Thursday, June 21, 2012

UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cups

Unreal Unjunked CandyUNREAL 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.

Unreal 77 Peanut Butter Cups Unjunked

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:

They also decided key ingredients needed to be responsibly sourced, supporting farming communities and preventing destruction of the rain forests. All ingredients needed to be non GMO. Dairy needed to come from grass fed (versus grain fed) cows with no antibiotics or added hormones.

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).

Reese's Peanut Butter CupsSo 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:

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Ingredients: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, milk fat, corn syrup solids, soy lecithin, PGPR) peanuts, sugar, dextrose, salt, TBHQ

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.

Unreal 77 Peanut Butter Cups Unjunked

So, what about this UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cup?

Unreal 77 Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (cane sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milk powder, organic blue agave inulin, skim milk powder, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), Peanut Butter (dry roasted peanuts, icing sugar, palm fruit oil, salt), Cane Sugar, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Peanut Flour, Organic Blue Agave Inulin, Whey Protein Isolate, Salt, Soy Lecithin

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.

UNREAL & Reese's Comparison

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.

Unreal 77 Peanut Butter Cups Unjunked

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:
UNREAL works closely with a broker to secure cacao from co-ops in Ecuador and Ghana. They said, “Our Brokers on the ground work with them daily to ensure the best quality of product and that people and planet are not being damaged in the process.” There is no third party certification for any of this, so it is not certified fair trade or sustainable but they did say that there is an auditing process by the buyers.
UNREAL sources their milk from California (using no hormones or antibiotics) and the dried milk products from New Zealand.
UNREAL’s chocolate is made in the United States by “a family owned and operated chocolate company.” They declined to give an actual source.
UNREAL defended its use of inulin (which can cause digestive upset in some people and is considered a filler and may actually disqualify their chocolate coating from being called chocolate by FDA standards) saying that it lowers the glycemic load of the product.

Related Candies

  1. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
  2. Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Sun Cups
  4. Green & Black’s Peanut Milk Chocolate
  5. Q.Bel Crispy Wafer Bars
  6. Reese’s Pieces
  7. Factory Fresh Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  8. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Line

Name: #77 Peanut Butter Cups
Place Purchased: CVS (Silver Lake)
Price: $1.19
Size: 1.3 ounces (technically 1.27 when converted from grams)
Calories per ounce: 150
Categories: All Natural, Candy, UNREAL, Chocolate, Kosher, Peanuts, 9-Yummy, Canada, Sav-On/CVS

POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:03 pm Tracker Pixel for Entry     All NaturalCandyReviewUNREALChocolateKosherPeanuts9-YummyCanadaSav-On/CVS

  1. I would be interested to know more about their sourcing. Also, I’m surprised a company positioning itself as environmentally friendly and such would use palm oil.

    Comment by Rodzilla on 6/22/12 at 5:09 am #
  2. I saw these the other day, and was amused that their version of Snickers had the bubbles on it for Protein and Fiber.  I would figure the inulin is there more so that they can tout their version of Snickers is better, it has FIVE grams of FIBER!

    Comment by Jess on 6/24/12 at 1:14 pm #
  3. Hi there,
    I’m trying to figure out the meaning behind the numbers. Unreal #41 are the equivalent of M&M’s, which were invented in 1941. Unreal #54 are the equivalent of Peanut M&M’s, which were invented in 1954. However, I’m still trying to figure out the meaning behind Unreal Candy #5, #8, and #77 (those respective candies were NOT made in 1905, 1908, or 1977).


    Comment by Julian on 12/22/12 at 8:15 pm #
  4. I really like your assessment. I got very excited about “real food” candy bars and went and bought a bunch. I like the taste; they taste homemade rather than factory-made. For the MOST part, I like the list of ingredients. I have issues with palm oil, agave (which while sourced naturally is extremely processed), and hydrolyzed milk powder (yuck). And, I totally agree with you that they need to do a better job with packaging. It looks like some kind of protein bar that I would never pick up on the outside. That said, the taste is good and I would still choose Unreal over the traditional brands.

    Comment by K.T. on 1/09/13 at 10:44 am #
  5. I can’t say I’ve always been thrilled with Newman’s Own products, but I really like their peanut butter cups. They make a lot of fair trade/organic/etc claims, so maybe we could get a comparison review of those as well.

    Comment by Thomas on 9/11/13 at 2:19 pm #
  6. Non-GMO is a good precaution but since they’re not organic, there’s still the potential issue of pesticides in the ingredient production. That seems to be the last thing anyone ever talks about, but to me it’s the elephant in the room.

    I’m also curious since there are no preservatives, how do they keep the oil from getting rancid? Or do they just have a shorter shelf life?

    Comment by Kenric Ashe on 9/27/13 at 11:08 pm #
  7. Also, should we be concerned about soy lecithin?

    For example:

    Comment by Kenric Ashe on 9/27/13 at 11:13 pm #
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