Close your eyes and picture the most perfect fruit-yogurt popsicle. Now, think about the qualities that make it good. Are there splashes of vibrant fruity color peeking out from yogurt’s off-white tones? Is it creamy, rich, and smooth? Is the texture light or dense?
In search of these answers, I wondered whether there were any underlying techniques that could be applied across the board. To get there, I had more questions to answer. Is plain or Greek yogurt better in a popsicle? Does the yogurt's fat percentage matter? Can we make tastier popsicles with fresh or frozen fruit? If we prefer fresh, should the fruit component be raw or cooked? And then, beyond the two main components of fruit and yogurt, there's the question of add-ins. Is additional sugar always needed? What about salt, or a splash of extra acidity in the form of citrus juice? In the end, should we fully blend the fruit and yogurt, or shoot for a swirl?
I tried to answer all of these questions by developing recipes for three different fruit-yogurt pops: blueberry, raspberry, and mango, and I succeeded in creating ones that checked all the boxes—these frozen treats have a creamy, velvety smooth texture; just the right amount of bite; and a well-balanced flavor that blends tangy yogurt and sweet, rich fruit.
Even though there’s no way to provide specific guidance for all possible fruits, I'm confident that the following guidelines will help get anyone on the right track when making their choice of fruit-yogurt popsicles from scratch.
The first step of a great fruit-yogurt popsicle is selecting the best yogurt to use. For testing purposes, I focused on plain and Greek yogurts—specifically Fage and Stonyfield, which are both widely available national brands.
At its most basic, plain yogurt is made with milk and live active cultures. Greek yogurt is essentially plain yogurt that has been strained to remove water (in the form of whey), resulting in an extra-thick and rich consistency. For this guide, I tested both skim and full-fat versions of plain and Greek yogurt to see how they fared when frozen.
When trying to make a similar decision for frozen yogurt, Max Falkowitz found that full-fat plain yogurt makes the best frozen yogurt. Full-fat plain yogurt contributed to a soft, scoopable texture and a bright fruity flavor. Max had also tested Greek yogurt, but found that when frozen, it created an unpleasantly thick and heavy texture that he likened to chewing on sour cream (a food that I refused to touch as a kid and still won’t to this day).
As it turns out, popsicles don't follow the same rulebook—Greek yogurt was the clear preference among the small group of tasters in all my tests. I suspect that churning may have contributed to Greek yogurt’s overly dense texture in Max’s fro-yo tests. But because popsicles are frozen solid without the inherently creamy texture that churning creates, the extra-creamy texture of Greek yogurt was actually crucial here.
When frozen into solid popsicles, plain yogurt yielded an extremely icy texture—skim was the worst, with mouthwateringly tart pops, while the full-fat version was only marginally better.
When using Greek yogurt, the no-fat version led to harsh-tasting pops with a too-dense texture. Full-fat Greek yogurt, on the other hand, had a pleasantly tangy flavor and a smooth, creamy texture, though there was a slight chalkiness to it. I had our winner, but I needed to address that chalkiness. The solution came from a splash of heavy cream, which helped round out the flavor and smoothed out the texture perfectly.
Even though it's a little fussier, I recommend sticking with heavy cream; substituting with milk produces icier popsicles with a watered-down flavor. The same goes for full-fat Greek yogurt—avoid low-fat and skim versions, and instead look for brands that contain nothing but milk and active cultures, such as Fage and Chobani (ones artificially thickened with gums or pectin have a higher moisture content which can alter the frozen texture).
That said, just because full-fat Greek yogurt came out on top in my taste tests doesn’t mean it will always prevail when paired with a fruit—but given that it was our favorite with three different fruits, it's likely the way to go in most, if not all, cases.
Handling the Fruit
The other crucial element to fruit-yogurt popsicle success is choosing the fruit and determining how to handle it. Of course, there's no practical way to test every possible fruit, so I focused on three popular options that cover a range of fruit flavors, and were all widely available in fresh and frozen forms: mango, blueberry, and raspberry.
What about that fresh versus frozen question? In my tests, fresh always trumped frozen when the fresh fruit was properly ripe. Fresh, ripe fruit had a remarkably full, bold flavor and sweet-tart punch that frozen fruit just couldn’t compete with. In a pinch, though, you can pull off tasty popsicles with frozen fruit—just note that you may need to add extra sugar or otherwise adjust the balance to get it in the sweet spot.
With that squared away, it was more of a toss-up as to whether raw fruit or their cooked equivalents would fare better in popsicle form, and ultimately this part really does come down to the specific fruit. With mango, a fruit that is almost always consumed raw, I was confident it would perform best if kept raw, and my intuition was right—that bright and sweet tropical mango flavor comes through best without cooking.
I was less sure about blueberry and raspberry: they're delicious out-of-hand, but also often cooked into pie fillings or jams. In the end, testing revealed that both are tastier if you lightly cook them first. Blueberries and raspberries benefited greatly from a gentle simmer, taming their raw tartness while concentrating their fruity sweetness. But one must tread lightly, because even careful simmering can turn fresh berries into popsicles with an unappealing cooked flavor—a discovery I made when testing the ultimate strawberry popsicles.
With all of this testing under my belt, I learned the following:
- Although fresh fruit tastes best, frozen fruit works in a pinch, especially if it’s easier to find out of season. You may need to add a little extra sugar to make it work.
- If you’re hard pressed to think of cooked preparations of the fruit you select, then keeping it raw is most likely the way to go. Mango, watermelon, and cantaloupe are all examples of fruits that are probably best left raw.
- For fruits that work well both raw and cooked (such as strawberries and apricots), you need to experiment and determine which version you like better (or even do a raw and cooked combination!). Note that while cooking concentrates flavor, you risk losing the fruit’s delicacy and nuance in the process. Stick to short, gentle cooking to avoid popsicles with a dull flavor.
- If you’re cooking the fruit, it’s important to take the fruit’s water content into consideration. For fruits with a water content above 90%, you shouldn’t need to add extra water. For leaner fruits consisting of less than 90% water, it's often a good idea to incorporate some water since you'll be at risk of popsicles with a “too creamy” texture if too much water is cooked off. The addition of water helps keep that balance in check.
The Role of Sugar, Acid, and Salt
What separates a great popsicle from a mediocre one is sugar. As a sweetener, sugar balances out the natural tartness of many fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries, and pushes their concentrated fruity flavor to the forefront, which is key since freezing dulls our perception of sweetness.
Sugar also affects texture. Unadulterated yogurt will harden into a brick when frozen, but adding sugar will transform it into soft, smooth, and creamy. This happens because sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water and lowers the freezing point. The result is less ice crystal formation, so the more sugar you add, the softer your popsicles will be.
Because different sweeteners can affect not just texture but flavor in different ways, I tested a range of them: simple syrup, corn syrup, honey, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Syrups, such as simple syrup, honey, and corn syrup, can add smoothness and creaminess, but are far less sweet than dry-crystalline sugars like granulated and brown sugar because they typically contain 20% water and 80% sugar. Moreover, corn syrup, an invert sugar that discourages crystallization, can dilute flavors, since it contains starch chains that trap flavor molecules.
My tests identified a preference for granulated sugar, which contributes to a sweet, cleaner-tasting fruit flavor. Plus, you don’t need much—a little goes a long way; these popsicle call for three to five ounces of sugar per recipe, though the exact amount will depend on the fruit used.
The inclusion of acid in the form of citrus juices adds brightness and another layer of flavor to popsicles. You can get creative here, choosing anything from lemon to lime, orange, grapefruit, meyer lemon, yuzu, and calamansi. I found the sweet spot to be 3/4 teaspoon of citrus juice per recipe, regardless of citrus type. If you want a more dominant flavor, experiment with increasing amounts; just be careful, the more you add, the more you risk creating a bitter, astringent pop.
In my recipes, I paired mango with lime, since it's a classic combo; lemon juice worked well with that deep, sweet blueberry flavor; and raspberries paired well with fresh orange juice, which draws out the berries' own subtle citrus notes. That said, you have a lot of flexibility here to play with combinations.
Meanwhile, the addition of salt makes it all pop. As a flavor “potentiator,” salt brings out desirable flavors in food. Think about chocolate chip cookies with a dusting of flaky sea salt or a salted caramel sauce. Even when it's not an obvious ingredient, that pop of salinity is an important component in just about any sweet. Aim for roughly half a teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt (here's why we're so specific about salt) in a recipe that yields six popsicles.
If you want to go beyond the basics, other add-ins, like herbs, spices, and extracts are a wonderful way to play with flavor. I often find myself reaching for my copy of The Flavor Thesaurus for inspiration, which breaks down flavors by category and then matches each ingredient in that category with multiple pairings that elevate it (blueberry and almond anyone?).
Pulling it Together
The final stop on the journey to fruit-yogurt popsicle perfection was whether or not to create a swirl. A swirled pop is definitely more eye-catching, but visuals aside, my preference is for blending. The back-and-forth between fruit and yogurt in a swirled pop never strikes a proper balance between the two. One minute, the fruit is too loud; the next, the yogurt is too tangy. With blending (using a 1:1 ratio of fruit to yogurt), the look is monochromatic, but you gain a cohesive flavor experience that delivers a perfectly creamy, rich, and fruity blend in every bite. That said, if you want to pull off a swirled version, all of our recipes offer alternative instructions on how to do that.
With this roadmap to creating the ultimate fruit-yogurt popsicles—and our review of the best popsicle molds—you’ll be enjoying them in no time.