9 Chill Facts About Popsicles and Ice Pops
Frozen treats have been around for as long as humanity has been able to harness ice in the warmer months. Ice cream, sorbet, and many other frozen treats have histories that span the centuries—Mesopotamian nobles built ice houses along the Euphrates River at least 4000 years ago so they could have iced drinks and desserts on hand—but Popsicles and other ice pops are barely 100 years old. However, despite their relatively short history, there are plenty of interesting things to uncover about these sweet pops.
1. POPSICLES WERE INVENTED BY ACCIDENT—AND BY A KID.
Like many classic American treats—potato chips, chocolate chip cookies—Popsicles are claimed to have been invented unintentionally. As the story goes, in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson stirred a package of soda mix into a cup of water with a stick and accidentally left the concoction on his porch overnight. The temperature outside dropped enough that when Frank returned the following morning, he found a delicious frozen treat, complete with a handle!
2. THE STORY BEHIND THEIR NAME IS PRETTY ADORABLE.
Sign circa 1968. Roadsidepictures via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Epperson continued to make the ice pops for his friends and family, but didn’t file a patent for them until the 1920s. When he did, he wanted to continue calling the treats Epsicles—a portmanteau of his name and “icicles”—but his children convinced him to file them under the name they used: "Pop's 'sicles," or Popsicles.
3. THE PATENT SUGGESTS AN UNUSUAL MOLD.
The original patent was written long before specific molds for Popsicles were produced, so Epperson used a different method: test tubes. The smoothly polished interior made removal of the Popsicles easier, and they ensured a uniform size. Overheated and hungry scientists today could still try out this method if they'd like an experiment of a different variety.
4. REGIONALISMS ABOUND.
Since Popsicle is a registered brand name, generic brands and international versions are forced to brand their product by another name. You’ll find ice pops in the aisles of most American grocery stores, but in the British Isles you might hear ice lollies, and in Australia and New Zealand they’re known as icy poles.
5. YOUR HOMEMADE POPS MIGHT NOT TASTE AS GOOD.
Annie via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
As beautiful as photos of homemade ice pops look, they will generally not taste as good as a commercially made pop. In a factory, the pops are flash-frozen for a few seconds by temperatures far into the negative degrees. In a home freezer, the process is much slower, which makes for one specific difference in the pops: the taste. While chilling sugar and flavorings may separate from the freezing water in a homemade pop, which results in a treat where the flavor is too strong on the outside and essentially flavorless at its core, flash freezing creates much smaller ice crystals, which have a better texture and prevent separation, meaning the pop's flavor stays evenly distributed.
6. BUT YOU CAN USE THESE TECHNIQUES TO HELP.
Faster freezing will help homemade ice pops have a better texture and flavor, so these techniques for quicker freezing might help. As counterintuitive as it seems, hot water can actually freeze faster than cold water, so try heating up your syrup before putting it in the freezer. In addition, you could try to freeze your ice pops in a mixture of ice and salt. Adding salt to ice can lower the temperature of the ice to as low as -21°F—most old-fashioned ice cream machines use this technique.
7. POPSICLES ARE FAMOUS FOR THEIR AWFUL JOKES.
Ken via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Dad jokes are enjoying a bit of an internet renaissance, but they have a far cheesier, punnier cousin: Popsicle stick jokes. Twitter accounts have popped up to chronicle the groaners, some of which can force a chuckle simply by their sheer awfulness. Aww, shucks.
8. IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN POP IT.
Like the doughnut and the cupcake before them, ice pops are enjoying a revival on the artisan food scene. If you can imagine a possible flavor, there is almost certainly someone making it. From avocado to tamarind chili to strawberry bourbon to lime lemongrass and beyond, there’s probably an ice pop shop near you that’s chilling up some crazy creations. And, since most desserts never met an alcohol pairing they didn't agree with, there are plenty of ways to add booze to recipes to create gin and tonic, peach sangria, or white Russian pops.
9. YOU CAN EVEN SHARE THEM WITH YOUR DOG.
Fur friends like to cool off on steamy afternoons too, and Pupsicles are the newest innovation in ice pops. Dogs can enjoy the frozen treats at many specialty shops, but since most are made with a simple base of broth, dog (or cat!) owners can easily make them at home. Treats and toys frozen inside can keep any pup entertained and cool on long summer days!