By Madhulika Dash
Here's how your favourite frozen treat came into being – and our reasons to try Paletas this season
Summer is a very busy time at the Sanchez kitchen in Bengaluru. The favourite Mexican hangout goes on an overdrive to create one of their summer bestselling treats – the paletas. Paletas were introduced to celebrate the different fruits of the season, says Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Sanchez.
“Paleta is one of the oldest forms of frozen fruit treats that easily dates to the early years of the 1900, and is considered a healthier way of indulgence,” says Seth.
Said to have been introduced by the Spanish in Mexico, paletas or “little stick”, were said to have replicated the ancient style of enjoying fruits (seasoned to taste) on a bed of shaved ice. According to food legends, fruits on ice was the Roman way to beat the heat and keep fruits fresh for a long period of time. In India, it was a tradition of storing fruits, wine and even giving a dessert an interesting summer twist.
But how did this tradition of fruits on ice and in ice originate? There are many theories to this. One legend credits Marco Polo for spotting this technique at the Chinese court of Kublai Khan, where ice with fruit was a common dessert, and popularising it in the West; Others say it was French Queen Catherine De Medici’s innovation for her table, where she used little shavings of ice to present desserts which many believe was the first iteration of sorbets. It was this version that could have reached Mexico where fruit on (and with) ice became fruit frozen in ice on a little stick called paletas.
Fascinatingly the beginning of paletas was, as many say, was as an easy-to-do affordable dairy based dessert popularly called Paletas De Leche that was frozen using ice inside ice boxes in the 1800s. In fact, chocolate and coffee were the earlier two beloved versions, especially by the royals, and the rich and famous.
However, according to legend, it was the fruity version that came first. The story has it that it was a trick used by the Aztec emperors to beat the heat when chunks of ice was mixed with fresh fruit and salt and kept aside till it was solid enough to be taken in hand and suckled on. More fable than fact, but back in the turn of century, this was the seasoned fruit version, also called Paletas Del Agua.
The reason for this was two: one, the taste. It was yet another form of having fruit and ice, only simplified. And two, it made for an instant eye appeal. Of course, business wise, this was an interesting way to use dips as a treat.
Paletas, which was introduced both in dairy and fruit versions, was created using seasoned fruits and fruit juices and provided instant relief for a parched, hungry soul. In fact, one of the oldest paletas, says Chef Seth, “even had a guacamole version with chunks of fruits thrown in.”
Amazingly, this port delicacy wasn’t just an instant hit, it also was an innovation that helped Mexico adapt to many of the ingredients that landed on the shores – mango being one of them.
In fact, adds Seth, “Come summers and mango paletas are the most common sight across Mexico City and beyond. What changes is the interesting combination – while some use it au natural with a little salt to hasten the process of becoming an ice pop. Others play around with interesting versions like Mango and Chillies, Mango and Guacamole, Mango and Salsa.”
A favourite in Sanchez is one with Mangoes, two ways – raw and ripe – with Mexican chillies, lime and mint. “What gives it that extra punch is that we do a thick dip of this combination and a chunky toss. Both are used in making of these paletas.”
The Healthier Lolly
Says nutritionist Sveta Bhassin, “What makes paletas interesting is its traditional fruit format play, which allows very little scope for the use of other additives, including sugar at times. This makes it an infinitely better option to the modern-day ice lollies that uses fruit concentrates and artificial colouring to get that tone. Thus, making paletas a healthier cousin, where you can not only enjoy a fruit, but in its various format.”
It is the same reason that, adds Bhassin, “makes the dairy version of paletas, a better choice too.”
Here’s our reason to explore Paletas though:
The versions that Paletas can take, and we aren’t talking just fruit and its various iterations, but dairy as well, make it an interesting summer treat.
Paletas showcase the ability to play around with content. Paletas works on the basic principle of icing your favourite treat instead of creating interesting flavoured ice lollies. This means you can combine an interesting array of ingredients to create this treat.
Paletas has Inspired…
Not many know that it was paletas that inspired the concept of fruit ices in the Cocktail world. Many seasoned bartenders including award-winning Aman Dua inspired by the techniques have used it to create fruit concoction- based ice for their cocktails. Says Dua, “It gives ice a different role to play instead of just keeping the drink cold, it adds to the texture play and taste of the drink till the end. Drink ice, as they are commonly called, work towards giving your drink more shelf life instead of turning it insipid as is the case with many where simple ice is used. It helps creates layers of interesting palate play as it melts.”
While Paletas are often described as iced fruit, is it as simple a make. Here Chef Vikas Seth reveals his secret to making great tasting Paletas, with mangoes of course.
Spiced Mango Paletas
Serves: 4 popsicles
2. Add mango juice, lime juice, chipotle, green chillies and salt to it.
3. Take the popsicle molds/plastic shot glasses and pour in the mix till the top, leave about half an inch.
4. Keep it in the freezer for half an hour and insert with the sugarcane skewers or Ice cream skewers.
5. Freezer over night or for 4 to 6 hours before taking it out from the mold.
6. To release Paletas from molds easily, keep in a warm water for couple of seconds.
7. Freeze again for at least 30 minutes. This second freezing helps Paletas hold their shape a bit better, so they won't melt quite so quickly while you're eating them.
#1: For best result, use a fleshy mango for the pieces and one with a lot of fibre for the juice. This would give it an interesting texture. You can also go for ripe and raw version.
#2: Play with fruits: Though lime juice works with most fruits, orange or watermelon can be a great addition to this as well.
#3: Creamier and light: While pairing up fruits for Paletas, also go for one ingredient that is denser with something that is subtle and light. This gives it an interesting play for flavours. A good choice can be pairing berries with muskmelon.