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Malaysia’s durian season started later than usual this year, making it possible for durian lovers and curious first-timers to continue sniffing out the best of the king of fruits well into the month of July. Actually, improved logistics and strong demand has caused durian to become available all-year round, but durian season is the time to get a dose of durian on the cheap. That said, how can you know if you’re getting the best type of durian for you from the seller?
“You’ll either love it or hate it!” Part of the fun of introducing durian to first-timers is watching them taste or smell it for the first time and chuckling at their reactions. Indeed, it is well believed that there is no in-between when it comes to fondness for this pungent fruit. Not all durian are sweet, despite its smell. There are many species of durian, some yielding sweet fruit, others bitter fruit, and yet more bittersweet.
How to Identify Different Durian Species
Several species of durian are more coveted than others, as are those cultivated in certain parts of the country (Balik Pulau durian, anyone?). Some unscrupulous sellers will try to pass off lower-quality or similar-looking durian as premium species such as the Musang King. Others might even let you inspect a real prime durian but crack open a different one if you’re not watchful enough! To ensure you get durian that corresponds to its price tag and the time of the year, keep an eagle eye on your fruit and note its characteristics. The sought-after species have several unique characteristics that serve as identification marks so that you won’t get duped at the stall.
Tips on Choosing a Good Durian
After you identify the type of durian you’d like to have, you’ll still have to run it through a battery of mini-tests to get the best of your preferred choice. Hey, premium durians are expensive even when they’re in season, after all! Don’t worry, the tests are pretty straight-forward and easy to administer once you get over your fear of the durian’s thorns (hint: they won’t stab you if you handle them gently, and if you’re still scared, grab a towel or two!).
Once you’re sure you’ve got the right species, it’s time to give it a good shake to hear what it sounds like – not for the music, but for determining the quality of the fruit inside! The flesh of the durian is soft, and when ripe, this allows the hard seeds ensconced in the flesh to bang against the durian shell wall. Little to no sound, and the durian is hard and yet to ripe; too much sound, and the durian is over-ripe and its flesh very soft. The general consensus is that the shaken fruit should sound like a soggy maraccas, which puts the durian somewhere in between the two extreme sound test results, but this depends on your personal preferences as well.
The strong smell that usually hints at the presence of a durian stall way before you even see one is actually a combination of the smells of overly-ripe durian, opened durians being relished by on-the-spot customers or being put on display, and durian waste such as shells and seeds. It is not an indicator of the sweetness of the durian you’re about to buy! To better gauge the smell of your chosen fruit, pick it up and smell it around an inch away or two from its shell, but not from its base. Sniff around its midriff instead. Like the shake test, little to no smell means your durian is unripe, and a strong pungent smell means your durian is overly ripe. Again, adjust your verdict based on your personal preferences.
Do you know how the popular traditional wooden frog croaking simulacrum works? You scrape a stick along the ridges along its back, and the hollow frog ‘croaks’. If you’re hunting for a ripe durian, this is the sound to aim for. A dull scraping sound means the flesh inside is still hard and the fruit is probably unripe. In the absence of a stick, you can also gently use the back of your nails.
Durian has become a lot more expensive now that they’re sold by weight including their heavy shells. Be vigilant when choosing them so that you’ll get to enjoy the best durian of the season!