The recent second edition of the Bangi Golf Resort World Durian Championship: Malaysia Edition saw more than 50 durians fighting it out for the top spots in categories like Musang King, Black Thorn, registered clone and D24.
Although there were some repeat winners – Eric Chan’s Dulai Fruits once again nabbed the prize for best Musang King and Tekka, there were also some new faces. (Go here for last year’s winners: 2018’s top 5 durians in Malaysia and where to find them).
Here are the two new winners of the best D24 and Black Thorn in Malaysia in 2019.
Winner: Sg Baong Jawi Durian Farm
Category: Black Thorn
Leow Cheok Kiang is a name that is likely to ring a bell in durian circles, where he is a venerated figure.
Leow is a 60-something Penang farmer who has three farms in Seberang Perai. He is also the person responsible for registering the vaunted (and now very expensive) Black Thorn clone in Malaysia.
Leow has won numerous competitions in Penang for his Black Thorn. This is his first time entering a KL competition. Photo: Pow Chiok
“Mr Leow started farming with his father when he was seven, so he has a well-established routine of taking care of his trees. If the tree is healthy, he knows that the fruit will be of good quality. So this is the fundamental idea that he follows to this day,” says Pow Chiok, Leow’s good friend and spokesperson.
Pow was instrumental in getting Leow to participate in the competition and even went to the extent of collecting fruits from Leow’s farm (and a few other Penang farms) and driving down to Bangi on the day of the competition to deliver them to the organisers.
Interestingly, while Leow has won numerous awards in Penang for his Black Thorn, he has never entered a durian competition anywhere else. His entry in the Bangi durian competition marks his maiden foray in a KL competition.
“This is the first time he is participating in this competition and Penang people are very proud of him because it just proves that his Black Thorn is one of the top, premium grade durians in Malaysia right now,” says a jubilant Pow.
Leow first discovered Black Thorn at a friend’s farm and took cuttings from the tree. His oldest Black Thorn durian tree is now over 50 years old and was originally a kampung durian tree which he grafted 35 years ago with the Black Thorn clone; this is also the tree that has yielded award-winning fruit.
Also read: ‘Durian Whisky’ is Malaysian-made, and not actually whisky
Leow first discovered Black Thorn at a friend’s farm and took cuttings from the tree.
As mature Black Thorn trees tend to yield better fruits, it is little wonder that Leow’s decades-old trees have produced creamy, sensationally delicious results.
Although Leow’s Black Thorn has collected accolades aplenty, he doesn’t export his fruit overseas; instead every year during durian season, he sells his fruit at a fruit stall in Sungai Jawi, Penang.
“His fruit stall is actually a preferred destination – every day tourists in Penang will flock to his stall.
“And he keeps his prices consistent, about RM60 to RM65 per kg throughout the season – he never raises prices even though others may be selling it for a higher price.
“And even though he only produces fruit for domestic consumption – his fruits get bought up every day and he often doesn’t have enough,” says Pow.
Where to taste the durian (until end of July only):
Durian stall (look for signs that say Ochee champion)
Jalan Jawi Jaya 2
Taman Jawi Jaya
14200 Sungai Jawi
- Leow is responsible for registering the Black Thorn clone in Malaysia. Photo: Filepic
- The Black Thorn trees on Leow’s farm are decades-old, which is why they generate rich, creamy fruits. Photo: Pow Chiok
Winner: Eco Valley Organic Durian Farm
Category: Best D24
Ocean Chua and his family had long been avid consumers of durian or as he puts it: “My whole family is crazy about durians – my wife, mother and mother-in-law can eat it three times a day from morning to night”.
Chua started the organic durian farm
with his friends so they could produce ‘cleaner’
durians. Photo: Ocean Chua
So one day, he and his friends decided to start their own organic durian farm in a remote part of Bukit Tinggi, Pahang.
The 30-acre farm is surrounded by the verdant greens of the Taman Negara forest reserve and has around 700 durian trees as well as rambutan, papaya, banana and mangosteen trees.
“We are an organic farm, so we make use of our natural environment. Like the fertiliser that we use is a combination of fermented seaweed as well as fallen leaves/grass which are mixed with soil and left to ferment. We treat the earth, not just the tree,” says Chua.
As a result of their careful ministrations, the soil on Chua’s farm now has a pH value of 6.5, so it is almost neutral.
In contrast, most commercial durian farms that use chemical fertilisers have more acidic soil with a pH value of around 4.5 to 5.
The farm also uses pristine water from a waterfall nearby to irrigate the trees on the farm, lending to its wholesome appeal.
Also read: How to choose a durian, according to durian experts
The river source that irrigates Chua’s farm. Photo: Ocean Chua
Pictures from the farm show a host of natural inhabitants from ladybirds to worms and bees. It is this natural ecosystem that Chua thinks has contributed to his creamy, rich D24 durians.
Although the durians on Chua’s farm are mostly intended for him and his friends, come durian season, the friends run a durian stall in Metro Pudu and sell their farm’s yield until supply runs out.
Asked about their win, Chua says this is testament to the notion that very good durian fruits can be borne out of organic farming practices.
“This affirmation is our motivation to continue preserving nature and cultivating healthy durians for the next generation. We also hope the award can send a message to other farmers that good durians can be produced without the aid of chemical fertilisers or pesticides,” he says.
Where to taste the durian (until end of August/supply runs out):
Eco Valley Organic Durian (KL)
40-G, Jalan Metro Pudu 2,
Off Jalan Yew
Fraser Business Park
55100 Kuala Lumpur
A huddle of people are clustered around a few thorny durians. A fruit is picked up and assessed – first it is shaken, then hands are appraisingly clamped on the spiky exterior. Finally, an intrepid nose hovers inches away from the fruit’s sharp carapace.
“Not enough nutrients,” pronounces durian expert Lim Chin Khee solemnly. “Look at the black spots here – it shows a lack of calcium,” says Lim prodding a darker area surrounding the thorns on the fruit.
Lim and other durian mavens have been summoned to judge the Bangi Golf Resort’s World Durian Championship: Malaysia Edition 2019.
The competition was launched last year with 20 entries and proved so popular that this year’s edition saw more than 50 entries vying for the top spot in categories like Musang King, D24, registered clone and Black Thorn.
“After last year’s competition, farmers were convinced that good publicity was equivalent to better business for them,” explains BK Tan, who put together the entire competition.
In many ways, durian competitions are a practical way for farmers to gauge the quality of their fruits and to measure their produce against those of competitors.
Winning also entails getting a bit of a leg-up in the industry.
“Oh yes, winning has helped us a lot. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition and we now even get phone calls and requests for our durians, including one very weird call from a person asking if we could send branches from our Musang King trees to be grafted,” says Eric Chan of durian farm Dulai Fruits.
Chan’s durians were winners in the Musang King and Tekka category last year, a feat he repeated this year when his durians nabbed the top position in both categories once again.
Lim (right) assessing whether the durian has ripened properly or not by shaking it. Lim is a durian expert who can tell if a durian is good or not by its outlook. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
Given the year-on-year response to the competition, it is only likely to get bigger as time goes on, simply because durian farming has become so lucrative in the past few years.
Once considered leisure farming, durian farming in Malaysia has gone global in tandem with increased demand from China.
This in turn, has caused a surge in supply – from 2017 to 2018, durian production rose from 211,000 metric tonnes to 341,000 metric tonnes.
“I believe the number of durian farmers and durian acreage has more than doubled in the last two or three years after we opened the market overseas, especially to China. There is a lot of incentive from the government sector as well as farmers’ associations, so farmers and potential farmers are very interested because they know the market is there,” says Dr Johari Sarip, the director of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) in Johor.
But for Lim and his cohorts, durian-judging is serious business because not only does it give them an opportunity to help deserving farmers, they also get to put their vast knowledge and skills to good use.
Also read: Durian research centre to be unveiled at Bangi Golf Resort Durian Festival & Awards
Because durian farming has become such a lucrative industry to be in, durian farmers are increasingly receptive to entering competitions as this gives them an idea of how their fruits fare against those of their competitors. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
A beginner’s guide to durians
In his day job, Lim consults farmers and private organisations on the design and management of their durian farms and provides strategies to improve yield and productivity. Basically, he knows everything there is to know about durians, from farm to fruit, and is quick to determine the viability of a fruit from the very first look.
“Overall, we look at the outlook first, the shape. So, a good durian must be rounded and elongated. When you open the husk, if it is whitish, that is a sign of a lack of nutrients or imbalanced nutrients.
“We also look at the flesh colour – from the colour, we can judge whether it is bitter or sweet. If it is a lightish golden colour, it will be sweet, but if it is golden with a little bit of green, it will be bitter.
“Generally, if you look at the outlook of a fruit, it can give you an indication of about 80% of the quality, although the final test is of course in the tasting,” says Lim.
A strong aroma (without any sour-ish odour) is one of the underlying qualities of a good durian. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
Although durians in Malaysia are typically collected once they drop from the trees, the best time to actually eat the fruit may not be immediately after it drops. This is because durians naturally ferment in their husks and this fermentation process informs and impacts the end tasting notes of the fruit.
“Durians start to ferment once it drops from the tree. So when it starts to ferment, it will convert to carbohydrates and glucose.
“So that’s why durian sellers will knock the husk a few times – this is how they expedite the fermentation process,” says Lim.
How a fruit ferments is also dependent on how it is managed at the farm level. According to Lim, fermentation can be affected by the nutrients the tree gets – if it has balanced nutrients, it can be eaten a few hours after dropping from the tree because fermentation has already started.
Also read: ‘Durian Whisky’ is Malaysian-made, and not actually whisky
Durians start ripening once they drop from trees, but the ripening level depends on factors like the weather and nutrient distribution at the farm level. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
On the other hand, if nutritional intake is insufficient (which can be seen from the surface of the husk), it will take about 24 to 48 hours before it reaches full fermentation.
Other factors that impact fermentation include how many fruits the tree is bearing, what clone it is and the weather at the time (dry weather speeds up fermentation).
And then there is possibly the biggest factor of them all: Consumer preference.
“Some people prefer only sweet fruits, for example the Chinese in China that have just learnt how to eat durians will prefer the sweet ones. So after it drops, within two to three hours if you give them a fruit to eat, they will like it.
“But for Malaysians, they like to eat fully fermented or overripe fruits, so they will prefer durians consumed at a later stage.
“Thai people meanwhile like to eat half-ripened durians and they don’t like very strong aromas, so they actually cut the fruit before it has dropped.
“Any fruit that is harvested earlier will have a lighter aroma, it won’t be so sweet and it won’t be so concentrated. So when it reaches more maturity, the aroma and sweetness will keep on increasing,” says Lim.
This year’s competition saw more than 50 entries vying for the top spot in different categories. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
Lim says when eating durians, there are a few flavour and textural elements that he looks for.
“In terms of taste, it must be sweet with a little bit of bitterness and it should be creamy, sticky and have a strong aroma. And we don’t want to have a sour-ish element because that means that the tree is sick so the fruit is not healthy,” he says.
Lim says although Malaysians are crazy about durians, most have only eaten a selected variety and can’t really distinguish a good durian from a not-so good one.
“The majority of Malaysians actually just eat, they don’t know much about durians. They’ve never tasted the superior quality ones, so their standard is just whatever they eat in the market.
“So consumers should put in the effort to get some sort of durian education because only then will they know how to select good durians,” says Lim.
The winners of durian competitions like Bangi Golf Resort’s World durian Championship: Malaysia Edition often end up getting more recognition after their win. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
Tan however thinks that the effect of competitions like this can be far-ranging and ultimately, cyclical.
“As more and more entities get involved in planting durians, there is a need to distinguish the good from the bad. And from the competition, the public is also indirectly educated on the nuances of what distinguishes a mediocre fruit from an excellent fruit.
“And the more discerning the public gets about fruit quality, the more farmers will monitor their fruit and ultimately raise the bar for quality durians in the market space,” he says.
For many of the country’s best durian producers, the inaugural Bangi Golf Resort Durian Festival & Awards 2018, held on Aug 4, was a day of reckoning. It was an opportunity to see if toil, hard work and years spent carefully nurturing durian trees would finally bear fruit (pun intended) in the form of national recognition.
An illustrious list of judges like K F Seetoh, founder of the World Street Food Congress, Lindsay Gasik, author of two durian books and Julie Wong, former senior editor at The Star and Flavours magazine, tried every single durian entered into the competition, judging based on a range of factors like taste, appearance, texture and colour, before making their final decision.
Here are the top winners from each of the five categories of the competition:
Category: Musang King & Tekka
Winner: Eric Chan of Dulai Fruits
Chan’s orchard Dulai Fruits emerged champion in both the Musang King and Tekka category and he says much of the fruits success is due to the weather and soil in Kampung Tras, where the orchard is. Photo: The Star/Art Chen
Dulai Fruits bagged awards in not one, but two categories, nabbing the titles of Musang King and Tekka champion. Musang King (also known as Mao Shan Wang) is one of the most popular (and expensive) durian varietals in Malaysia and originates from Kelantan. The Tekka, meanwhile, is often referred to as the Musang Queen and has a pleasant bitter quality. Dulai Fruit’s Musang King is a decadent, creamy affair so memorable that you’ll be hard-pressed to remember anything but the lingering opulence of the fruit. The Tekka, meanwhile, boasts velvety durian flesh that is lightly bittersweet and incredibly sumptuous.
Dulai Fruits has over 3,000 durian trees, but specialises in Musang King (pictured here). Photo: Dulai Fruits
According to Eric Chan, one of the partners in the company, what makes their durians so distinctive is the temperature and terrain in Kampung Tras, Pahang where their durian orchard is.
“Kampung Tras is a very special place in Malaysia for durian. I don’t claim it myself, it’s from other people who say that Kampung Tras has the best Musang King. When it’s dark, the temperature is around 20°C but at 10am, it will start to warm up and it’s back to 36°C, so there’s a temperature gap that makes our fruits special.
“But that’s only one part of it, the other part is the terrain. A lot of the durians are on the hilly side of Kampung Tras, and it is at the back of a mountain range, so the water distribution is very good and the soil is very, very fertile,” he says.
Chan’s orchard has over 3,000 durian trees, out of which 70% are the Musang King varietal and 10% are Tekka. His other partners have been in plantation their whole lives and have over 40 years of experience, so their planting and growing techniques have been honed to perfection.
“What we can say is our durians have a more consistent taste – even if the season is not good, our quality will be stable,” says Chan.
Chan and his partners export their fruit to China, the US and Australia and have received excellent response from buyers and others in the market. They decided to enter the competition in part to see if they matched up with other producers.
“We’ve never had this sort of exposure before. We thought we should give it a try and see how our durians compare to others. Before that, we already had good response from our buyers, but that’s not really a professional kind of response – it’s just that people know that our fruits are better,” says Chan.
Tel: 03-6276 8036
Durian from the farm is also available at: Durian Hill SS2
To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Category: Black Thorn
Winner: Heng Mee Oo of Serene Orchard Sdn Bhd
Heng’s journey to becoming a successful producer of the Black Thorn varietal of durian started with over a decade of failure. Photo: The Star/Art Chen
The story of Serene Orchard’s rise to become Malaysia’s top producer of the Black Thorn varietal of durian began with 15 years of failure.
“Initially when we started 30 years ago, we planted a lot of clones like Hor Lor, D24 and Tekka. In our first 10 to 15 years, the quality of our produce was not up to standard and we failed quite badly. Nobody wanted to buy our fruits even at very low prices. So at that time, we were very miserable,” says Heng Mee Oo, the owner of the orchard.
Coincidentally, Heng’s hometown of Sungai Bakap in Penang was where the original Black Thorn mother tree came from. The fruit from that tree was so popular that the waiting list was years long. Heng got his first taste of the fruit after two long years of waiting and says he just knew it was the one for him.
“I tried all sorts of durian but once I ate the Black Thorn, I fell in love. I told myself ‘This is the durian I want!’ So I decided to slowly plant it in stages, a few thousand trees a year. A few years back, I transformed my farm from a multi-clone to a single clone. So the whole farm is now Black Thorn,” he says.
Serene Orchard is now the largest producer of Black Thorn varietal durians in Malaysia. Photo: Serene Orchard
Black Thorn was a secret for many years as the original tree in Sungai Bakap was planted based on a seed that originated from Thailand and little was known about it outside the community. Since being commercially grown, it has surged in popularity over the years and is being lauded as a rival to Musang King. And Heng’s Black Thorn is certainly magnificent – each fruit is plump and voluptuous with a bright burnished, slightly reddish hue. Tastewise, it packs a phenomenal punch – creamy, thick flesh with an underlying richness, sweetness and a slight alcoholic aftertaste that proves instantly seductive.
These days, Heng’s 30-year-old 100-acre (40.5ha) farm is filled with over 6,000 Black Thorn trees, with about 90% of his produce exported (through other parties) to countries like Australia, New Zealand, China and Hong Kong. Although Heng has already achieved considerable success, he continues working to make his farm better, including plans to turn it into a fully organic farm, as he now already uses 75% organic fertiliser.
“Actually a lot of people don’t know that chemical fertiliser is not suitable for durian as the trees are very sensitive and fragile. If you put too much, the soil conditions will be damaged,” he says.
Heng says he has no secret formula to his success, as he learnt everything he knows about durians in The School of Hard Knocks. “We get feedback that our durian is very special and no other farm can copy us. And I think that’s because of 30 years of failure and experience,” he says.
Mukim Bagan Samak
34950 Bandar Baharu
Tel: 011-5108 1295 (WhatsApp only)
Black Thorn from the farm is also available at: Durian King TTDI
To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Winner: Sime Darby Planters’ Haven West
Sime Darby Planters’ Haven West triumphed in the D24 category. From left: Sime Darby representatives Rizal Affendy Abdul Latif, Mohd Zaidy Md Yusuf and Mujahizudin Ahmad Zaini. Photo: The Star/The Star
In 1997, Sime Darby Property started selling one-acre (0.4ha) plots of land – part of a sprawling 264 acres (107ha) of pristine green called Planters’ Haven in Nilai – to interested members of the public. On most of these plots, D24 durian trees were planted. Fast forward over 20 years later and the 1,000 durian trees have matured.
“For the last season, we had about 6,000 fruits from the farms. But we don’t sell the fruits commercially, we give them to customers who come to our farm to enjoy, because we are selling the land, not the fruits,” says Mohamad Jalani, head of business unit 3 at Sime Darby Property.
D24 is widely available in Malaysia and is prized for its creamy flesh. The fruit is often incorporated into local desserts – McDonald’s Malaysia even introduced a D24 McFlurry!
The farm’s D24 is divine – one of those heavenly plump durian fruits with a rich aroma and flesh that is hedonistically creamy and sweet without being cloying.
Planters’ Haven is a sprawling 264-acre piece of land which has over 1,000 D24 durian trees. Photo: Sime Darby Property
Jalani and his team were propelled to enter the competition because they wanted to encourage more people to visit their farm. “Malaysians only eat durians; they don’t know anything about the trees. That’s why we joined this competition to promote our farm, as it’s not that far from KL,” he says.
As the trees have now reached their second decade, Jalani says the fruits are simply going to get better.
“The taste is getting better and better every year because the trees have matured. Every time we bring people to our farm, they say this is the best durian they’ve tasted,” he says.
Nilai Impian Gallery (transportation will be provided from here to the farm)
No 1, Persiaran Nilai Impian 3
71800 Nilai Impian
Tel: 06-794 8383
To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Winner: Mohd Zarir Khalil of Dusun Damai for D13 durian
Zarir only has 86 durian trees on his orchard but he emerged victorious in the open category. He is now in the midst of converting a 6-acre former oil palm plantation into a Musang King farm. Photo: The Star/Art Chen
The soft-spoken Mohd Zarir Khalil is a keen farm owner who comes from a family invested in agriculture – his father is also a farmer. His little five-acre (2ha) orchard in Johor is over 25 years old and has 86 durian trees, as well as rambutan, pulasan and dokong. He grows durian varietals like 101, D13, udang merah and also kampung durians.
Unlike many of his competitors, Zarir is literally a one-man show. “I only have two workers helping me – I think I couldn’t handle the work if I had a big farm,” he says.
The D13 originates from Johor and has a less intense taste than some of its heavyweight counterparts. Zarir’s award-winning D13 is a delight – it is much lighter in texture and flavour than many of the other winners, which means you can easily polish off more fruits in one go.
Zarir’s charming five-acre farm is filled with 86 durian trees as well as other fruit trees. Photo: Dusun Damai
Recently, Zarir decided to take on a much bigger challenge: investing in a six-acre plot that was previously an oil palm plantation, which he is slowly converting into a Musang King farm. “I wanted to try planting from saplings until they bear fruit, because I love to see the process,” he says.
Zarir intends to continue to keep a low profile despite having one of the best durians in the country, as he says he entered the competition simply to see where his durians stood.
“I just wanted to know the level of my fruit, if it is so-so or good,” he says humbly.
PRA 13 Parit Raja Ahmad
Tel: 012-317 7411
To visit the farm, two-day advance appointment is essential.