Candy that’s good for your teeth? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s not—and it was born here in Brooklyn, where people with disabilities are employed to make it.
Cracked Candy, made from a sweetener called Xylitol, was founded by Flora Pringle, a science teacher and mother of two who stumbled across the ingredient and was struck with the inspiration to turn it into a treat.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables, and dentists actually endorse its use because it can actually strengthen teeth and maintain a natural pH in the mouth, successfully preventing decay.
“One night while the baby was napping, I just started to experiment in my kitchen, and eventually, I cracked it. I told my husband, ‘I have an idea for a business!’” she says. “Surely, people need a treat that is sugar-free and is actually good for their teeth.”
After finding the perfect recipe, she literally walked into several nearby stores, including her local Gowanas Whole Foods and asked to speak with a buyer, then began selling the goods at small trade shows like Brooklyn Eats.
Now living in Park Slope, where the candy is also made, she is officially a full-scale operation stocked on the shelves of Whole Foods, Eataly, Dylan’s Candy Bar, even at West Elm, which is surprising, because, you know. That’s a home goods store.
“We love candy, and it makes us happy, but sugar is literally killing us because we eat far too much of it,” she said. “This candy is naturally antibacterial, killing the same bacteria that causes strep throat or ear infections. So this time of year, it’s a great thing to eat because you can ward off infections.”
What’s especially inspiring about the candy—aside from the fact that it’s safe for diabetics, vegans, children, and people with other sugar and calorie related health problems to enjoy—is who she employs to make it.
Through a partnership with nonprofit Brooklyn Community Services, individuals with disabilities who would not otherwise have work partake in every part of the candy making process, from cracking big batches to packing them up.
All four flavors—Peppermint Ice, Mellow Orange, Cinnamon, and Lemon Ice—are made in sheets and hammered into hundreds of little pieces of all sizes, depending on how big of a piece you want, with about 60 per tin. No matter what the size, it has been statistically proven that the candy can help restore and strengthen enamel on teeth, a feat once believed to be impossible.
“We have one employee who is deaf and is an amazing lip reader, he does the packaging and always knows where everything is even when I don’t. He’s totally on it. It’s really exciting to give opportunity to people who might otherwise be considered ‘unemployable’ by many businesses.”
Brooklyn Community Services tries to ensure that everyone finds the right fit when it comes to their job search, so, on any given day, you might find some people trying out different roles.
Interestingly enough, this “secret ingredient” was first discovered nearly 1,000 years ago, and was “rediscovered” in Finland, when faced with a sugar shortage after World War II, and extracted from birch trees. And today, it’s actually not hard to find at all; you can buy it on Amazon, in Whole Foods, or in most health food stores.
So why don’t more brands use it, and why haven’t we heard of it?
“It’s expensive, and other artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup are much cheaper,” she said. “It is a premium product, so the higher quality ingredients make it more expensive. But it’s a small business, and we’re supporting people with disabilities, so I think that when people recognize these things, they’ll be happy to buy it…I hope.”
Her friends are avid supporters—Flora, who is originally from England, says that people constantly send her photos from shops around her neighborhood that stock her candy.
“People love coming to Brooklyn in particular, so I love when friends take a photo of themselves with a tin of Cracked Candy at Brookyn Fair and send me a picture. That’s the thing I love the most.”