A plate of healthy popsicles. A plate of healthy popsicles. A plate of healthy popsicles. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

Popsicles aren’t just for kids anymore

The craft popsicle movement is solidifying around the world.

The simple, sticky childhood treat that made hot summer days extra special and turned tongues bright, unnatural colors the world over is getting a 21st-century reboot.

The popsicle, once nothing more than water, sugar and artificial flavor, is being carried into adulthood via a handful of artisanal popsicle shops specializing in seasonal fruits and unique combinations. From New York-based People's Pops to Israel's Latin-American-influenced Paletas to Atlanta's King of Pops, it seems that popsicle consumption is no longer a child's game. Touted as an alternative to the traditional dessert, these popsicle makers have been able to obtain, then maintain, a devoted following thanks to creative – and quintessentially mature – flavors like chocolate sea salt and strawberry basil.

"More than changing what people think about ice pops, I think we're part of a larger movement of people changing the way they think about food ...," said People's Pops co-founder David Carrel. That shop has expanded to four locations in New York City since opening in 2008, with growth on the horizon.

People's Pops have become a hit in NYCPeople's Pops have become a hit in NYC (Photo: Jonathan Percy/Flickr)

Nomi Zysblat's use of the Mexican-style, all natural fruit-based popsicle, called a "paleta," has become a hit in Tel Aviv. Before opening her stand there, the culinary school graduate was introduced to paletas in bodegas around New York. That's when she fell in love with the idea of making popsicles. Before returning to Israel to sell her pops, she spent two months in Mexico honing her craft from authentic "paleteros."

These days, Zysblat's paletas are a hit. She loves experimenting with unusual flavors, like tahini, silan (date honey) and wine, and her customers love trying them out.

PaletasPaletas (Photo: Assaf Dudai)

Zysblat's popular "Mila" popsicles are named, she said, after the daughter of a friend. The process seems simple – if you don’t take into account the multitude of hours spent perfecting the recipe. Bananas are peeled and smashed. Tahini, yogurt, peanut butter, silan and milk are added, topped with some water, and the whole thing is blended until the right texture is achieved; the Mila is on the verge of chunky, yet creamy and very rich in flavor.

The mixture is poured into the molds, which are then submerged in water mixed with an anti-freeze agent to allow the water to drop to 4 degrees below zero, for about 20 minutes. When taken out, the molds let out a "pop!" and the paletas drop like fruit from a tree.

Some of Zysblat's popsicles rely on familiar Israeli tastes: pomegranate with lemon and nana (Israeli mint), orange and chocolate and citrus with Arak (Israeli anise, similar to Ouzo).

Nomi and her paletas. Nomi Zysblat and her paletas. (Photo: Assaf Dudai)

But it's equally important for her to “keep the Mexican spirit alive with their simplicity and appreciation for seasonal fruits,” she said, such as pineapple-chili, avocado, roasted coconut, jalapeño-lime and guava.

Zysblat sells her paletas in festivals, farmer's markets and a booth at a Jerusalem railway station. She plans to open a storefront shop in the coming months.

Like Zysblat, the three brothers at the helm of Atlanta's King of Pops first took a liking to paletas while on the beach in Central America. After being laid off by a large financial company, the youngest brother, Steven, decided there were "no more excuses not to follow his dreams," according to the shop's website. Now, King of Pops operates five other shops around the southeastern U.S. in addition to its Atlanta location. They also take orders for custom pops and can transform your favorite cocktail into pop form, which they call a "poptail."

“I’ve never seen anyone eat a popsicle and not smile,” Brooklyn-based chef Rob Newton, who handcrafts popsicles to sell out of his Vietnamese street-food shop, told the Nation's Restaurant News. “That’s a good way to end a meal.”

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