Most people appreciate moments of indulgence in their diet. It might be a smear of rich triple crème brie across a hunk of crusty sourdough. Or, it might involve a scoop of lush chocolate ice cream studded with pieces of chewy brownie. What decadent treat calls you? Individuals on a paleo or autoimmune protocol diet have to steel themselves to this siren song, and it is torture. Luckily, Vancouver resident Tonya Butts’ company, Sweet Apricity, is producing luscious caramels that are in-line with the restrictions required by these diets.

Sweet Apricity Tonya Butts
Vancouver resident Tonya Butts is improving the lives of people with limited diets. Photo credit: Tonya Butts

When I sat down with the business owner and candy maker, the first thing I asked about was these specialty diets. Butts explained, “The paleo diet eliminates grains—which includes corn, wheat, and rice—legumes, soy and most dairy. Instead, it focuses on vegetables, fruit and quality meats, which are more in line with what our ancient ancestors had access to.”

The autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) takes that already strict set of dietary restrictions and increases it. “The AIP diet is similar to the paleo diet, but it requires eliminating more foods that can be highly inflammatory. So, an AIP diet has to remove nuts, seeds, eggs and nightshades on top of everything that’s removed in the paleo.” Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes and okra.

People follow these diets to improve their health. “All the things that are removed from the paleo and the autoimmune diet can cause inflammation which can lead to disease and difficulty in optimum functioning,” Butts states. But, the improvement in health comes with sacrifice, and it can be punishing.

“If you’re paleo, you can find a chocolate chip cookie that’s paleo-friendly, made from almond flour. You can also discover lots of treats. But if you are AIP, you can only put honey in your tea, and that is about all the options you have for a treat because you can’t bind anything with eggs. You can’t use nut flours. You can’t use any alternative flours that really work,” Butts explains.

Sweet Apricity
The companies classic caramels are sweet and rich. Photo credit: Tonya Butts

Butts was motivated to create her first caramels by her best friend Wendy, who manages her Lyme disease with an AIP diet. If Wendy chose to indulge herself with a treat made from the list of restricted foods, she could expect to be bed-ridden for days with a migraine as a result. Butts wanted her friend to take pleasure in a sweet treat, and she did.

When presented with the caramels, Wendy screamed, and then she cried. Next, she told her friend, “Being able to eat the caramels on this diet makes it really great.”

Butts realized there was a place in the market for her product, so she began testing recipes and getting feedback. Before long she had the perfect caramel made from five simple ingredients: honey, coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut cream, and sea salt.

The name of the company was a revelation, presenting itself to her with immediacy. “Being the language geek that I am, I stumbled across this word ‘apricity,’ which means the warmth of the sun in winter,” Butts said. “Honestly, I saw that word, and I clasped my heart. That’s the name of the company. That’s the name of what this product is.”

Next, Butts needed to establish a home base. “Vancouver is my home; I love Vancouver. There’s a really great sense of community that feels different from Portland. It was really important to me to be able to move back to Vancouver,” Butts effused.

Sweet Apricity
Lavender caramels are a seasonal offering that Sweet Apricity carries in the spring. Photo credit: Tonya Butts

And, the universe seemed intent on facilitating that desire. Two or three accountants were firm in their belief that Vancouver was the best place to establish a business, and she was able to find a gluten-free kitchen, which was not the case on the other side of the river. In addition, the community provided her with stellar employees.

“I got so lucky. They are all super engaged,” Butts beamed. “They are all in love with the product. And, they think what we’re doing is really important. Having people that find this work really meaningful is sweet, and I couldn’t be luckier.”

The response has been overwhelming. Customers are quick to hug Tonya Butts at paleo events, and emails filled with gratitude and compliments arrive regularly. Recently, she received a letter from a man whose eight-year-old daughter had not enjoyed a piece of candy in over three years. Included with the letter were two photographs of the girl and a drawing she had done, which caused the employees of Sweet Apricity to have a good group cry.

Moving forward, Butts intends to integrate the company into Clark County in more tangible ways. She hopes her caramels will be at farmers markets and in select grocers by next summer. Currently, they can be purchased through the Sweet Apricity website and at the Cultured Caveman, a paleo restaurant in Portland.

Sweet Apricity
In March, they had a St. Parick’s special Matcha for coloring and EnjoyLife chocolat coating. Photo credit: Sweet Apricity

In addition, Butts is working on both bacon fat caramels and ones that include cannabidiol, or CBD, the cannabis compound that provides medical benefits without making users feel stoned. Multiple naturopaths approached her about the making CBD caramels for pain patients.

Butts is also about to launch the first marshmallow on the market that contains actual mallow root. Other ingredients include grass-fed gelatin, maple sugar, coconut sugar and honey. These marshmallows, like caramels, will be suited to paleo and AIP diets.

“Eliminating things from your diet is hard,” Butts sympathized, as our time together came to a close. “It feels really difficult, and it feels lonely. And it feels like an unending obstacle. And my caramels, on the other hand, feel really indulgent. They feel like a treat.”

To learn more and place an order, visit the Sweet Apricity website.

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