Candy is dandy, but it's also not very good for you. It's filled with artificial flavors, preservatives, hormones, genetically modified organisms (yum!), hydrogenated oils and corn syrup. That's why it's called junk food. The mission of Unreal is to remove the junk from junk food without removing the taste. That's a rather tall order.
I'd passed Unreal in the candy aisle at my local Target dozens of times without giving it a single thought. The packaging is all flashy and stylish, but when hunting for candy the eyes are naturally drawn to the classics. Peanut Butter Cups in an orange wrapper, Peanut M&Ms dressed in yellow. Everything else is either sub-par or high-priced, at least that was my perception.
It wasn't until a reader named Paul dropped me a line last week that Unreal got on my radar. I dropped the company a line, they sent out one each of their five products, and I ate them.
They were certainly different.
The story told on the Unreal Candy website is that a man named Michael and his then 13-year-old son Nicky got into an argument over Nicky's Halloween candy. Michael took it away, Nicky got angry, Michael told him it wasn't good for Nicky, Nicky looked it up and discovered his dad was right.
Instead of simply sulking, Nicky decided he wanted to try and make candy without all the crap in it. He called scientists and chefs. Armed with knowledge and professionals and his father and older brother, Nicky developed a line of candy that uses all natural ingredients—chocolate with more cocoa, real cane sugar, natural coloring instead of chemical dyes. They reduced calories, fats and sugars while increasing fiber and protein. They created healthy products that cost the same as their big-name counterparts (which surprised the hell out of me).
That's lovely and all, but Snacktaku isn't about buying snacks—it's about eating them.
My initial impressions of the taste of Unreal's five products were not positive. The chocolate was too bitter. The nougat tasted of vitamins. The colorful candy shells on the M&Ms weren't as colorful as I'd hoped. With the exception of the peanut butter cup, each left an odd amaroidal aftertaste.
In retrospect I might have been tasting science. I'd read so much about the process behind creating these snacks that I prepped my mouth for sweet interlopers, encroaching on the territory of Hershey and M&M Mars. I saw Unreal as the enemy, and that was unfair.
So I went to the store and purchased another five pieces of candy, along with one of each snacks' candy inspiration. Tasting each pair side-by-side, suddenly Unreal made much more sense.
The major difference between all Unreal Candy varieties and their junked counterparts is sweetness. I never realized just how sickly sweet a Milky Way bar is until I took a bite of one followed by a bite of Unreal 5. Side-by-side the sugary-taste of the Milky Way was overpowering, while the Unreal bar presented a more refined, slightly darker flavor (blame the cocoa).
The Unreal bar is a denser piece of candy. The caramel is thicker and less forgiving, the nougat dense and a bit grainy. The vitamin aftertaste was still present, but considering the alternative cloying saccharine smack of the Milky Way, I found myself much more accepting the second time around.
A Snickers is a Milky Way with peanuts. The Unreal 8 is the Unreal 5 with peanuts. The comparison from above still stands with one addition—the Unreal peanuts had a bit more punch than Snickers' nuts. Not sure if it's a matter of where the supply comes from or what—they're just nuttier.
When I handed my wife a handful of Unreal 44s she thought I was giving her lentils. The vibrant colors depicted on the wrapper are certainly not indicative of the 70s shag carpeting hues of what's inside the bag. That's natural coloring for you; you aren't going to get bright blue or fire engine red—you get mud. I suppose they could have just not colored them at all, so I appreciate the effort. Still, ew.
In my mouth those not-so-colorful candy shells surrendered to my teeth much more readily than the M&Ms' protective coating, with the overall effect of further reducing the sweetness of Unreal's product versus the "real" thing. Where M&M's brought the sweetness, Unreal 44 gave me that same slightly bitter chocolate, somewhere between milk and dark—a more refined and polished experience. I might even say more mature, but I don't want to sound like a pompous dickhead.
I think the peanut issue comes down to freshness. The Unreal nuts have more taste, while the traditional candy peanuts are more a texture. With peanuts in a starring role the Unreal 54s are hands-down tastier than Peanut M&Ms.
The most divergent of the group of candy counterparts, it's not just the taste of the peanuts that sets Unreal 77 apart from the classic Reese's—it's the texture. Reese's peanut butter mixture comes across as dry and crumbly, relying on the moisture of your mouth to make it creamy (you should sell your saliva, it's delicious). Without preservatives the middle of an Unreal peanut butter cup is actually creamy, even before you mix it with spit. It's much more delightful than it sounds.
On my latest trip to Target I purchase an entire bag of Unreal 77. Individually wrapped cups are only 75 calories apiece. I ate all of them. I am not as ashamed as I should be.
So yeah, maybe candy can taste better without all of the crap in it. My hat goes off to Nicky and his family for seeing this through and delivering a product that chocolate-craving snackers don't have to feel as guilty about eating.
If you're thinking about giving these a try, however, I seriously suggest going about using the same comparison method I utilized here. It'll give you a chance to bring home a sack full of candy, as well as a chance to say goodbye to the horrible shit you've been filling your body with up until now.
Snacktaku is Kotaku's take on the wild and wonderful world of eating things, but not eating meals. Eating meals is for those with too much time on their hands. Past critiques can be found at the Snacktaku review archive.