Some adore it for its sweet, custard-like taste and texture, while others can’t stand its potent stench. Either way, there’s a reason why durian is dubbed “the king of fruits”.
Last month, Young Post attended a “durian party” organised by local restaurant Durian BB, which hosts monthly, all-you-can-eat durian buffets in Kwun Tong. There we spoke to Paul Mak, the secretary general of the Malaysian Durian Export Association and Malaysian partner of Durian BB, about the origins of the pungent fruit, what makes Malaysian durians stand out, and how to choose the perfect fruit.
Originally, there were no durian plantations in Malaysia; instead, durians grew wild, and were collected by the local villagers. Wild durian trees can grow as tall as 30 metres – making it impossible to grow or harvest the fruit on a large scale.
“The fruit from wild durian trees is very [inconsistent] – it can be either very sweet or tasteless, have very thin or thick flesh. That’s why many years ago the Malaysian farmers started bud grafting durians, where they take one tree sapling and attach it to another,” says Mak.
Mak says it takes more than eight years for a sapling to start fruiting, but even then the taste is not ideal. “We do bud-grafting when the saplings are about four years old, and it takes another four to five years for them to mature,” he says. “But they are still considered young trees, and the fruit they produce won’t be as flavourful as that of trees that are 25 years old.”
While durians are also grown in other tropical countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, what sets Malaysia durians apart, Mak says, is the ripening process. “The most special mark of Malaysian durians is we don’t pluck them from trees; instead, we pick them from the ground. They are 100 per cent naturally ripened on trees, and must be consumed within two to three days from when they fall to the ground,” says Mak.
So how does one choose the perfect durian, we asked. “First, you have to smell it. Ripe durians produce a sulphurous smell. Another thing you can do is shake it, so you can hear whether the pulp is stuck to the husk. If there’s movement, then you know the pulp is ripe and dry,” he explains.
At least 200 varieties of durians have been registered at Malaysia’s agriculture department. Among them, Musang King is the most expensive and sought after variety, and in Hong Kong can cost a few hundred dollars each, sometimes more than a thousand dollars.
“The fruit was named ‘king’ for a reason – many adore the Musang King for its golden-yellow [flesh],” says Mak. “The flesh has a sheen when you first crack open the husk. “It’s sweet, with a bittersweet aftertaste; it’s very creamy, but at the same time fibrous – it’s like eating custard with fibre in it.”
Durians also contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals. “There’s a lot of iron, calcium, potassium, sodium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A, but no cholesterol or saturated fats,” he says.
However, even with all the health benefits and nutrients, it should still be consumed in moderation – especially by those who have diabetes – as the pulp is very and high in calories and sugar.
“A lot of people think durians are very ‘heaty’ ... [this effect is] caused by the sugar, which [boosts your energy] and makes you very active.” he says. “To balance it out, we normally drink a lot of water. The traditional method is drinking lightly salted water from the durian husk.”