Mexico’s colorful gastronomy isn’t just limited to fiery salsas and deeply-hued moles — it extends to frozen treats, too. In heladerías or local ice cream shops, there is a kaleidoscope of vibrant treats to pick from. Some are made from fruits like lime, passion fruit, or coconut, while others are dairy-based with chocolate or dulce de leche flavors, via Paletas Morelia.
When served on a stick like a popsicle, the frozen sweets are called paletas, while bagged slushie-like variants are called bolis. Unlike other mass-produced cold treats, their bright appearance is rarely achieved through artificial food colorings, reports Flavor Teller. Straightforward to prepare, bolis are known by many names across Latin America. Called vikingos in Colombia, bambinos in Venezuela and charamuscas in El Salvador, their convenience and affordable nature explain their ubiquity, describes 196 Flavors. Let’s dive into one of the most popular flavors, a deeply-red variety made with a beloved plant — bolis de Jamaica.
Hibiscus, popular throughout Mexico, is used to prepare bolis de Jamaica.
Bolis de Jamaica gets its extraordinary essence from a special ingredient: hibiscus. Known as flor de Jamaica in Spanish, this plant is widely popular throughout Latin America. The blossom is so ubiquitous in Mexico that some mistake it for being native, although it’s endemic to Asia. Such a prevalence is accompanied by many methods of consumption — from the omnipresent agua de Jamaica (an infusion similar to lemonade) to meat marinades.
Despite flor in its name, hibiscus is not a flower but a sepal — the exterior layer that offers support and protection for petals. With a refreshingly tart, cranberry-like flavor, it’s easy to see why this unique culinary component makes for a tasty cold snack, per Bon Appétit. The plant’s floral flavors and iconic deep red color are typically extracted via a concentrate. Since dried or fresh hibiscus isn’t as aromatic without a soak, it’s best after a simmer in water for 10-12 minutes. After a sieve, many cooks add lime juice and sugar. Easily stored in the fridge for months, this base is what’s used for Aguas Frescas and a range of other applications, reports NPR. It can also be used to make bolis de Jamaica.
Once the concentrate is obtained, the trickiest part of bolis is nailing the texture. Rose Egelhoff at Serious Eats experimented with several thickeners, including corn starch and tapioca starch, to create a smoother consistency out of the fridge. Both resulted in a texture more akin to gelatin than a soft frozen treat. Instead, she turned to an old tried method — granulated sugar. Since sugar lowers water’s freezing point and prevents crystal formation, it creates the desired slush consistency. The technique works with brown sugar in addition to white and is adaptable for the desired sweetness. Finally comes the bagging step. Equal proportions of the resultant liquid are placed into a small plastic bag with enough space to tie the tube. After a freeze, the treats are ready to eat, per Bruni’s Boulangerie.
If the bolis are too solid out of the freezer, submerge them in water for a few seconds or leave them out on the counter. Opening the plastic might be a little tricky, but there’s no wrong way to do it. Once the package is undone, it’s a mouthful of delight, via La Michoacana.