This weekend I had a twitter follower ask me the question: "What exactly is a paleta?" This question got me thinking as to what the term paleta means to me and what it may mean to you.
Paletas are a traditional frozen treat found in Mexican culture. Paleterias are as common in Mexico as you would find convenience stores in the US. There are two types of paletas: fruit based called paletas de agua and milk based called paletas de leche. More commonly found are the fruit based paletas as fruit was/is more abundant and cheaper to buy than milk. Traditional paletas are sweetened with sugar water, generally made from sugar cane, or not sweetened at all depending on the ripeness and flavor of the ingredients.
In my opinion ice pops qualify as paletas when they are made by following a few rules or, or guidelines if you will. First, paletas are made with one base flavor, generally a fruit, that takes center stage. Secondary flavors can be added, but only to enhance the primary flavor. A few good examples of this concept are found in some of the oldest flavor combinations: Mango & Chile*, Pineapple & Chile, Cucumber & Jalapeno*. Second, a paleta has to be simply creative. What does that mean? I’m not really sure because I just pulled that outta my ass, but what I think it means is that although paletas are simply made with just one or two flavors that those flavors are thoughtfully chosen and creatively considered for the best flavor combinations possible. For example, I make a White Grape* that is delicious (and a huge fan favorite), but to me it lacks the creativity it takes to be a true paleta. Some of my more creative flavors and attention grabbers are Strawberry Basil*, Sweet Corn, Mexican Chocolate* (spiced with cinnamon & cayenne), Rosemary Peach, Pistachio with Ricotta Cream* and most recently Prickly Pear & Raspberry* and Mamey Fruit & Lime. In my book those are true paletas (not that there’s anything wrong with White Grape).
Over the years paletas have become more and more popular outside of Mexico and around the world they can be found using many different aliases like Ice Lolly (UK) and Ice Pop (US & Canada) or Ice Pole (down under) and in many different languages: Ghiacciolo, Picole, Bing tiau, Ice keki, Ice poppu, Chiacciolo, Isglasspinne, Sodavandsis, Glace a l’eau and Eis am stiel.
You can also find similar frozen treats like Kakigori (Japan): packed shaved ice topped with bean paste, green tea powder and sweetened condensed milk and sometimes even icecream. Nam Kang Sai (Thailand): shaved ice topped with sticky rice, coconut milk, nuts and taro paste. Bing Su (Korea): shaved ice topped with beans, rice powder or rice cakes and fruit.
I hope my wealth of knowledge on the subject hasn’t overwhelmed you (said with great humor). I started writing and couldn’t seem to stop. If you made it through this post without being consumed by boredom than thanks for your interest in paletas! And thanks @jaymichaels for following and asking “What exactly is a paleta?”.