The Black Thorn Is A Rare Breed That Can Outstage The Best Durians
In the last decade, the Musang King has garnered the reputation of being the undisputed king of the durians.
That’s quite a feat when you consider that to a lot of consumers, all durian taste more or less the same. Yet so many are willing to pay top prices for branded durians instead of much cheaper kampung durians.
And you would understand why this particular cultivar deserves the recognition when you take just one mouthful of it.
But it’s stature is more than just about it’s ability to enable your taste buds to attain nirvana.
A big reason for it’s unrivaled fame is also down to it’s ability to reach the masses with it’s high seasonal supply and consistent taste, nevermind it’s scathing price tag.
In recent years, a dark horse has risen. And this lesser known cultivar has consistently made occasional headlines for outpricing mao shan wang.
Surely any competitor capable of dethroning the king is worth a closer look.
This is the black thorn durian.
It is know as Duri Hitam in Malay, Hei Ci (黑刺) in Mandarin, or a variation of Ochee depending on your dialect.
It supposedly got it’s name from it’s distinctive feature of having a black stem growing out of the durian fruit’s bottom. This stem is actually the flower stamen that has dried up. Thus, the black colour.
However, when we see black thorns in durian stalls and markets, we would seldom be able to observe this dark coloured “thorn” itself.
This is because the fragile dried part of the fruit is often broken off when the durian falls from the tree or during transport.
Contrary to popular belief, this durian genre does not have black spikes on it’s outer husk even though the tips of it’s thorns can sometimes be observed to be black.
I know that it’s intuitive to think that way, but it’s not how it got it’s moniker.
Another alternative origin story attributed the name as actually being a reference to the name of the mother tree itself.
It also carries the alias of D200 as it’s the cultivar’s registration number on the national crops list at MARDI.
The legend of this durian tells the story of how one farmer brought a durian seed back to Butterworth Malaysia from Thailand and nurtured it into an adult tree. Some stories also point it to Jawi town instead, where the farm of it’s official registrant Mr Leow is.
The market talk is that it was most probably a seed from ganja. Comparing both of them side-by-side and you’d be able to see the uncanny resemblance.
The early harvest were actually not impressive in terms of taste and the owner basically left the tress as an afterthought in his mind.
Approximately 30 years later, he realized how exemplary the fruits of the mature durian tree tasted and entered it into competitions… which it promptly won the champion trophy for consecutive years.
And that was the start towards national recognition of the black thorn.
Black thorns are almost exclusively grown in Penang. And because of the long maturity period of high quality fruit-bearing trees, the supply is quite limited.
It would take years, and even decades before younger trees planted in recent years start to realize their full potential. Yet at the rate that farmers are rushing to plant and nurture this tree, it should eventually hit a considerable supply to drive down the price.
But this is assuming that demand does not grow as fast, or even outpace, the projected supply increase in the coming years.
Features of black thorn durians
As mentioned previously, the most identifiable attribute of black thorn durians is it’s black stamen growing out of the bottom of the husk.
But this feature is often absent due to breakage.
Nevertheless, it can still be identified by some exterior attributes such as:
- Big round husk that resembles the shape of a watermelon or pumpkin
- Indented bottom of husk that is sometimes referred to as a navel button
- Able to stand upright on it’s own
- Greyish yellow green coloured husk
- Short stem on top of the fruit
It also comes in a variety of sizes from very small to very big. But the smaller ones are most likely found in the local markets of Malaysia as the big ones are more suited for export and transport.
If the physical exterior appearance is not convincing enough for you to say with certainty that it is indeed black thorn, then you should be able to validate it when the internals match up with the externals.
Once you crack and pry the thick husk open, you would be met with bulging flesh that look like flower pods ready to pop at any moment.
It can be an astonishing sight to behold for those who are seeing it in real life with their own eyes for the first time. The amazement is from seeing how much fruit flesh can be pack into a chamber… and how edible gold looks like.
At this point, you would also notice the cream-like gap present in the inner seams of the durian. A characteristic also shared by Tekka. This is sometimes referred to as “red flower” or “red heart”.
It can look like nacho cheese flowing out from a tightly packed burrito.
Yet colour-wise, this durian can vary widely.
Aril from young fruits tend to have a lighter shade of yellow, while old trees have a dark orangy hue that is closely similar to a salted egg yolk or rusted copper metal.
The plump looking lobes of fruitlets have a wrinkled skin so tender that they can tear with the slightest disturbance. This can result in a remarkable display of oozing cream that you simply have to lick into your mouth.
You’d think that with so much flesh under that skin that there would be no wrinkles. Sort of like someone with botox. But this is not the case here.
Biting into one, your teeth and lips would be met with thick juicy sticky flesh that melts in your mouth. The texture feels like custard and taste like heaven.
Even though it has an average sized seed, the bulging thick flesh makes up for any lack of fulfillment.
Do not swallow the flesh immediately. Savour it in your mouth and let your taste buds discover the universe for a bit.
High grade black thorns are known to have a refine sweet taste and a bitter after taste, a hint of alcohol and numbness, occasionally with smaller flatter seeds.
Durian tastes are often expressed as sweet or bitter. Black thorn in my opinion is a fusion of both.
It leaves a smouldering aftertaste that lingers, then explodes in your mouth with luscious pleasure as you take the next bite.
If having musang king for the first time feels like getting hit by a hurricane, black thorn is like being lifted up and whirled around by a tornado.
Before black thorn came into the fold, it was commonly said that good durians are always oval and oblong shaped. This durian flipped the whole notion on it’s head by being one of the best with a most exquisite taste and being a rounded durian.
It must be said at this point that even producers admit that the taste of black thorns can vary widely between fruits from younger and older trees, with the degree of ripening also a factor.
This lack of supply for high quality black thorns is the biggest reason why they can sometimes go for prices higher than musang kings.
It is indeed a very rare species even though they are procured by the thousands when in season. For the easiest way, you probably have to make a trip down to Jawi to get your hands on a “real” Duri Hitam.
Consider that there are so many markets for the limited supply of top grade black thorns from farms to satisfy. The scarcity factor is enough for durian hunters to make an instant purchase the moment they find one of these forbidden fruits.
However, do be mindful that this cultivar has a somewhat twin sibling that looks eerily similar on the outside. Even on the inside, it spots the red heart along it’s core. It carries the name Bittersweet and hails from further north in Kedah state. But no matter how much alike they appear, there shouldn’t be any confusion when you open this one. Because it has very pale yellow flesh, almost to the arena of creamy white, in stark contrast to the orange of orchee. It won’t surprise me if they both sprouted out of the seeds of the same mother tree.
Black thorn harvest season
The Ochee is almost exclusively cultivated in Penang. At least that’s where the high grade commercially available ones are found.
The majority of quality supply comes from Serene Orchard located in an area close to the tripoint border of Penang, Kedah and Perak.
It’s harvesting season typically peak in July to August.
While a lot of plantations are now farming this durian, it would take some time for young trees currently planted in other states to mature and produce quality fruits.
Most of the supply found sitting in Johor and Singapore street stalls are from young trees in Johor plantations that spot a much fresher coat of green on the husk. And the taste absolutely does not do justice to the fruits from old trees found in Penang, lagging very far behind the full potential of premium fruits.
Whenever I see this durian labeled as “old tree” in Singapore, I cannot help but roll my eyes with a little skepticism.
The rarity factor has propelled it’s pricing above musang king so often that you can expect sellers to embrace this as the norm.
Meaning you can fully expect sellers to sell black thorns above musang king prices these days. Especially in Singapore where buying power is strong and fueled with strong demand for premium durians.
Take note that because of the thick flesh, a seemingly average sized fruit can weigh quite a bit.
Pricing can start from anywhere around $18/kg on the low end and go as high as $40/kg for older trees.
Because this durian can often go over 4kg, you can sometimes easily pay $100+ for a single fruit. The average size is around 2.5kg to 3.3kg which can also be quite pricey.
For these types of prices, don’t forget that you should demand and expect premium service levels.