My brain is so frozen and I did it all for you
More so than ice cream, a popsicle is the ultimate summer food. It’s the platonic ideal of refreshment in the 98-percent humidity of a train station in a way that dairy will never be. Dairy prefers a breeze.
When I set out to review popsicles for this story, I felt I needed to define my terms. What is a popsicle, and what is not a popsicle? Are creamsicles popsicles, or are popsicles strictly fruit- and water-based? Must a popsicle have a stick? Is Italian Ice simply a popsicle in a cup (as in an ice cream cone vs. cup), or is it a sorbet? These are depths not often plumbed by casual popsicle eaters (principally children), but they seemed worthy of plumbing.
I started the test with Fla-Vor-Ice (disclosure: my favorite popsicle at the outset). Fla-Vor-Ice is surely a popsicle, but instead of a stick, it has a clear plastic exoskeleton, suggesting a clear taxonomic division between stick popsicles and what I would call sleeve popsicles (see Pop Ups and Push Ups). The endoskeleton, or stick, of a traditional popsicle may be a more primitive form of frozen treat, but stick versus sleeve is today merely a matter of preference.
Choosing a control flavor was another challenge since many popsicle brands, particularly the more natural, Whole Foods-y variety, have aimed to distinguish themselves with unique fruit blends in softer, more Millennial-friendly shades. Accordingly, in selecting my testsicles (sorry, sorry, I’m trying to delete it) I tried to get as close as possible to a flavor I had in mind. With this method, I hoped to replicate the decision-making process of a typical popsicle-eater who, having been offered a popsicle from a selection of unknown brand and flavor array, reaches in with hope and well-managed expectations.
I chose red for these reviews because, along with orange, it’s a flavor/color that nearly every popsicle-maker has a version of, and I think orange is gross. Pink is an entirely different color/flavor, and I’ve tried to avoid it here, for the sake of scientific inquiry, but I admit I may not have succeeded. I have assessed each popsicle on five metrics: portability, meltiness, portion size, flavor believability, and special features (bonus points only). I did this test so that you may avoid the brain-freeze and sugar rush of taste-testing half a dozen popsicles in a single sitting. All this I do for you. Happy summer.
Organic Whole Fruit
It’s billed as frozen juice, technically, but I don’t want this juice at any temperature. I assume these are meant for children, but I can’t imagine what about them would appeal to a child. The popsicle is a khaki pinkish shape in a paper cone, and has a mealy texture made only mealier by the presence of a strong apple flavor. It's sad, in the same way children begging for Seaweed Snax in the aisles of the Park Slope Food Coop make me sad. This is not a popsicle. This is a distraction from the joylessness of puritanism.
Paleo Passion Pops
I bought these popsicles at Whole Foods, and all I want to know is why rich people are so bad at enjoying themselves. These popsicles comply with a trendy, made-up diet for cavemen, who would of course have put flax seeds in their fruit pops. This flavor was Strawberry Passion with Flax Seeds, otherwise known as red. Well, they were red on the box, a screaming cherry that, frankly, looked delicious. Out of the box, they’re sort of a heathered rose, almost grayish. Ah, the passion of flax! The flavor is definitely strawberry, but with less thrill than most other pops. The texture is grainy but not unpleasant, and is a decently soft-sucking popsicle. The worst thing about these popsicles is definitely the box—say, can you believe this frozen fruit water is gluten-free?—but if you can make it inside, enjoy!
Though the official flavor name is strawberry, the flavor of red Fla-Vor-Ice is the color red. It’s grenadine-y enough to be cherry, and in artificial fruit terms, cherry is redder than strawberry (which is redder than apple, etc.), but even at the melted juice level the idea of fruit loses out to the idea of the color red. Which is fine! But don’t try to tell me it’s strawberry. It is not. Fla-Vor-Ice loses significant popsicle points in portability because, despite the its bag-of-chips-like ridged ends, a Fla-Vor-Ice cannot be opened by hand. Even if a person were able to tear the cold, wet plastic vertically, the popsicle would be inedible through a sideways plastic slit. A Fla-Vor-Ice must be cut, either with scissors or with a knife. (I recently broke a pair of kitchen scissors on a king-size green Fla-Vor-Ice, so I think a large kitchen knife is your best bet here.) Fla-Vor-Ice is, essentially, a more efficient Pop Up, with less bulky, wasteful packaging and a more nuanced meltfeel. But it lacks the structure for true portability, and, with no insulating paper packaging, can be difficult to hold. It is a lot of popsicle, in terms of its length, but only the king-size Fla-Vor-Ice approaches the thickness of a traditional stick popsicle. Great for a backyard barbecue; not ideal for the beach.
Popsicle brand (special Star Wars lightsaber edition)
This is a classic stick popsicle: The texture is crunchy, and the flavor is fruitier than Fla-Vor-Ice, but in a Starburst way, in that the fruit(s) it contains are not all that distinguishable. The plastic wrapping of these popsicles tears like a dream, and a slow melt means these could survive even a portable cooler, if positioned correctly. Popsicle-brand pops almost always include a joke on the stick, the Q of which is often truncated by popsicle, and it takes restraint not to read the A before it’s revealed naturally. All in all, a solid, low-melt popsicle that's hard to go wrong with, even if they’re frankly a little boring.
This is a lovely popsicle. With a few minutes’ melt, it becomes a creamy, snowball-snow ice that you can almost hear, squeaking like boots in fresh powder. This brand is a little too crunchy for such bland flavor colorism as red, but strawberry is about as red as it gets. This popsicle melts fast, but it’s a gentle, softening melt with almost no gooiness, and might even travel a decent distance. Its only special feature is a lack of added sugar, which I don’t really care about in a popsicle, but it’s not any worse for it.
Firecracker (just the tip)
Firecracker is the candy corn of popsicles. Are the three colors different flavors or are they just different colors? Can anyone even tell? It’s included here because I feel strongly that the red tip of a Firecracker popsicle is classic enough to be considered alongside its red compatriots. The light, vanishing iciness of a Firecracker is serious brain-freeze material and should be treated with caution. The red tip of a Firecracker is an amuse bouche to its other two tiers, the sharp, mystery-Airhead bite of white and the blue-raspberry-Icee sugar rush of the bottom segment. Chainsmoking Firecrackers is a true summer mood, and one is never quite enough popsicle. They’re light and high-fructose-corn-syrup-y like Fla-Vor-Ice, but they require less preparation, and less jockeying for flavor since they’re all the same. It’s the perfect thing to bring to a barbeque if the barbeque needs a bit of nostalgia and a lot of sugar.
The Whole Foods store brand is a surprising contender in many culinary arenas, and their popsicles are no exception. The reddest popsicle I could lay hands on was strawberry, though the popsicles themselves were a bit pinker than I might have liked for this piece. Still, this popsicle tastes like frozen fresh strawberries reconstituted into an edible shape, which is probably not far from the reality. Seeds and whole fruit chunks (small ones) are seen throughout, and the soft melt is similar to that of the Outshine popsicles. The natural food set might be onto something. The 365 popsicle also lasted me half the walk to the laundromat in 80-degree heat, which is a vote of confidence for any food.