Mapopo, Zimbabwean Papaya Candy

Very rarely do I encounter much trouble in my small kitchen/laboratory for my blog project. When choosing the four dishes for the week, which typically include an appetizer, one side dish, a main course and dessert, I decide among those recipes who are first of all traditional, sound delicious, has cooking elements or techniques that I’ve never tried before, and has ingredients that I can find easily either at local markets or online. But there are certain places that present more challenges when researching for their cuisine online. Curating what’s real or not, or what will work or not is much easier with a country like France, Spain, USA or México, than it is for places like Burkina Faso, Burundi, or this week’s pick, Zimbabwe.

Yes, one can find online reference recipes, but most of them feel like you are listening to your grandma teaching you how to make that dish she makes for you every day. “Add a bit of water to the mix if it seems to thick” or “Mix water and flour, keep adding flour little by little until you reach the desired consistency”. What am I supposed to do with that information? This is something that I’ve never seen or eaten, how will I know what the desired ANYTHING will be? 

This week’s dessert pick is Mapopo, a candied form of the Papaya fruit specially popular among children in Zimbabwe. As you can imagine, the basis for this sweet, as with any candy, is sugar, or rather, caramel. Working with caramel is not complicated if you know the very specific instructions of working with it. Most instructions I found were extremely unspecific, from people who cook with the confident intuition that can only come from experience. Most instructions, or rather ALL instructions I found, had no specific measurements, weights or volumes, and more importantly for caramel, NO temperatures. 

Mapopo, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean cuisine, Papaya, Papaya candy, candy, caramel, dessert

That’s why I sometimes feel like my kitchen becomes a lab and I become a cook detective after clues of how whatever I’m cooking that week is supposed to taste, feel or smell. I look at pictures and videos. I go into international chats and ask around. I go online a read what people say. I buy books. All for the sake of achieving a food preparation that is as close as possible to the original. 

Mapopo, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean cuisine, Papaya, Papaya candy, candy, caramel, dessert

Mapopo sounded delicious! I love candy and also love working with it. I’m not a professional cook, only a very enthusiastic amateur who knows a thing or two based on knowledge acquired by personal interest. So, I worked and worked, boiled and went into lots of trouble to finally come with this recipe. I burnt caramel, destroyed 3 very nice papayas, got my hands sticky rolling and forming candy by hand. But after all that fun, the candy I made turned out beautifully good, and I wrote, maybe for the first time on the internet, a well described recipe for Zimbabwean Mapopo, with TEMPERATURES.

Mapopo, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean cuisine, Papaya, Papaya candy, candy, caramel, dessert 

The beauty of this recipe is that it requires only 5 easy to find ingredients, a very few utensils. The hard part comes later with the waiting and the manual labor. Shaping each candy by hand is both time-consuming as well as messy. The kind of project to involve family or friends into. With a 2 pound papaya I made around 60 individually wrapped sweets, so it’s perfect to pack in bags or cute jars as a gift. Hmm! Father’s day is just around the corner, hint hint!! The candy tastes as papaya on steroids, with a bit of sourness from lime zest and juice, and a cooling aftertaste from mint. Awesomeness wrapped into wax paper! 

Mapopo - Papaya Candy
Yields 60
Mapopo! A delicious Zimbabwean Papaya candy that's perfect for gifts. Planning on a Father's Day Booster? This is awesomeness wrapped into wax paper!
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  1. 2 lb Papaya
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar + extra for dusting
  3. juice and grated zest of one lime
  4. 1/8 tsp salt
  5. butter for brushing
  6. A candy thermometer
  7. Wax paper
  1. Peel and remove the seeds of the papaya. Cut it into 1/8 - 1/4 inch thin square slices with about 1 x 1 inches sides.
  2. Secure the candy thermometer on the edge of a big saucepan. Place all ingredients in the saucepan, turn the heat up to a medium and stir with a wooden spoon just until the sugar dissolves. You can dip the spoon into a cup of water to drizzle the inside walls of the saucepan with eat to clean it of undissolved sugar grains.
  3. When the sugar melts completely STOP stirring and let the sugar work it's magic. Let it reach a temperature between 250° -268° F or Hard Ball Stage. Get it as close as possible to the 268° F mark, but DON'T let it go beyond that stage.
  4. Meanwhile, lightly butter a sheet pan.
  5. When the caramel is ready, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and let it cool for at least an hour until it reaches room temperature.
  6. Cut about sixty 10 x 10 inches squares of wax paper. Also fill a small dish with about 1 cup of sugar to roll the candies.
  7. When the candy is cool enough to handle, use as spoon to grab small (1/2 tbsp) portions of the caramel. Place it in your hands, roll into balls, small squares or cylinders. Roll the shaped candy in the sugar dish, press the sugar in with your hands for a firmer shape, then roll again for a snowy look.
  8. Wrap each piece individually with the prepared wax paper squares. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a month, or the fridge for 3 months.
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6 thoughts on “Mapopo, Zimbabwean Papaya Candy

    • I’ve never had canned papaya before, but I’d definitely give it a try if I were you. Just try to find one without sugar added so you don’t need to change anything else in the recipe. Let me know how that works!! Good luck!

  1. In the description you mention an aftertaste of mint, but mint is not listed in the ingredients.

    My book club is reading a book set in Zimbabwe – so this looks like the perfect treat to bring for our meeting!


    • Hi David,
      For some reason the had that aftertaste. It comes naturally from the papaya I guess. I feel is like when you taste wine and you can get notes from basically anything but it only has grapes on it.

      I’m so glad you decided to make these for the meeting. What a great idea! I hope they came out well.

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