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This Dentist Indulges Her Sweet Tooth

Jan 13, 2015

By Dean George

If you’re a dentist with a sweet tooth for chewy caramels, you have two choices: you can lead a secret life and sneak in a caramel “fix” after hours or between patients, or you can learn to like sugar-free candy.

Tom and Jennys

Since last summer, a North Carolina dentist and her husband have been pursuing a third option: creating their own candy that is all-natural, gluten-free, and doesn’t stick to teeth. Also, the handcrafted caramels they have created don’t contain corn syrup or sugar so diabetics can indulge too.

The candy startup company founded by Sindhura Citineni and her husband Tommy Thekkekandam is called Tom & Jenny’s. Citineni’s childhood nickname was Jenny, and the Durham-based couple says their company’s mission is to create delicious candy that doesn’t harm teeth.

If that’s not challenging enough, they also want their gourmet chocolate and caramel candies to reduce the chance of cavities by reducing mouth acidity and the cavity causing bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, or S. mutans.

But how in the name of Willy Wonka do they expect to do that? Let’s just say they plan on using the “X” factor with “X” representing Xylitol.

Dental Wire first reported on the plant-based natural sugar Xylitol three years ago, and again in 2013.  Sweet makers have been using Xylitol as a sugar-substitute for the past few years, but usually in hard candies or in sugar-free gum. Xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar, and studies show that as little as 6 grams of Xylitol daily helps reduce the bacteria that cause tooth cavities.

When Citineni and Thekkekandam first tried using Xylitol with caramels while living in New York City last summer, they quickly learned that Xylitol doesn’t caramelize like sugar; it burns.

Using a baking technique called the Maillard process, Thekkekandam combined cream with the Xylitol before heating the combination above 260 degrees. This process creates a reaction that breaks downs the cream’s proteins, fats and sugars and often changes the confection’s color.

After confirming that the Maillard process would work with Xylitol, the couple then consulted with a New York City pastry chef before beta-testing their handmade confection.

“Over four or five days we sold like $3,000 worth of candy,” Thekkekandam said. In September the couple had a baby, quit their jobs and moved back to North Carolina where there are fewer candy companies and they believed their candy would stand out for its uniqueness.

That decision is already proving sweet and the couple is like two kids in a candy store since returning to the Tar Heel State.

“We both love North Carolina. Both of us had this strong passion for good nutrition and good health. The real goal is we want to be a brand people can trust and really focus on educating the public,” Thekkekandam said.

Tom & Jenny’s handcrafted caramels are available in vanilla and chocolate and can be purchased online at They are also available over the counter at Foster’s Market and the Respite Café in Durham.

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Copyright 2015, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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