Andy explores how freezing changes our perception of flavor and tempts us with mango paletas.
When hot weather strikes, some dream of heading to cooler climes, but my strategy for beating the heat takes a note from the fiery summers of Mexico—where the cuisine opposes the weather with an array of frozen treats. In Mexico, ice pops, called paletas, are made using whole fresh fruit and interesting spices, with flavors including tamarind, jamaica (hibiscus), and fresh strawberry, melon, passionfruit, or other fresh fruits. Many towns are lucky enough to have their own family-owned paleterias that sell a variety each day. Taking a note from these shops, I stock a selection in the freezer, since making your own paletas at home is incredibly easy and allows you to experiment with whatever seasonal fruits and flavors you enjoy.
Paletas are among the easiest of frozen sweets to make, but they are both incredibly addictive and gratifying. The inclusion of large amounts of fresh fruit certainly help make them tempting, but I’m convinced that part of the appeal lies in the exciting way we experience flavors when our food is frozen. Often when we eat, we receive cues about the flavor we are about to experience through the smell of the food, before we even put the first morsel in our mouths.
Yet, just try freezing an ingredient, like fresh herbs or pieces of raw onion, which typically carry an obvious aroma, and notice how the once diffusive, easily perceptible scent becomes “locked in”. Thus, when we eat frozen foods, like ice cream or paletas, we experience the flavorful aromatic components (remember, the nose plays a vital role in our sense of taste!) only when the food melts in the mouth, making the simplest of flavors seem dramatic.
Making a frozen recipe with a favorite fruit or spice allows us to taste these ingredients in a new way, where we are likely to notice different facets of their flavor. In addition, freezing has the effect of dulling our sense of sweetness and other tastes sensed by the tastebuds, which explains why in the recipe below, an additional ½ cup (100g) of sugar added to already succulent mango doesn’t make the finished result taste overly sweet. And just like in savory cooking, salt makes the flavors of lime and mango positively sing in these paletas, so make sure to include a pinch.
As I prepare the recipe below, the zesty scents of ripe mango and tart citrus remind me of a refreshing spritz of Hermès’s Un Jardin sur le Nil. Considering that the mango and lime here go into something I can actually eat though, I’d take the paletas over a pricey bottle of the perfume any day.
While this simple combination is delicious, I encourage you to feel free to experiment with adding other flavorful ingredients too. Chopped mint or a few teaspoons of rosewater would be welcome additions, and in place of lime, any other tart citrus would be just as lovely. I make hundreds of paletas each summer, so I use an ice pop mold (a basic one can be found for under $20), though you can use glasses or other nontraditional molds as well, inserting a stick into the mixture once it has been in the freezer for about an hour, and is solid enough to keep the stick in place.
Makes about 3 cups (700ml) liquid mixture, enough for 8 standard ice pops
2 cups (475 ml) cubed fresh mango
1 cup (240 ml) water
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lime juice
small pinch of salt
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a simmer and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool completely.
In a blender, combine cubed mango, lime juice, cooled sugar syrup, and salt. Puree until smooth.
Pour into molds, insert sticks, and freeze until completely solid before unmolding. Store in freezer, and enjoy!
Note: If you’re as smitten with Mexican frozen treats and aguas frescas as I am, I can’t highly enough recommend Fany Gerson’s book, Paletas. The focus of the book might sound narrow, but it’s complete with beautiful pictures and entertaining anecdotes, and the recipes are surprisingly versatile. In fact, it’s one of my most used cookbooks in summer.
Photography by Andy Gerber