- Meredith Bethune Special to the American-Statesman
An icy paleta is a welcome relief from our sizzling summers. These colorful ice pops are sold throughout Mexico in specialized shops called paleterias or from sidewalk pushcarts. Here in Austin, we now have access to several traditional paleta makers and creative upstarts experimenting with their own inventive flavors.
But what distinguishes a paleta from a humdrum frozen pop? Most are made from scratch using fresh ingredients. Paletas are usually available in a captivating rainbow of colors and flavors that represent the vast selection of ingredients available throughout Mexico. The treats are usually fruit-based, but they also can be scented with flower petals or herbs, flavored with pecans or coconut, or spiced with chile.
Almost any ingredient can be transformed into a paleta. Some of the most common flavors are lime, watermelon and strawberry, but you’ll also typically find more novel options like tamarind, guava and guanábana (soursop). These paletas de agua are made simply from fresh fruit, water and sugar, resulting in an icy texture studded with chunks of fruit. In contrast, paletas de crema are like dense ice cream on a stick. They’re usually enriched with milk or cream, and popular flavors include rompope (vanilla eggnog), arroz (rice pudding) and nuez (pecan).
The treat’s history is murky. There are popular legends of the Aztecs gathering ice and snow from the top of volcanoes outside Mexico City to make the first frozen treats. The first commercial paletas were likely made in the 1930s and are commonly traced back to the state of Michoacán, although several other towns have also claimed the honor.
The paleta scene in Austin is also a bit mysterious, perhaps because most paleta makers are protective of their recipes and specialty flavors. Consequently, frozen pop lovers throughout the city are benefiting from the countless flavors available around town. You’ll find something different at every vendor, as well as plenty of old favorites.
Available: Whole Foods Market, Central Market, Wheatsville Co-op, Royal Blue Grocery, Whip In, and other locations around town. goodpops.com.
Daniel Goetz, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, first discovered paletas while traveling to Mexico City. After a brief business partnership with the current owners of Mom & Pops, GoodPop moved production to Houston. The Austin-based business has recently expanded its distribution to 12 states, but their products are still sold at several small Austin shops and at Whole Foods Market stores throughout Texas. Goetz’s favorite GoodPop flavor is Coldbrew Coffee made with organic, shade-grown and locally roasted coffee cold-brewed in-house. GoodPop makes six staple flavors and occasionally produces seasonal flavors like coconut, lemon and mango chile.
Goetz is committed to using fresh ingredients and vets his suppliers through trial and error. “Sourcing is really important to us,” says Goetz. “Knowing where every fruit comes from, knowing all of of our vendors. We try to source as locally as we can.” For instance, GoodPop is currently using Texas-grown melons in their Watermelon Agave pop. Goetz also carefully selects only non-genetically modified ingredients for their products, so GoodPop’s next big project is to become officially non-GMO verified.
Where: 2206 S. Congress Ave. 512-297-0808; icecreamsocialbus.com.
Meredith Dockery and her brother, Lee, are already known for selling silky smooth ice creams from their food truck on South Congress Avenue. In the summer, however, they also experiment with frozen pops made from fresh fruit and herbs. “We wanted something that was an alternative to dairy, something fully frozen,” Dockery says.
Dockery gets inspiration from seasonal fruit and farmers markets, but she also looks at the different flavor combinations present in cocktails. “We used to have a set popsicle, but its more fun to rotate and just be really creative, experiment, and see what people are into,” she says. Ice Cream Social carries flavors like kiwi banana, pineapple lime basil, and a mixed fruit flavor made with strawberry, kiwi, blueberry, mango and peach. They hope to carry a Thai coffee flavor soon.
Where: 2002 E. Fourth St. 512-481-1332. Available from pushcarts and convenience stores around town.
No list of Austin area paleta makers would be complete without mentioning this East Austin factory. The name of the company references the state of Michoacán, where paletas were likely invented. La Super Michoacana is the most visible producer in Austin, supplying 20 different flavors of paletas to various convenience stores and pushcarts throughout the city. Mango, coconut and vanilla are some of the most popular.
Available: Area farmers markets, Wheatsville Co-op, in.gredients, Royal Blue Market, The Natural Gardener and other locations around town. themomandpops.com; 512-775-1353.
Laura and Manuel Flores both enjoyed paletas while growing up on opposite ends of the Texas-Mexico border in Brownsville and El Paso, respectively. The couple were eager to making something fresh for their children, “a treat without high fructose corn syrup and food coloring,” Manuel says. They experimented with different flavors in their home kitchen and eventually started selling them at First Thursdays on South Congress Avenue, at farmers markets and at other events.
After parting ways with GoodPop, they regrouped under their current name, which is a reference to the hands-on nature of their business. “We’re doing most of the work ourselves, it’s literally a mom and pop operation” Manuel says. They make about 20 flavors but usually have only 10 to 15 available at any one time. Laura’s favorite flavor, Creamy Lime, tastes just like frozen key lime pie on a stick. She also highly recommends their Groovy Uva pop, which contains no added sugar and derives its sweetness only from grapes, blueberries and organic grape juice. Manuel says, with pride, “We think we’re doing it the way it was done when they made the first paletas, with real ingredients, food and fruit.”
Their products are sold at retail shops, Austin farmers markets, and the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market in San Antonio. They also cater wedding and special events and recently started selling at the Circuit of the Americas.
Where: 8120 Research Blvd. 512-407-9009.
Owner Carlos Nuñez likely will greet you as you enter this paleteria hiding in the shadow of U.S. 183. “I’m the one doing everything,” he says, although this summer his teenage son has helped with customers and making the ice cream and 18 flavors of paletas available in this shop. Nuñez first started making the frozen treats when he opened 10 years ago as part of a business partnership.
Paleteria Las Delicias carries all of traditional flavors such as coconut and watermelon but specializes in more obscure flavors from the owner’s home state of Guerrero in Mexico. “We have something different here that even some of the people from Mexico haven’t seen before,” Nuñez says. The yellow nance paleta tastes vaguely of apricot and vanilla. It’s flavored with a wild fruit sometimes called yellow cherry. “In my hometown … we use that a lot to make atole,” Nuñez says. The purple camote (sweet potato) is made with real purple tubers and has the texture of frozen sweet potato pie filling. The paletas are also available from various pushcarts that operate in North Austin within walking distance of the shop.
Where: 1208 E. Palm Valley Blvd. in Round Rock. 512-244-6431.
For nine years, Javier Rodriguez has operated his cheerful shop in a small strip mall in Round Rock. His paletas are distinguished by their silky smooth texture — he learned to make them while apprenticing at Paleteria Garcia in Abilene. The shop’s two clear freezers contain a vibrant selection of more than 30 flavors separated into paletas de agua and paletas de crema. The lime, mango and chile, pecan, and strawberries and cream (a cream flavored bar studded beautifully with chunks of strawberries) are particularly popular. Charming miniature paletas in strawberry and lime flavors are available for small children who can’t eat the standard size before it melts in the summer heat.
Where: Follow @thepopcycleatx for locations. thepopcycleaustin.com; 225-931-2228.
Lindsey Byrd wants to surprise people with her creative and brightly flavored paletas that she sells around town from her “icicle tricycle” with a cooler attached. Although her business is still quite new, Byrd has actually been making paletas for more than three years. It started as a creative outlet in her spare time while staging at different restaurants. As a graduate from the California Culinary Academy, she became interested in desserts while doing an externship in Paris. “That’s where I got some of the ideas for flavors like the buttermilk lemon thyme, the secret ingredient is just a little olive oil,” she says.
Byrd recently returned from spending several months in Mexico working in restaurants. “Anytime I saw a paleteria, I would pick their brain,” she says. Byrd returned with a dedication to making her products with all organic ingredients, and she is often inspired by local produce. She also makes every single pop and packages them herself. “I’m really particular about the mood I’m in and making them with love and attention. That’s one of the main things I learned in Mexico,” she says. You can find flavors like honey peach, black sesame, and kiwi mojito by following @thepopcycleatx on Twitter. Byrd’s routes often include downtown Austin, the East Sixth Street area and Barton Springs Road.
There are countless varieties of frozen pop makers, but most paletas are made using standard 2.5 ounce plastic molds. Using a pitcher or another container with a spout will help prevent spills when filling the molds. Remember that the liquid mixture will expand upon freezing, so leave some space in the top of the mold to account for this. Paletas are best consumed within two weeks of making them.
3 cups water
1/2 cup culinary lavender
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
1 1/2 cups sugar (more or less if preferred)
In a small pot bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
Add the lavender, turn off the heat, and let the lavender steep for at least 15 minutes (longer is usually better).
Once the lavender tea has cooled, add the fresh squeezed lemon juice and the sugar. Stir thoroughly until sugar is dissolved.
Pour into molds and place in freezer until fully frozen. Makes 12 to 16 pops.
For ginger simple syrup:
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup ginger slices
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 lbs. red plums
1 1/2 cups ginger syrup
4 limes juiced
1/2 cup organic sugar
3 cups filtered water
2 pinches sea salt
To make the ginger infused simple syrup, peel and roughly chop fresh ginger.
Combine the ginger with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally for two minutes.
Remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes or up to an hour (depending how strong you would like the ginger flavor to be).
Remove the ginger from the syrup and set aside a one-inch piece. Discard the rest.
To make the paletas, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the plums in half and place on a baking sheet. Roast them in the oven for 25 minutes.
After the plums are cool enough to handle, remove the pits and place all of the plums (skin included) and their juices into a blender.
Add the ginger syrup, juice of 4 limes, 1/2 cup organic sugar, the reserved 1 inch piece of ginger, water, and sea salt and blend until fully combined. Chill mixture for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
When mixture is cool, pour into molds and freeze for 6-8 hours or until fully frozen. Makes 12 to 16 paletas.
2 cups fresh strawberries
6 medium lemons
2 cups filtered water
1/3 cup organic cane sugar or 1/3 cup of honey (can adjust up or down to desired sweetness level)
Cut stems off of strawberries and slice into quarters.
Slice lemons and squeeze fresh lemon juice into a cup.
Stir organic cane sugar into filtered water until sugar dissolves.
Combine strawberries, lemon juice and water/sugar mixture into a blender.
Puree until smooth, or leave small strawberry chunks in if desired.
Pour into standard pop molds, place in freezer and let freeze for at least five hours. Makes 12-16 frozen pops.View full experience