The black pearl is an outlier in the world of durians.
This attribute can probably be compared to the geeky kid in school who minds his own business while the rest play hide-and-seek during recess time.
The lack of attention is not due to a lack of substance, but simply because the kid is self-assured and feels he don’t have to play the way his friend do when he really sees no fun in playing catching.
It’s Chinese name is hei zhen zhu (黑珍珠) which literally translates to black pearl. And referred to in Malaysia as tai yuan (太原).
And no. It’s not a spin-off from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Very little is said of the origins story of this cultivar. Which is yet another mysterious characteristic of not desiring attention from the masses.
The only little information about his special breed is that the consensus agrees that it’s hometown is Johor.
Almost rare as the black thorn, if you are fully intent to having your hands on one, you really need to grab it as soon as you find one on the selling floor.
A farmer of this cultivar once told me that people who know durians well will be able to tell a noticeable change in the flesh colour of this species within 6 hours of it falling naturally off the tree.
This naturally induced time factor can be a big reason for it’s scarcity as only a portion of the harvest would be good enough to survive a long trip and arrive at the destination still in it’s freshest condition.
Features of black pearl durian
Most black pearls don’t grow to a size of heavier than 2kg. But they can also exceed that size as well. Many are compact sized.
However, if you are having it as dessert for 1 or 2 people, a smaller one might be more than enough.
This is because this is a durian that has small flats seeds resembling that of musang king. And in many cases, smaller than the king from a pound-for-pound comparison.
Even durian hunting old-timers can sometimes be surprised with the tiny seed… even if they have eaten black pearl before!
However the form of the seed is more rounded instead of flat compared to musang king.
It’s not as round as a ball, but rather with rounded surface… looking something link a cashew nut on steroids.
This cute rounded seed is what gave it the highly marketable name of black pearl.
The whole fruit itself has an unpredictable exterior shape which can range from totally irregular to the oval form of a rugby ball.
In fact, I’ve even seen some with wavy husks looking like a dull yellow-green sea of cone-shaped thorns.
It’s spikes are generally large but nicely spread out from the bottom to the top. However, about 3 quarters upwards from the bottom towards the top stem, the spikes start to get smaller and spaced more narrowly together.
The rim, which in durian jargon refers to the space where the spikes meet the short stem, is somewhat bald and flat like musang king, but not curved like tekka.
Once you pry open the stocky fruit to reveal it’s inner secrets, you will be greeted by an unusually pale fruitlet. So much so that it can look dead.
You might find that this is one durian that’s more husk than meat and that this must a joke someone behind the counter is playing on you. But don’t let that distract you. You can allow yourself to be distracted later if you want.
While other variants have colours that call for attention like the golden yellow of musang king and dark orange of the D13, You find find yourself spending a quiet moment wondering how can this be the durian with the reverable reputation.
The colour is often described as white, grey, pale yellow, or even frosted.
If you have never tried this species of durian before, I urge you to fully revel on your first bite. Don’t let this moment slip into the back drawer of routine durianing.
As you clamp down on the soft inviting flesh with your lips, you might be pattern-interrupted from the lack of the seed. Which is about when you realize that you are in the presence of greatness.
This all happens in a split second, mind you.
Curiosity and being victimized by a milky seduction is what will quickly lead you to the second bite.
If you are lucky, you might feel the seed this time. If not, get ready for a mental breakdown as the lush creamy flavor is going to hit you like a train.
However, the degree of these experiences pretty much comes down to how much you like bitter durians.
If you are pro-bitter, your eating experience can be subtly heavenly. But if you belong to the anti-bitter camp, you might be disappointed as this cultivar has a low level of sweetness in it.
This is definitely one for those with acquired taste.
Black pearl harvest season
The peak season for this durian is generally the same for most other cultivars. Ranging between end May and late July.
It has a huge following in Singapore and since the biggest black pearl plantations are just across the causeway in Johor, a huge bulk of the supply makes it way into the city state, which in turn gets gobbled up like crazy.
At a price ranging around $15 to $20 per kilogram, it is definitely a durian that offers value for money for those who love bitter durians.
This is especially so when we consider that mao shan wang can sell for as high as $30+ per kilogram. And you might not get the bitter ones.
For some picky durian hunters that demands their personal standards of perfection, the black pearl will be the one where all the flaws of musang king are corrected.