Paletas are frozen fruit bars on a wooden stick.
The frozen substance can be milk or fruit juice based. Prices in Mexico and in America range from $1.00 to $1.40 US (as of 2006); milk ones usually cost more than the fruit ones.
Fruit juice based ones are called “paletas del agua.”
Milk-based ones are called “paletas de leche” or “paletas de la crema.” Classic flavours are vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Sometimes milk-based ones will have a piece of fruit in the middle. One called “cajeta de membrillo” has a chunk of quince paste in the middle.
Other flavours include piña colada, horchata, cucumber with lime and chile (pepino con chile), mango con chile, chamoy (pickled apricot) and coconut (one of the more popular flavours.)
Paletas are often sold from street carts, that pack them in dry ice. Fans prefer ones from the shops as opposed to from the carts, as they say the dry ice in the carts affects the flavour. A “paletería” is a store that sells Paletas.
Street vendors tend to get half of the money that they take in. Street vendors in Los Angeles are often robbed.
Tocumbo, Michoacán in western Mexico on the Pacific coast considers itself the birthpace of Paletas.
They have even put up a three-story tall statue of a Paleta at the entrance to town. The Paleta has a bite out of it, and in the space created by the bite there’s a spinning globe.
The Paleta business in Tocumbo was started in 1946 by Ignacio Alcazar and Agustín Andrade (another version of the tale says 1932.) They had moved to Mexico City, and set up a business making Paletas. Tsed their profits to help other family members set up themselves in business selling Paletas as well.
Now, there’s an informal “chain” called “La Michoacana” (meaning “the girl from Michoacán”), but the only thing they have in common is the right to use the name, the pink and white chain colours and what they sell. The logo depicts a girl in a pink dress holding an ice-cream cone and outside, the shops often have pink and white stripes painted on them. All the Paleta shops make their own Paletas, right on the premises.
Now, many Andrade family descendants are in the business, even having opened shops up in America. They didn’t trademark the name in America, though, so the name “Paleterias La Michoacana Inc” was trademarked in the States by someone else, an Ignacio Gutierrez of Modesto, California.
Still, the profits flowing back into town have made Tocumbo one of the wealthiest towns in Mexico. In December, the town holds a 10 day “Feria de la Paleta” (“Paleta festival”), and even crown a paleta Queen.
As of 2006, there are somewhere around 15,000 paleterias in Mexico, most of them run by people either from Tocumbo or whose families originated there.
Paletas means “little shovels.”
Alarcón, Claudia. The Michoacana Connection. Austin Chronicle. 12 September 2003.
Counts, Laura. Ice cream vendors mark summer. Oakland Tribune. 3 August 2004.
Learmouth, Michael. Ice Dream Man. San Jose, California: Metro Newspaper. 24 July 1997.
Millman, Joel. Now, Complaints of Brand-Name ‘Piracy’ Go Both Ways. New York: Wall Street Journal. 11 July 2005.