On this page, we learn to identify good Penang durians. All the best durians of Penang are known by where they come from. Most of these were planted by serious durian enthusiasts a few decades ago, and now their children are harvesting the fruit of their labour, literally so to speak.
Durian planters name their trees, caring for them like family heirloom. They can tell you exactly how the durian is going to taste like, and how it will appear. Appearance-wise, many people like durians with dark yellow to golden-colored flesh, although the taste is often unrelated to the appearance.
Durians in the tree (30 May 2009)
© Timothy Tye using this photo
The best durian trees were planted about thirty to thirty five years ago. Although younger trees may bear the same name as their parents, they cannot match the older trees in terms of quality. When visiting durian farms, it is therefore necessary to go to farms with plenty of well-maintained older trees.
Durian trees require a lot of care to produce good durians. Rot and termite-attack can affect the health of durian trees and affect both the quantity produced as well as quality. Most durian plantations set up netting to prevent the durians from hitting the ground, as the impact will damage the flesh within.
Penang people appreciate durians that are soft and flavorful. The flesh has to be uniformly soft - if any part of the flesh is harder than the rest, the durian is considered poor quality.
Generally, thick-flesh durians with a small seed are preferred over thin-flesh durians. A thin membrane encases the fresh. The flesh should separate from the seed without sticking to it. The taste should range from sweet to bittersweet.
Durian connoisseur can identify the name of the durian by taste. The "aroma" of fresh durians - which many foreigner visitors might find to be obnoxiously unpleasant - is what the locals crave for. The aroma of the durian is strongest around the stem part of the fruit, and weakest at the tail end.
The flesh at the top part of the durian is the finest quality
The full-body aroma can only be appreciated at the durian farms themselves, by consuming durians that have freshly dropped from the tree the night before. The longer it is kept, the less fresh it gets. For that reason, supermarket durians and plastic-wrapped, refrigerated durians cannot measure up.
Where durians are concerned, size doesn't matter. The best tasting durians can come from the smallest to the biggest of fruits. Having said that, however, through my personal experience, the better durians range from the small to the medium sized.
Durians are never plucked. They must drop from the tree naturally. Climatic factors affect the quality of durians, even from the best trees. The most flavorful durians are those that drop from the tree during a dry spell - the aroma and taste will be strongest. Too much rain during the budding and ripening seasons will have an adverse effect, the former causing blossoms to drop while the latter diluting the taste. Continuous rainy days over a period would adversely affect the quality of the durian. Durians that fall during a thunderstorm or heavy downpour are not of the best quality.
It is not sufficient simply to consume the durians, it is also required that we know what durian we are consuming. People who know their durian will be able to name them (my own favorites include the Xiao Hong and the Yah Kang). To stuff yourself with durians without knowing what you are eating is like gobbling chocolate with your eyes shut. That, to me, is a waste of good durians.
The Kim Hoo or Gold Fish Durian comes from a plantation in Balik Pulau, but I came across it at the Jelutong Market on 12 June, 2010, where I bought for RM13.
"Number Eleven" is a very popular durian in the 70's. It has creamy yellow flesh with a pleasant taste and a subtle smell. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The D604 was first cultivated by the late Mr. Teh Hew Hong of Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh is quite sweet, and has some "body" to it as the seed is small. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
This durian originates in Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness. The one that I documented is a bit hard. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The flesh is darker than D600, like chrome yellow. Also slightly hard. Crispy, but the smell is not very strong.
Ang Sim (Red Heart)
Ang Sim is a durian with flesh which is quite soft and very sweet, and dark yellow in colour. It also has a nice aroma. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
This durian takes the name of the late Mr Lau Khun Poh, who first budded it. Khun Poh has beautiful orangy flesh with a slightly bitter-sweet taste and a heavy aroma. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
Hor Loh (Water Gourd Durian)
The flesh of the Hor Loh is very soft, dry and quite bitter. It has a sharp smell to it. Hor Loh was first cultivated at the Brown orchard of Sungai Ara. It got its name from its appearance resembling a "Hor Lor" pumpkin. If the durian hits the ground hard when it falls, the flesh tends to be bitter thereafter. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Ang Heh (Red Prawn Durian)
Ang Heh originates from Pondok Upeh, Balik Pulau, and has a round-shaped husk. The orange reddish flesh is highly aromatic, very soft with a bitter-sweet taste. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Xiao Hung (Little Red Durian)
Xiao Hung, whose name means "Little Red One," originates in Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness. The one that I tasted for this write-up is a bit hard. There are only one or two seeds per section, but the flesh is thick. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
Yah Kang (Centipede Durian)
Yah Kang is one of my favourite durians. Although its flesh is whitish, the taste is superb, milky, like very sweet, melting chocolate. The name "yah kang" means centipede, and accounts for the number of centipedes found at the foot of the tree, hence giving it the rather unusual name. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Bak Eu (Pork Fat Durian)
Bak Eu has a slightly acidic aroma. The flesh is whitish while the taste is quite bitter but nice. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The following are some of the durians I tried the first time at Peng Siew Durian orchard in Titi Serong, Balik Pulau, on the 2006 AsiaExplorers Durian Feast, on 17 June, 2006.
D17 is dark cream flesh. The taste is slightly dry but sweet. It is a tasty durian. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
This durian is gets its unusual name because it looks like two durians joined together, one big and one small. When split open, you almost thought the two halves belong to two different durians. Coupling has whitish flesh which is slightly dry but tastes good. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Ooi Kyau (Tumeric Durian)
The name Ooi Kyau (tumeric) describes the colour of the bright yellow flesh of this durian. It is very sweet and tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Chaer Phoy (Green Skin Durian)
Chaer Phoy is shaped like a small canteloupe. The skin is bright green, giving it the name which means "green skin". Chaer Phoy has creamy white flesh which is a bit dry, not too sweet but tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Ang Jin (Red Yoke Durian)
As the name suggests, Ang Jin Durian has deep orange flesh. It is very sweet and tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Lin Fong Jiau
This durian is named after Lin Fong Jiau, aka Mrs Jackie Chan. I wonder whether it is indicative of the relationship of the celebrity couple, for Lin Fong Jiau is a bittersweet durian, for too bitter for my liking. The flesh is whitish and wet. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
The following durian is what I tried the first time at Bao Sheng orchard in Titi Kerawang, on the 2007 AsiaExplorers Durian Feast, on 24 May, 2007.
The D15 has yellow yellow and its taste is sweet with a slight trace of bitterness. The flesh is quite substantial.
Durian-related Links in Penang Travel Tips
- Durian Farms
- Bao Sheng Durian Farm
- 2009 AsiaExplorers Durian Feast
- Durian, in The Flowering Garden