A paleta, or paleta helada, is pretty much like a popsicle (as they’re known in the U.S.) or an ice lolly (as they’re known in Britain). The difference is that a traditional Mexican paleta is made with real fresh fruit juice, and sometimes carries chunks of real fruit in it.
While the history of ice cream has been well-documented — it’s thought to have originated in China, and was eventually brought to Europe by Marco Polo — the history of the paleta isn’t quite so detailed.
An old Mexican legend says that the Aztec emperors had servants who would bring ice from the Popocatépetl volcano, outside Mexico City. The emperors would eat this ice, mixed with fruits. This sounds exotic but isn’t backed up by written historical sources. What we do know is that during the Viceregal times, the historical name for the period of the Spanish conquest, the Spanish crown regulated and monopolized the ice market. People paid high taxes to have access to it.
After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1810, this taxation was lifted and the ice market opened up. More people had access to ice. Therefore, more people experimented with it.
In the 1940’s, one of the most famous Mexican heladerías opened for business — La Michoacana, a family-run store in Tocumbo, Michoacán. This little ice cream store eventually became the brand that popularized paletas all over Mexico.
Today, it’s almost impossible to travel to a Mexican neighborhood without seeing a La Michoacana paleta shop, or a convenience store that sells paletas over the counter.
Typical flavors include watermelon, lime, mamey, guanábana, mango, coconut, rum with raisins, pineapple with chili powder, cucumber with chili powder, pecan, pistachio or tamarind. Sometimes they are covered with chocolate or nuts, and sometimes they have layers of different flavors.
My all time favorites are the mango with chili powder paleta…
…and the Paleta de Pie de Limón, which I translate as the Key Lime Pie Popsicle. The latter is just like having a key lime on a stick. Not very traditional, but it is so good!
This paleta can only be found at a paletería in downtown Coyoacán. If you ever go to this picturesque part of Mexico City, please don’t miss this paletería with no name in Ignacio Allende street, right between the Farmacia Coyoacán and the Burger King.
Please share with us: what’s your favorite type of paleta?