Even her family name is packed with flavor. Paulina Naranjo — “orange tree” in Spanish — makes paletas, Mexican popsicles, basically.
“The difference is, the sugar content is lower, it’s all fruit and not a lot of additives or coloring,” Naranjo says. Plus, her paletas have a better back story.
Naranjo, 28, is the founder, co-owner and maker of Paulina’s Pops. She sells them from a cart at events and through local restaurants including The Federal, My Ceviche, Tinta y Café and Soho Beach House. She teamed with chef Richard Sandoval of Zengo in New York City to put them on his summer menu.
The flavors bear no resemblance to the Keds-staining faux cherry, orange or grape ice pops of childhood memory.
Let these dribble down your chin: watermelon rosemary lemonade, lemon lavender, peach coriander, creamy coconut crunch, vanilla bean-blackberry, Mexican “hot” chocolate (with cayenne), hibiscus raspberry.
And the boozy ones: Mezcal cucumber with chile, pineapple tequila sea salt, Key lime margarita and watermelon mojito among them.
“What distinguishes them? The love that goes into making these,” Naranjo says. “It’s been a love story from the beginning.
“My husband, David, and I were greeted with paletas when we celebrated our first anniversary in Cabo San Lucas,” she says. “I said, ‘Oh my God, I know how to make these!’
“The idea came to me slowly. We decided together, ‘Let’s do it!’ I have this passion for anything culinary and Mexican.”
Naranjo is from Mexico City, the daughter of a Cuban dad and Mexican mother. She grew up in Miami and spent summers in the country of her birth, where she indulged her love of ice pops. Her grandfather started as a paleta maker. An uncle, Leonel Constantino, still runs a successful business in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, in southern Mexico.
“My taste memories? The flavor of the hibiscus, horchata — milk of the rice — coconut. These stand out for me. I remember my grandfather soaking hibiscus flowers, boiling them overnight with sugar,” Naranjo says.
“I learned that it has be a thorough process. No shortcuts allowed.” (She sources her hibiscus flowers from the Redland.)
There are two types of paletas, fruit-and-water-based and milk-based, Naranjo says, and they are sold throughout Mexico from pushcarts and shops called paleterias.
“In the U.S., we sell hotdogs. Mexicans sell paletas.”
Naranjo and her husband, 38, hope to open a pop-up paleteria offering seasonal fruits and vegetables served Mexican street-style with chile, lime, salt; unsweetened aguas frescas and, of course, Paulina’s Pops.
Fany Gerson, author of the cookbook Paletas, provides some history: The first icy treats in Mexico were made from snow gathered at the top of two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which overlook Mexico City. Used at first to keep food and medicine cold, the snow went from functional to fun once people began to mix in fresh fruits.
Naranjo’s relatives are thrilled that she is carrying on their tradition in the United States. And they are intrigued by her exotic flavor combinations. Naranjo, who has a day job at Brustman Carrino Public Relations, makes her paletas in a commercial facility in North Miami. Small batches, high quality, she says. As “the expert pourer,” she gets the paleta base into rectangular molds “made in Brazil, designed from original Mexican molds.”
For Naranjo, family — in Miami and Mexico — remains her motivation. In Miami, her husband is her rock. Though the business is Paulina’s Pops, she is quick to add: “and David, and David.”
And the Mexican side of her family is her touchstone.
“I’ll call my uncle and tell him ‘I’m making watermelon, but it’s separating, What do I do?’ It’s opened lines of communication with my family, and it’s a beautiful exchange.”