Taking its name from the Malay word ‘duri’ (thorny), this prickly fruit has certainly garnered its share of thorny reception. As you savour the spoils from your latest durian delivery, have you ever wondered about the origins of this exotic fruit? It is an elaborate process, from growing the fruit to harvesting and delivering it to your doorstep.
Looks may be deceiving, and the durian is no exception; the durian tree is a member of the hibiscus family! Supposedly originating from Malaysia or Indonesia, the durian tree has been cultivated over centuries to be the ‘king of fruits’ it is today. And with good reason – its velvety, crème brûlée texture set it apart like royalty, from every other fruit.
Most durians are sourced from Southeast Asia, mainly from Thailand, West Malaysia and Indonesia, although they grow in other countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar. The trees take from five to seven years to mature; and fruits are produced twice a year, taking three months to ripen. Durian seasons are significantly influenced by the wet monsoon season, which coax mature durian trees to bud and flower, eventually bearing fruit.
Durian lovers gleefully anticipate these durian seasons, when durian prices fall and availability rises. They can spread as far as from April to September, with varying peak periods across different regions and varieties. Usually, a second durian season occurs towards the end of the year as well. For example, Penang’s durian season in 2020 started in early April, while the Pahang region, known for its legendary Mao Shan Wang (MSW) durian variety, had a later start in May instead of its usual peak in late June.
Many durians are grown in orchard plantations, run by skilled farmers with years of experience. These farmers adopt crop production cycles, which include careful management of processes such as fertilisation, irrigation, pest control and pruning; amongst others. They strike a balance of optimal fruit yield while not skimping on quality, leading to their continued popularity and consistency across the years.
Workers place netting under trees to catch naturally falling fruits, or cut them down earlier before they are ripe. A balance must be struck between flavour and storage life; while cut/harvested fruits can store for longer, naturally falling fruits have greater flavour at the expense of shelf life. The fruits are then sorted based on size, variety and maturity.
Singapore’s durians are imported from Malaysia and Thailand, and once harvested they must be swiftly transported and consumed within a few days. While refrigeration is an option, nothing beats a constant fresh supply straight from the farms to customers’ hands. This is why durian stores in Singapore carry a limited stock each day, since constant deliveries guarantee the level of freshness that the ‘king of fruits’ deserves.
Once in Singapore, the durian fruits are cut open and the husks discarded. Seasoned durian handlers and fellow durian connoisseurs can discern quality from the colour of the flesh, the shape of the husk, and undoubtedly the classic odour. Another common method is to poke and prod the durian flesh, which optimally should be soft but not mushy.
Amidst the COVID-19 period, the once common sight of long queues for durians has all but disappeared. But for many entrepreneurial durian retailers, it’s just a chance for them to adapt and tailor their sales towards delivering durians online. With Singaporeans’ penchant for fast deliveries, retailers compete to deliver freshly prepared and packaged durian flesh. Besides saving you the hassle of handling husks, they are tightly sealed and packed for maximum freshness.
When your next durian delivery arrives, take some time to savour both the delectable durian and the preparation that led it from tree to table, and finally your tummy!