Why It Works
- Sugar disrupts the formation of large ice crystals and ensures that the texture of the boli is icy yet smooth.
- The tart flavor of the brewed Jamaica tea balances the sweetness from the sugar.
- The addition of fresh lime juice complements Jamaica’s fruity, floral flavor.
When it gets to be that hot and sticky time of year, there’s nothing quite like bolis―ice pops that can be found all over Mexico in a variety of flavors. These sweet-tart, jewel-toned bolis de Jamaica (hibiscus) are intensely refreshing, with a fruity, floral flavor that is somewhat similar to cranberry. Frozen inside small plastic bags, they’re extremely convenient for eating on the go.
There are two main types of bolis: bolis de leche (milk bolis) and bolis de agua (water bolis). Flavors of milk bolis may include chocolate milk or key lime pie, and often have swirls of nutella or cajeta or even chunks of cookies or popular snack cakes, like chocolate-covered Gansitos, mixed in.
Water bolis, on the other hand, tend to be fruity. Popular flavors include mango (with or without chamoy), lime, pineapple, and nanche, a small golden fruit that looks like a cherry but with a more pungent flavor. My favorite is made with flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flowers). In Mexico, agua de Jamaica, or hibiscus tea, is a popular cold drink made from the dried flowers of the hibiscus plant, which arrived in the Americas with the African diaspora.
At the peak of summer, even the iciest water boli won’t take too long to soften up and be ready to eat. On cooler days, however, many people either leave them out on the counter for a couple minutes or run them under the tap to make it easier to start eating. For this recipe, I wanted to create a boli that was smoother, less icy, and easy to eat straight out of the freezer. I decided to try adding hydrocolloids, carbohydrates that are used to modify the texture of food. For example, guar gum is a hydrocolloid that is often used as a thickening agent in commercial ice creams. Other common hydrocolloids include starch and gelatin. For my initial tests, I tested two types of widely-available starch: cornstarch and tapioca starch.
My test with cornstarch made a boli with a pudding-like texture. As it thawed, the boli became a bit gummy and ate like cold strawberry jam, which was not what I was after. Even though the batch with tapioca had more potential, it still retained a too soft texture. In the end, neither test produced a clear winner.
I decided to try granulated sugar, which is a powerful tool for altering the texture of both baked and frozen goods, thanks to its hygroscopic properties. Besides adding sweetness, the sugar keeps the boli from freezing into a brick because, like salt, adding sugar to water lowers the freezing point and interferes with the formation of hard ice crystals (like anti-freeze). The resulting boli was appropriately icy and softened quickly once removed from the freezer, becoming deliciously slushy-like as I ate it.
I still had to nail down the Jamaica flavor. To prepare the flor de Jamaica, I tested brewing the flowers in hot and cold water. I found that hot water brought out the flower’s intense tartness (but if cooked too long, gave the tea a bitter edge), while cold extraction highlighted its delicate floral notes. I ended up combining both methods to produce a balanced concentrated tea by starting the dried flowers in cold water, bringing it to a simmer, then letting it cool. Once I strain out the flowers, I stir in the sugar, as well as lime juice (preferably key lime, but the Persian limes that are standard in the US also work well) and salt, which amplify the flavors. That said, you also can give your tea an aromatic or fruity twist by infusing it with a number of spices or even pineapple skins.
It’s important to mention that the freshness of the flor de Jamaica you buy will produce a marked difference in the tea’s flavor. Good-quality dried flor de Jamaica should still be a bit leathery and flexible, not brittle. If the only flor de Jamaica you can get your hands on is old and dusty-dry, you can still make delicious bolis, but taste the boli mixture before freezing and add extra sugar or lime juice as needed.
To freeze the bolis, you’ll need the right plastic bags. A quick search for “boli bags” or “ice pop bags” will turn up a number of options you can order online, if you can’t find them locally. Mine were 2 3/4- by 10-inches, which is a standard size for boli bags. To get the boli mixture into the bag, it’s nice to have a helper on hand to hold the bags open for you. If no one’s around, you can place the bag upright in a cup, fold the top back to keep it open, then pour the mixture in very slowly. The bag will shift and settle as it fills, but as long as you’re pouring slowly and paying attention, you can readjust the bag as you go. Fill the bag halfway then tie it off, making sure to leave a little room in the bag to prevent it from bursting as the liquid inside freezes and expands. After some practice, you’ll get the hang of it.
Once ready to eat, cut or bite off one of the lower corners of the bag to make a hole. You might have to bite through the bag a little bit to get the frozen mixture out, but soon, it will soften in your hand. Mushing it around in the bag as you eat helps soften the boli into a dreamy slushy mix. Just beware of brain freeze and enjoy.
- 1 1/2 ounces (about 2/3 cup; 40g) dried flor de Jamaica (hibiscus), rinsed with cold water in a colander or strainer (see note)
- 8 ounces sugar (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 230g)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh key lime juice from 2 limes or 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh Persian lime juice from 1 lime
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume
In a medium pot, combine flor de Jamaica and 1 quart (945ml) cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
Strain the flor de Jamaica liquid through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large measuring cup or a vessel with a spout (reserve flor de Jamaica for another use; see note). Whisk in sugar, lime juice, and salt until sugar and salt are completely dissolved.
Filling one boli bag at a time, slowly pour in flor de Jamaica mixture until it’s about one-third full (roughly 4 ounces; 115g), then pinch the top of the bag close, and tie it off with a knot (make sure to leave space between the mixture and the knot since the mixture will expand as it freezes). Repeat with remaining flor de Jamaica mixture.
Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours. To serve, trim one corner from the bottom of the bag and enjoy immediately.
The flor de Jamaica mixture can also be frozen in popsicle molds, if preferred. To freeze in a popsicle mold, divide flor de Jamaica mixture evenly between 10 3-ounce popsicle molds. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours. To unmold, follow your popsicle mold's instructions.
Dried flor de Jamaica can be bought at Latin grocery stores or ordered online. The dried flowers in a package of flor de Jamaica aren’t technically flowers; they're calyces. In plants, calyces are the little petal-like projections around a fruit, like the little green crown where the tomato stem meets the tomato). I occasionally refer to them as flowers for the sake of convenience and because they’re commonly referred to that way in Spanish. The flowers are edible. After straining them out of the liquid, they can (and should) be reserved to use as a filling for tacos. Tacos de Jamaica make a surprisingly satisfying meal, especially with beans or a little chorizo. Without the chorizo, it’s a popular option among vegans and vegetarians where I live.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Jamaica bolis can be frozen for up to 3 months.