Durian Seeds

Dubbed ‘the king of fruit,’ durian is a weird and unique fruit known for its stinky and flavorful nature.

| Spring 2016

Eric Chong hooked his fingers into an incision in the thorny, cement-like husk of a durian fruit and pulled until his forearms and shoulders were taut with exertion.  With a jerk the fruit split open to reveal fatty golden lobes of flesh. The eight members of my group “oohed and aahed” and leaned in for photos.

We were visiting Green Acres, a 16-acre organic durian farm in the hillsides of Penang, Malaysia. Here a burgeoning durian tourism industry is encouraging a new generation of growers, like Eric, to open their farms during the late May-August season to groups of durian lovers like us. Over the course of the afternoon, Eric served us flights of different durian cultivars like vineyards serve wines, beginning with the light, syrupy-sweet fruits and ending with those that are richer, earthier, more flavorful, and more stinky.

We even stayed overnight, because many farmers believe the best fruits fall in the evening and early morning just before dawn. For hours after we went to bed, the 5-7 pound fruits crashed onto the roof from trees towering 150 feet or more overhead. Grown wild, durians are among the tallest trees in the rainforest.

Durian tasting is an epicurean take on a fruit which is banned on most forms of public transportation because of its odor that most politely described as “strong.” Cruder descriptions include eating cake in a public outhouse, but we durian lovers say the flavors are a deliciously complex assortment of vanilla, chocolate, cherries, coffee, rum or red wine and yes, an odious hint of garlic.

Every durian cultivar tastes slightly different, and at Eric’s we savored the differences between his 25 or so cultivars. Malaysia has over 100 registered varieties of durian, but each region has its own special cultivars beyond the official list that thrive in particular soils and climates. Many of Eric’s heirloom varieties are over 100 years old, immense buttressed trees that 5 men holding hands couldn’t put their arms around.

The fruits from older trees are prized, but this prevalence of “old varieties” is only part of what makes Penang a hotspot for durian lovers. The other is Penang’s climate and mountainous topography: its terroir, to use wine speak. Penang is an island that juts abruptly upward from the Malaccan Straits. The steep granite hillsides provide good drainage for trees often affected by root rots like phytophtoras, while the cool sea breeze is also believed to keep the trees disease free while adding a slightly salty flavor to the durians.

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