Candy that’s good for you? Meet Durham-based candy makers Tom & Jenny

I am always on the lookout for delicious, locally made products and recently a friend introduced me to Durham made Tom & Jenny Caramels.  Chocolate, meh, I can take it or leave it but caramel . . .  sweet, buttery, chewy stick to your teeth forever, CARAMEL, well, surely the angels in heaven spin this stuff.  I read the Tom & Jenny’s label.  Wait, hold up, what?  She’s a dentist!  She says eating this candy is good for my dental health.  By the time I hit the words natural sweetener I was skeptical.  “Healthy” candy.  I’d been down that road before in childhood when Mom decided we should eat carob instead of chocolate and candy bars got replaced with sesame candies.  Tom & Jenny’s looked like caramel.  It smelled like caramel.  Hmm.  I popped it into my mouth and it was perfect.  Sweet, incredibly buttery and sticky but not wire my mouth shut kind of sticky.  It’s a caramel that you can savor, swallow and not feel like you need to pick it out of your teeth for the next 20 minutes.  I tried another just to be sure and yep, they were good.  I took them to work to try them out on my unsuspecting, candy-loving colleagues and everyone there said not only were they good but they all commented about their lack of tooth cling.  My boyfriend, a connoisseur of candy, declared them a hit too.  “A dentist made them, they’re good for your teeth, have another.”  He was happy to oblige. I contacted Tom & Jenny because I was curious about what turned a dentist into a candy maker and their claims that the candy was good for dental health.  Check out what Tom had to say about their delicious caramels.

What made you decide to start making candy?  When Jenny started practicing dentistry several years ago, she heard from a constant stream of parents just how frustrating it could be to try to convince their children not to eat sweets.  We both really related to this because we each had such a strong sweet tooth.  It’s so hard for so many of us to imagine giving up sweets.  So instead we decided to make those sweet treats healthier.

How long did it take you to develop a caramel that you thought, this is it, it’s good? We spent two years researching natural, tooth-friendly sweeteners and testing recipes in our home kitchen.  We actually experimented with all sorts of candies during this time, including gummies, hard candies and chocolates.  Our first attempt at a caramel actually turned out pretty decent, but it took almost 20 more test batches to get something we felt was good enough to try out with our friends and family.  Then another 80 trials before we were comfortable that it was good enough to sell.  Along the way, we found an amazing James Beard Award winning pastry chef who helped us really fine tune and perfect the recipe.

You suggest 2-3 servings of this candy per day.  A dentist saying eat candy, tell me more about this recommendation.  We all have cavity causing bacteria in our mouths.  When these bacteria eat the sugar in candy and beverages, they produce acids that wear away tooth enamel, causing cavities.  Instead of sugar, we make our candies with Xylitol, a natural sweetener derived from non-GMO birch trees.  Xylitol has been extensively studied since World War II and proven to reduce the number of cavity-causing bacteria on teeth by up to 50-70%.  Eating 2-3 servings of Tom & Jenny’s Caramels will provide the amount of Xylitol dentists commonly acknowledge as sufficient to provide this oral health benefit.

The caramels are fantastic.  Any other candies in the works? We are working on chocolates as our next line of candies.  I’d love to tell you more, but Dr. Jenny keeps these things top secret!

One last question.  My mother is 82 years old and has all her teeth.  I’d like to say the same at her age.  What things are we doing/not doing that perhaps we don’t even realize are wrecking our oral health? Sugars in your diet are the proven primary root cause of cavities.  We can all do a few things to reduce our risk of cavities.  First, reduce the number of sugary drinks or snacks, especially between meals. We all know sodas are terrible for teeth due to their high sugar and acidity, but people are usually unaware that common juices like grape or orange could be equally, or sometimes even more, acidic! Each new exposure to these types of food and drink interrupts your mouth’s natural cycle of restoring a healthy pH level.  Second, when you do eat or drink something sugary or acidic, rinse thoroughly with water or a mouth rinse.  Getting the sugars and acid out of your mouth fast will speed a return to healthy pH.  Third, your tooth enamel is in a constant state of flux and you don’t want to scrub it when it’s in a weak phase.  So don’t brush your teeth immediately after a snack.  Instead, rinse, wait 10-15 minutes, then brush.  Brushing too soon after a sugar or acid assault on your teeth can exacerbate wear and tear on your enamel because you are scrubbing at a time when your enamel is in it’s most fragile state.

So there you have it.  If you’re going to snack on candy, snack well.  Purchase Tom & Jenny’s  at Foster’s Market, Respite Cafe and Oasis at Carr Mill or order them online.  

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