’s Cup. Not as dark the actual Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but notable. The melt is silky, quite different from Reese’s. The peanut butter center is where things got radically different. The UNREAL peanut butter is like actual peanut butter. It’s not dry, it’s thick and pasty. There’s a little bit of a cookie dough quality to it, but overall the flavor is fantastic. Like true, fresh peanut butter. It’s sweet, it’s a little salty, but mostly it’s smooth without being sticky.
They were great. I loved them. I want to try them again. What I loved about them as well was the fact that they cost the exact same amount at CVS as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Of course the regular price for a candy bar at CVS is $1.19, but perhaps with volume will come better pricing or at least sales.
So I have oodles of misgivings about the packaging style, the marketing spin and the lack of transparency of their claims ... but when I got down to the actual experience of eating it, all of that can be forgotten.
The candy is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains soy, peanuts and milk and may contain traces of tree nuts. There is no gluten statement on the package (along with no statement regarding the sourcing of the ingredients). The shelf life appears to be approximately 6-9 months (these were good until 1/24/2013).
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
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