After eating enough ice pops to make myself sick, I’ve found that the Zoku Round Slow Pop Mold works best with all kinds of ingredients, fitting most budgets and mouths.
It’s durable, consistent and dead simple to use, and the round pops it produces are the perfect size and shape for children and adults.
Why Do You Need A Dedicated Ice Pop Mold?
Popsicle molds could be as simple as you want: people have repurposed Dixie cups and ice cube trays with sticks in them to make DIY popsicles on the cheap. But if you’re seriously looking for a way to cool down in the summer, or if any of the myriad ice pop recipesavailable online look delicious to you, you’re going to want a dedicated mold. Molds solve a lot of the problems Dixie cup pops don’t: it’s easier to get pops out quickly (great if you have antsy children); built-in drip catchers make spills less likely and clean-up easier; and they’re washable and reusable.
If you don’t eat many ice pops right now, you might not think a mold is a great investment. And maybe you’re right. But thanks to the internet’s ingenious food testers aplenty, ice pops have moved beyond sugary snacks: you can eat them for breakfast (a great way to sneak your kids some spinach), you can use them to hide the taste of protein powder and you can even swap your evening cocktails for poptails.
What Makes A Good Mold?
There are many ice pop molds available for purchase in any shape or size you desire.
On the surface, most molds are very similar: pour in your mixture, add a stick and freeze for somewhere between five to eight hours, depending on the mold’s material and the ingredients that make up your pop. Bada-boom, delicious frozen treat. But after eating so many ice pops that the very sight of one makes me a tad queasy, I’ve figured out several things that separate the good from the mediocre.
Price is important: spend too little—less than about $12—and you’ll end up with a cheap piece of plastic prone to breakage. Spend too much and you’ve just dropped $50 on a machine that, in the long run, isn’t much more efficient. The sweet spot is somewhere around $15-$20.
I found that eating pops with more than 3.5 ounces was tiring and stressful…
The material of the pop mold makes a huge difference, too. I found that plastic molds tended to hang onto the pop, making it hard to pull out without running under hot water. Stainless steel molds only took a few seconds of hot water before the pops slid right out, and silicone molds were easily pulled off. I spoke with Doug Goff, a food scientist at the University of Guelph, who explained why this happens: silicone is much smoother on a molecular level than most plastic, meaning the ice crystals won’t adhere to (itty bitty) nooks and crannies on the surface. If you look at plastic under a microscope, it’s not smooth at all, which means ice is much more likely to stick to the surface and you’ll have to rinse it under hot water to free the popsicle. Sometimes you’ll have to tug. And tug, and tug, and tug. After tugging and pulling at too many plastic molds, the quick release of silicone or stainless steel is a blessing.
The perfect mold holds between 3 and 3½ ounces—not too much for kids, but not too little for kids. I found that eating pops with more than 3½ ounces was tiring and stressful, like eating one too many slices of cake. And less than 3 ounces just isn’t enough, unless you’re exclusively feeding toddlers.
Trays are also helpful, as long as they aren’t too bulky. A tray helps keep each popsicle from falling over (sudden sideways popsicle!) and keeps your refrigerator organized. Plus, there’s no digging around in your fridge for the popsicle you want—just grab it out of the tray and enjoy. Even better is a tray you can easily remove individual pops from; in some, all the molds are connected, making it quite difficult to eat just one.
And there’s no denying that ice pops are messy little creatures. Even the best mold can’t keep your icy treat from melting once it’s ventured into the world. However, the best mold does provide a built-in drip tray and reusable stick to collect the sticky drippings before they reach your shirt—not to mention eliminating the popsicle stick, that last little bit of eco-unfriendly trash from the process.
While all the pops I tested were BPA-free, some people are still a little squeamish about whatever chemicals lurk in plastic. Jennifer Chait, from Eco Ice Pops, says, “You’re unlikely to find any molds that are 100% free from chemicals and toxins, simply because most everything is made with some chemicals. Stainless steel might be totally ick-factor free, but there are zero stainless steel molds on the market that come with handles. Look for ice pop molds that are free from Bisphenol A (BPA), Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and phthalates.” Stainless steel molds are the safest, but almost no one makes them and they’re often hard to use.. With that (mostly) eliminated, we turn to silicone. According to Scientific American, silicone is an inert, non-toxic substance made of bonded silicon, which is “a natural element abundant in sand and rock.” Especially for use in the freezer, where the silicone won’t be heated, the material is perfectly safe for use by adults and children.
So How Did We Narrow Down The Field?
I tested sixteen molds, ate (or nibbled at) at least 60 popsicles and made many more to foist upon my friends. To get to those sixteen I tested was a journey in and of itself.
I tested sixteen molds, ate (or nibbled at) at least 60 popsicles and made many more to foist upon my friends.
There aren’t a lot of serious ice pop mold overviews out there. The Kitchn rounded up their favorite molds five years ago, long before the Zoku Round molds were released; The Hairpin recently published an ice pop roundup, reaching the same Zoku-themed conclusion I did. But beyond that, there isn’t really any all-encompassing literature out there.
To pick my tester molds, I narrowed down the field first, and most importantly, on user reviews on Amazon. Without much editorial review, hands-on user reviews are the best way to find out what products might be successful. I then searched through the many reviews of individual ice pop makers. Bloggers love the Onyx 18/8 Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold,Tovolo’s various molds and the Zoku Quick Pop, which America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required and recommended) tentatively liked. The Quick Pop is quite the novelty—and one I’ll go into more depth on later—but I suspected the company’s new line of silicone molds might be a winner. I picked all those up, plus the top winners on Amazon.
Once I had all the pops in hand, I wanted to make sure they could handle any mixture you threw at them, whether it was based on fruit, yogurt, chocolate and/or alcohol. I also froze each mold with water and dropped them on the floor to check for breakage, and carted them around (still in the mold) to a few parties to see if they still were delicious an hour after leaving the freezer.
The best overall pick is the Zoku Round Slow Pop Molds, which costs $17 for a set of four. It’s admittedly a weird shape—when most people think of an ice pop, they either think of the traditional rounded-corners shape of the Fudgsicle or the stick-straight Popsicle. While the rounded shape is definitely different, I find I prefer it over a “traditional” popsicle shape. These pops dripped less and were easier and more fun to eat. Plus, because of the spherical shape, there was less of the popsicle “hanging free” at the end of the stick, which sometimes caused other pops to break in half.
The Classic Round mold base is easy to use and doesn’t take up a huge amount of space in the fridge. It has four spots—just drop the filled silicone molds in there and let them freeze. It’s super easy. Other bases require you to carefully place the pop in a delicate little plastic stand that seemed ripe for breaking, like the Orka 4-Ice Pops, or take quite a bit of force to push the mold into the slots on the base, begging for a mess when the mold is filled with juice. The Classic Round pops didn’t break in the drop test, although the ice inside did break into large pieces (that later re-froze together). This was still a better performance than the plastic molds, which all shattered during the drop test.
They’re also a perfect size. Three ounces is just the right amount for both kids and adults. Some of the bigger molds are really really big. Too big for kids. (Too big for anyone, really.) And the Zoku Mini Slow Pop Molds are adorable and great for little kids, but way too tiny for any adult to take seriously. You can finish our pick’s pops before they drip too much, and it won’t feel like you got shafted on quantity or size.
Some of the molds’ reusable sticks, particularly the Cuisipro Snap Fit Pop Mold and Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Mold, had several annoying little indentations in the stick which were impossible to get fruit juice out of, even after the entire pop had melted. Zoku has one little hole at the stick’s tip, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping it clean. The silicone molds themselves easily flipped inside out for super-simple cleaning.
There is one drawback to these molds, and to silicone molds in general: They do take longer to freeze. However, most people are sticking them in their fridge overnight, and as long as you give them a good 8 hours or so, you shouldn’t have any problems.
If you’re hell-bent on making a culinary ice pop masterpiece with multiple layers or large fruit chunks, I wouldn’t recommend any of the Zoku molds. In order to freeze a pop in multiple layers, you’ll need to pour in one layer at a time and allow it to freeze before pouring in the next. Unfortunately, any pop with a combination drip catcher and stick—like most reusable sticks are—won’t work well for this type of pop, because the drip catcher, attached to a stick already frozen inside, blocks the addition of any further layers. If you want to make a layered pop, like these Blood Orange and Coconut Creamsicles, your best bet is something with a wide mouth and a disposable stick. I recommend the Norpro Ice Pop Maker mentioned below. Its plastic lid is easy to take off and replace while the popsicles are freezing, and because it uses wooden sticks, there’s nothing keeping you from adding layer after layer.
These are also harder to bite than traditionally shaped pops, but only slightly so.
A More Classic Shape (If You Absolutely Must) For Biters
Kim O’Connor, author of the Hairpin article on ice pops and a former cookbook editor has a niggle with our pick, which was also her pick. She says, “I find that the roundness makes the pops a bit awkward to eat—particular if you like to bite the popsicle, as I do.”
To be clear, the round is our main pick because it was easier and less messy to eat. But readers that insist upon the traditional popsicle shape should pick up the Zoku Classic Slow Pop Molds, which are identical in most ways. Pops made using the Classic mold slide out much easier than the other plastic variants, but the Classic Round’s silicone liners are still the easiest to use and least breakage-prone. I prefer the Classic Round’s shape and smaller freezer footprint—they make only four popsicles, but for personal and family use, four pops is enough (for bigger groups, scroll down). In addition, one Amazon reviewer complained about the Classic pop’s sticks—which you have to put together yourself—leaking. And the shape in general is more prone to breaking. In a very informal, non-scientific test, I found the Classic Round held its shape longer and dripped slower than the Classic.
So, again, our main pick is still the Round.
Making a Lot of Ice Pops for a Party?
The best pick if you’re making lots of ice pops for a party or gathering is the Norpro Ice Pop Maker. When I spoke with David Carrell at Brooklyn-based pop shop People’s Pops, he recommended this set. It’s what his team started out using, although now they’ve switched to a proprietary industrial pop maker. “Norpro plastic holds up,” he said. It’s a sturdy set, and pulling a pop out makes you feel like a chef, because these look like popsicles—the popsicles you’ll find in grocery stores and in your grandmother’s freezer. They’re also nicely sized.
But the mold itself isn’t terribly easy to use. All 10 popsicles are connected to an aluminum top, which means you have to run the entire mold under water to get out the pop—quite an affair, especially if you just want one popsicle. But if you’re making lots of popsicles for a party, it’s a good choice: pops freeze quickly in plastic, and it makes more at once than any other mold I tested. You do have to use popsicle sticks, which is an annoyance and a waste.
Want a Pop for Kids and Messy Adults?
For kids, I recommend a push-style pop mold, like the Kinderville Little Bites Ice Pop Molds. Push-style molds are nice because they can be set on their lids to freeze, meaning you can make only one popsicle if it so pleases you—plus, they take up less space. They’re also easier to eat and significantly less messy. I also tested the GRAZIA Premium Silicone Popsicle Molds and Norpro Silicone Ice Pop Maker Set, which are virtually identical (the only difference was the color), but their overwhelming silicone smell almost made me nauseous when I was slurping down the last of the juice that had collected at the bottom.
The Kinderville smells too, a bit, and part of it is just because they’re made of silicone. Silicone smells. It’s in its nature. The smell should decrease over time, and using a recipe like this one will make that time go faster. Worried about that smell in your Zoku molds? Don’t be. The reason the smell is so noticeable with the push-style molds is because you’re sticking your nose in them, eating the pops straight out of the mold. I didn’t notice any smell on my Zoku sets, but even if I did, when you’re using those sets you pull the mold off. The smell wouldn’t linger on the frozen pops removed from the mold.
The GRAZIA and Norpro have cap-style lids (as opposed to the Kinderville’s solid push-style lid) which hooks into the fluted rim—meaning if you accidentally overfilled the others, you would get overflow popsicle stuck in the cap. That isn’t a problem with the Kinderville. The Kinderville also just felt more solid. You push the lid in and it’s sealed and set, whereas the lids for the other two were hard to keep in place.
Over at Amazon, reviewers praise how easy they are for kids to use: just give the pop a second or two to loosen (no water required) and push. At 3½ ounces, they’re a little bigger than the Zoku molds, but still not outrageously large (and still smaller than the other push-style molds I tested). If you’re making popsicles for a young toddler or baby, go instead with the Zoku Slow Pops Mini Pop Molds, which takes up a huge amount of room in the freezer (the mold is more than ten inches long) but makes nine teensy-weensy ⅔-ounce popsicles, perfect for little hands.
What About "Fun" Ice Pops?
I don’t recommend Tovolo’s Groovy Ice Pop Mold because the Zoku and Norpro molds are better. Pops made from the Groovy mold are prone to breaking in half, and the reusable stick slid right out when I made yogurt- or cream-based pops, leaving the pop stuck inside the mold with no hope of escape. And even though it’s 3 ounces, just like its direct competitors, it feels giant in the hand. But Tovolo’s Rocket Ice Pop Mold and Star Ice Pop Mold combine the best facets of the larger Groovy mold—quick freezing, a reusable stick—with easier-to-eat shapes. They also seem to solve the problem of the half-broken pops.
I wouldn’t recommend these as the best overall, especially because their base is large and cumbersome and requires some tricky maneuvering to get the popsicle molds into the little slots that prevent them from toppling over. But if you or your kids really want a fun shape, these are the best. The molds slid off easily after being run under hot water, and the shape was maintained throughout the entire popsicle-eating experience.
What Ingredients Work Best?
All of the popsicle molds handle basic fruit-based pops very well. When it comes to creamy or chocolatey pops, there were problems: sticks wouldn’t hold or popsicles broke in half. The Groovy Tovolo molds had a major problem with sticks not holding, and the Cuisipro Snap Fit Pop Mold ones broke in half almost every time, no matter what ingredients I used.
Boozehounds: Look Elsewhere
Alcohol caused even more problems, and I’d go so far as to say there’s literally no point to alcoholic popsicles. The amount of liquor you can add to a popsicle without totally screwing up the output and creating a smoothie is so miniscule that it’s not worth it. We tested several recipes from Erin Nichols’s Poptails, which suggests boiling the alcohol down before adding it to the mix. However, all of the pops we made using this method—in various sets and molds, from our favorite Zoku molds to cheap plastic ones—took a long time to freeze and fell apart quickly. There are delicious recipes for alcoholic popsicles out there, but adding more than 20 percent alcohol to your pop mix will only lead to disintegration, according to The Kitchn. If you’re looking for a summer treat capable of handling some serious booze, we recommend looking towards snow cones or a delicious, old-fashioned margarita.
The only popsicle mold to handle high-alcohol content popsicles well were the Onyx 18/8 Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold. Stainless steel freezes very quickly, and I found it froze alcohol popsicles much quicker and more successfully than any other mold. But I can’t recommend the Onyx.
My molds, and the molds of a few Amazon commenters, had little metal strips that came apart at the metal seams and, in some cases, stuck into the pop. We’ve reached out to Onyx, and they say the issue is very rare, and offer to replace any sets with that problem if you contact them. However, we still can’t give this set our wholehearted recommendation. In addition, its metal stand felt rickety and the small plastic disk inside the metal drip catchers, intended to hold the bamboo stick in place, often became dislodged.
The Step Up
The $50 Zoku Quick Pop machine is the fanciest pop maker on the planet, and it does make really, really delicious popsicles really quickly, with an amazingly rich texture. It’s gotten a fair bit of acclaim: The Kitchn liked its specially-grooved sticks, which are designed to “grip” the popsicle, and its super-fast freezing time. They say it takes about 9 minutes; it took just a bit longer in my tests, but an average time of around 12 minutes would be reasonable to expect. Nikki Goldstein at Serious Eats gave it a rave review, saying, “it’s extremely fun to use and allows you to get as aesthetically creative with your popsicles as you could get with Easter eggs.” Both Doug and David recommended quick-freezing, saying the ice crystals will be smaller the faster your treat is frozen, creating a much creamier and more delicious pop. But for the home user, it’s not worth it. Both Serious Eats and The Kitchn noted one of the Quick Pop’s major drawbacks: it’s really, really cold inside, meaning any accidental fruit juice splashes will freeze on instantly. As will your sponge, if you make the mistake of attempting to clean it before letting it thaw at least 8 or so hours.
There are a million add-ons, too, from “character kits” to help make animals or faces, to an additional set of tools with pour cups, stencils, “fruit wands” and siphons to help make extra-special “cool” popsicles. It’s a neat little machine, but definitely not worth $50. It only makes three popsicles at a time—maybe six if you’re lucky—and then you have to refreeze for at least 30 minutes to an hour. And god forbid you lose the pop removal tool, which is necessary to get your pops out of the mold. Then you can spend 15 minutes using a knife around the edges trying to get the pop to dislodge, as I did at one party. If you overfill the pop—which is very easy to do—there’s a good chance it will get stuck inside the mold, immune to the magical pop removal tool. For $50, you can get three or four of any of the other molds. The only major upside to this is the speed. Unless you get immediate, gotta-have-it cravings, go for a more traditional model.
Want to Get a Recipe Book?
There are a million recipes out there on the internet, but the best paper book is People’s Pops. Their recipes are pretty easy, if you can make a simple syrup (just sugar and water, melted over a flame). They’re creative and weird and inventive: Try the Peach & Bourbon or the ungodly-good Raspberry & Basil. If you’re craving a wider selection of creamy and chocolate-based pops, check out Charity Ferreira’s Perfect Pops, which has a delicious recipe for Chocolate Guinness Pops and my favorite recipe of all: Pineapple Pops with Chile and Lime. I also tested recipes from Paletas and Zoku Quick Pop Recipe Book, all of which had delicious recipes. Still, the best overall selection is found in People’s Pops.
The Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Mold were too large (even though pops were a scant 3 ounces) and not good at anything but fruity pops. The stick tends to pull out sans popsicle—either that, or the popsicle won’t come out at all. Like the Cuisipro Snap Fit molds, they shattered into small pieces when I dropped them on the floor with frozen ice inside.
The Onyx 18/8 Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold are made out of super-safe stainless steel so I wanted these to be a winner. They aren’t. Some reviewers and myself found little shards of metal lining the walls of our molds, which is very much not good. They’re terrible for transportation, and don’t hold their freeze for long at all, even if you put them in a cooler. And on a juvenile note, they’re quite phallic—enough so to grab the attention of every friend I offered them to.
The GRAZIA Premium Silicone Popsicle Molds and Norpro Silicone Ice Pop Maker Set are, as far as I can tell, the exact same thing. They’re also smelly and a little too large (at 4 ounces) to be a suitable push-style pop for children.
The Orka 4-Ice Pops make a cute little ice cream shape, and I like that they are made of silicone, but they make a teensy-tiny pop, and their stand is flimsy and hard to use.
The Tovolo Ice Cream Pop Molds are in a cute shape, but I found them hard to use: the ice cream part that shapes the pop snaps onto the base, and is hard to pull off without damaging your creation. Plus, they’re apt to shattering and difficult to clean.
Tovolo’s Freezer Jewel Pop Molds are too small, holding only one ounce of liquid. Reviewers say that pops are difficult to get out of the tray, and that the plastic stick tends to break in half.
The Tovolo Bug Pop Molds are quite large at nearly 4 ounces, and reviewers hate the skinny, wiggly handle, saying it makes eating the pops a very messy experience.
The ice pops I made in the Cuisipro Snap Fit Pop Mold broke in half almost every single time. They’re nicely-shaped and a reasonable size, but I spent too long trying to get the little bit of ice pop stuck at the bottom of the mold to melt enough to drink.
The Monster Fun Ice Pop Molds are cute, but made of a very weak plastic. The mold and stand broke, and they’re easy to accidentally freeze upside-down, which makes a weird, stubby ice pop.
The Progressive Frozen Pop Maker is the same thing as the Norpro Frozen Pop Maker—just for $4 more (and with an old, disliked aluminum top that was later replaced by BPA-free plastic).
The Kidco Healthy Snack Frozen Treat Trays are too cheap to reasonably consider, and the reviews back me up: the cheap plastic is prone to breaking, even when you’re just trying to pull the pop out of the mold.
While the Munchkin Click Lock Fresh Food Freezer Pops are well-reviewed, the pops they make contain only two tablespoons of liquid, which isn’t enough for anyone that isn’t a baby or young toddler. Reviewers also say they can be hard to remove from the mold, requiring 10-15 seconds of hot water before releasing.
The Ostart 8 Cell Frozen Ice Cream Pop Mold are made of cheap plastic and ship from China, taking, according to some Amazon reviewers, between two weeks and a month to arrive in the states. Some have reported problems with the molds breaking en route.
Reviews at Amazon like the Jelly Belly Lickety Sip Ice Pop Mold, but they’re cheap—too cheap, prone to breaking, with hard plastic that’s difficult to get each mold out of. Plus, they’ve got the Norpro’s biggest negative—all the molds are connected—without any of its pros.
Zipzicles aren’t really reusable. Even though some of the reviewers claim to wash and reuse them, that’s not their intention, and we can’t make any guarantees about the quality of the plastic.
The KitchInnovations Ice Pop Mold is another set made with cheap plastic, and reviewers say the pops can be hard to pull out from the mold.
IKEA’s Chosigt ice pop maker is a popular, dirt-cheap pick, but reviewers at Amazon don’t like how small the pops are. A good fit for children, but not for adults—and still made of the same breakable BPA-free plastic.
Cuisipro makes their Snap Fit Pop Mold in several fun shapes: Robot, rocket and sailboat. But from my testing of the traditional Cuisipro models, I can’t recommend them. The plastic broke easily, and the pops were impossible to pull out of the mold without breaking in half. Reviewers say they’re a little too big for kids, the ones who would most enjoy the fun shapes, and the sticks were too pointy—a health concern if the kids were to slip while sipping.
Wrapping It Up
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, basic ice pop mold, you can’t go wrong with the simple and durable Zoku Round Slow Pop Mold. The silicone molds will last many a summer, and they’re versatile enough to handle any ingredients.
A Brief Side Note on the History of Ice Pops
You might notice I’m saying ice pops, not Popsicles—that’s because “Popsicle” is a registered trademark. According to Smithsonian Magazine, ice pops “originated as a happy accident.” One cold evening in Oakland, CA, an 11-year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left a homemade soda with stirring spoon on the porch overnight. The next morning, he had the first Popsicle: a frozen soda with a handle.
It wasn’t until he grew into adulthood that he realized the idea might be a moneymaker, and introduced the treat at a 1922 ball for firemen. A year later, he patented “Eppsicles,” a “frozen ice on a stick.” His children saw the error of his ways and renamed the treats “Popsicles.” Today, the brand is owned by Unilever, who oversee the original Popsicle and its siblings, the Creamsicle, Fudgsicle and Yosicle.