Types of durians I am crazy about
Different people crave different varieties of durians. However, I truly relish durians from older trees as they bear fruits that have buttery-smooth, thick and creamy flesh, often with a stronger "fragrance" and flavour. Even from the same tree, durians can vary from season to season as the trees are influenced by soil conditions and weather. Over different seasons, the Or Chi (Black Thorn) fruits do not necessarily taste the same.
Nevertheless, the taste of durian is like no other and here are some varieties I am crazy about (listed in no particular order).
Musang King (Mao Shan Wang in Mandarin)
Musang (palm civet) King, also known as Raja Kunyit in Malay is undoubtedly one of the most sought after varieties. The fruits fetch high prices for their irresistible deep egg-yellow flesh that is bittersweet, rich and liam chooi (Hokkien for describing the lip-smacking smooth, creamy and sticky-dry texture). Having just the right balance of bitterness and sweetness, it does live up to its reputation as being the crème de la crème of durians. The tasting experience is highly memorable and if you are going for a durian buffet, it would usually be served last as the highlight of the feast.
Besides having a strong export demand, Musang King (D 197) has also made its way into endless delicacies like ice cream, cakes, pastries, mooncakes, coffee, teas and whiskey, even flavouring condoms. All this has contributed to the skyrocketing prices of the Musang King in recent years (2022: RM58 – RM90 per kilogramme).
Or Chi / Ochee (black thorn in Hokkien)
Like Musang King, Or Chi is another premium variety that is highly priced (2022: RM105 – RM85 per kilogramme). If you love Musang King, Or Chi is definitely a must-try variety as well – if you can get your hands on it! It is in such high demand that there is a standing order at certain orchards in Penang.
Its thick custardy orangey-pink flesh has an intense and complex bittersweet flavour (a touch sweeter than Musang King), enriched with a subtle whiskey-induced sensation. This is one variety you have to take your own sweet time to savour. It is not that you are "eating gold" (chiak kim in Hokkien) but when enjoyed slowly, various depths of your palate will be titillated, accentuating its luxurious character and flavours of Or Chi. This variety has less fibre and is truly liam chooi.
Originating from Penang, Or Chi is the pride of the state. In 2012, it emerged victorious in the Penang State Durian Competition, dethroning the national favourite Musang King! In 2013, the Malaysian Agricultural and Research Development Institute (MARDI) certified the variation into its durian registration as D 200 and listed Leow Cheok Keong’s farm as the source.
It is a common deduction that the name Or Chi is derived from a thin black tail/"thorn" that protrudes out of the bottom of the durian. The "thorn" is actually the durian’s dried up flower stamen. According to my good friend Eric Chong from Green Acres, all durians would have this as well, many breaking off when the ripened fruits drop. Eric runs a thriving organic orchard in Balik Pulau and is kept extremely busy especially during the fruiting seasons. With over 500 durian trees, some 80-100 years old, Eric harvests quality offerings. He once gave me a "divine" Or Chi that was heavenly in taste and experience.
Ang Haeh (red prawn in Hokkien)
When it comes to colour, Ang Haeh stands out from the rest of the variants with its uniquely dark pastel orangey-red hue. It has a dense and creamy texture coupled with a sweet taste that is extremely enjoyable! Being on the sweeter side of things, this durian is ideal for those who shy away from bitter-sweet ones. Having said that, the flesh of Ang Haeh varies according to the age of the tree – younger trees offering sweet fruits while in older ones, a hint of bitterness is present with a stronger aroma. The bitter-sweet fruits also could have an alcoholic undertone. Most Ang Haeh fruits have small to medium size seeds, meaning that there is more delectable flesh to feast on.
The Ang Haeh is a hybrid breed officially registered under the Department of Agriculture Malaysia in 1990 with the code D 175.
If you love pulut durian (glutinous rice with durian smothered in a thick coconut milk sauce), Ang Haeh would be an ideal choice because of its sweet and bulbous flesh. Although some would add sugar to sweeten the sauce, you could opt to grate fine shavings of gula melaka (palm sugar) over the dish prior to serving it. The pinch of salt added to the sauce further enhances its "lemakness", complementing brilliantly the creamy Ang Haeh flesh. This is one satisfying and hearty meal that will keep you feeling full for hours. Besides Ang Haeh, you can opt for other varieties that have a thick flesh and sweet taste.
If we were to compare Ang Haeh to Or Chi, the latter has a much firmer texture and the former has slightly more fibres.
Ang Bak (red flesh in Hokkien)
Ang Bak and Ang Haeh are very different in taste and texture. The former has a slightly firmer texture with only a moderately thick pulp and a creamy sweet taste. Contrary to its name, you will not find crimson red flesh in Ang Bak; rather, it has a golden hue with a slight tinge of orange. Between these two varieties, Ang Haeh to me is a better option to consider.
Teoh Eng Eng from Balik Pulau, Penang registered this variant under the Department of Agriculture Malaysia in 1987 with code the D 164. It won the third prize in the Penang State Durian Competition in 1987.
Another variety that I like is Capri with its thick ivory-coloured flesh. It has a creamy and sweet taste with distinct hints of banana and rum nodes. I cannot get enough of this underrated variety. Maybe it is because of its pale white flesh that hampers its marketability. Colour aside, Capri ranks high on my list of delectable durians.
The best way to truly enjoy durians is to always have a variety of fruits. Your taste buds can pick up the subtle differences which only goes to show that the durian, although one kind of fruit, can offer such a wide range of flavours to savour. Add Capri to the mix and you might also fall in love with it.
XO, D 24 / Sultan
Like Capri, some XO fruits have a pale off-white shade and a distinctively soft and moist flesh. The colour can also range from pale sage green to shades of yellow, depending on the region, altitude and age of the trees. This variant also has a strong bitter taste with an alcoholic twist (thus the name XO) and a strong aroma. This is ideal for those who prefer durians with a strong and bitter profile. Although the bitterness is obvious, its flesh is sweet as well (unlike bitter gourd or coffee, sans any sweetness). Each compartment has only one to three fleshy pods.
Because of its pale colour, XO is also not as popular as its golden, sun-kissed cousins. However, colour to me comes only a distant second from the character and taste profile of the fruit. In my book, the XO thick flesh and small flat seeds make this variety far more superior to many of the yellow flesh counterparts. If you come across XO, buy and indulge in it. Better still, you do not have to pay an arm and a leg for it.
I would not recommend opening the fruit and placing it in a plastic box for later consumption. Handling this fruit would turn it into a mushy mass. Always enjoy it straight from the fruit.
According to Ang Hock Leng, commonly known as Ah Leng who sells durians at Anson Road in Penang, XO is part of the D 24 variant, fruits coming from older trees at higher altitude. To me, XO is of a higher quality than D 24. This only goes to illustrate that even under the same classification/code, there is an obvious split that branches off into various subtypes. Ah Leng's stall provides al fresco dining under shaded trees and is popular among tourists and locals due to its location and quality durians.
D 24, one of the most popular durian clones in Malaysia, was very saleable in the 1990s before the craze for Musang King took the world by storm. D 24 strikes a good balance between sweet and bitter flavours with a thick, firm smooth and creamy flesh. It also has a mild alcoholic aftertaste. The yellow flesh has a less pronounced flavour compared to Musang King, making it a less overwhelming option. For those sampling durians for the first time, D 24 would be a good start.
Some unscrupulous durian vendors could short-change you by dishonestly selling you a D 24 as a Musang King. Understanding the difference between the two varieties would enable you to avoid such embarrassing situations.
The first thing to look out for is the colour of the fruit. A Musang King has a greenish-yellow ochre shade with a noticeable colour gradient from the tips of the thorns to the base. On the other hand, a D 24 has a homogenous green all around the fruit. The thorns in Musang King are fairly large, set fairly far apart whereas in D 24, the thorns are in clusters. The obvious difference is at the bottom of the fruit where the seams to open the durian run. These seams run into a five-pointed star shape at the base of a Musang King that is very visible; in the D 24, the seams are completely covered with thorns. If you look at the "crown" circling the stem of a Musang King, it is smooth with a little gap before thorns start. Also, Musang King has a relatively longer stem than D 24. With this in mind, you could save yourself from being hoodwinked.
Cheh Phoay (green skin in Hokkien)
I enjoy all types of durians from sweet to bitter ones. Cheh Phoay is definitely more bitter than Musang King but less so than XO. It also has a stronger sweet aroma and a firmer texture than XO. Although it has less oomph than XO, it is still a wonderful option to savour. The fruit has a melon-like shape and a bright green skin (thus the name). Also note that the seeds are rather big and the yellowish pulp (colour like fresh butter) is slightly fibrous but liam chooi. It is registered as D 145.
Hor Lor (bottle gourd in Hokkien)
Hor Lor has a peculiar elongated shape, with a curvy inner compartment that resembles a calabash, commonly known as bottle gourd (hence its name, Hor Lor). The flesh is very creamy, has a slightly dry consistency and a tinge of bitterness. It is less pungent compared to other durians. It is generally a mild tasting durian with medium to fairly large size seeds and a good amount of flesh. However, if the durian hits the ground hard when it falls, the pastel yellow flesh could have a stronger bitter thereafter.
Originating in Balik Pulau, Penang, Hor Lor was registered as D 163 in 1987 with its origin listed to Chat Fatt Hin. It also emerged winner in the state durian competition in Balik Pulau in 1987.
There is such a huge variety of durians and although I have listed some of my favourites, there are others that I enjoy as well. Above all, durians must be enjoyed "fresh". Beware of vendors who sell "stale" fruits that are previously kept in refrigerators overnight. Older trees offer more complex flavours and I am constantly surprised by some kampung durians that have yet to be registered and given a code. I am sure you have your favourites and since taste is so subjective, this makes such a great conversation piece among Penangites. Our preferences are shaped by our neural responses gravitating towards what we love and appreciate and should not be dictated by prices. Although many insist that the most expensive is the best, that is not always the case when it comes to durians.
Photographed and written by Adrian Cheah
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30 June 2022