It won’t take long for anyone beginning their durian journey to realise that the names that different cultivars take up can be very amusing.
These fun and catchy names serve as a great representation of how everyone from farmers to sellers to consumers approach this market.
Such an interesting irony that such an aggressive looking fruit can hide so much heavenly goodness under the husk. So much so that it arouses desires and cravings that simply would not go away.
Most of the infamous durian names are typically a fun term that describes a certain aspect of how the durian looks.
For example, red prawn is an expression that describes how the pulps look when the durian is opened. Black thorn is an attempt to recount the long “thorn” that is attached to the fruit before it falls off the tree. There is also hor lor which is an illustration of how the durian husk lines look like the shape of a calabash when opened.
Then there is centipede durian which stretches out it’s legs when you are not looking and gets chased around by chickens seeking a quick meal.
And no. Each durian does not come with a free centipede inside.
The centipede durian is also known as lipan which is translated as centipede in Malay. It is known as centipede because of it’s Chinese name being wu kong (蜈公). Or more affectionately pronounced as yah kang in Hokkien dialect.
How this OG of a durian got this poisonous sounding name is up to debate.
But legend has it that the original mother tree was located in Penang’s Sungai Ara area. Somewhere near the old Snake Temple. And for some reason, centipedes found the tree as a great host for their social affairs. Thus the name.
Lucky enough, some farmers grafted the tree before it was removed.
However, the name stuck.
Centipede is an unregistered durian. As such, it does not have an official registration number that goes with D#.
But the lack of official recognition does not mean that this kampung durian is not good enough. On the contrary, it is one of the lesser known cultivars that often make it into the top 3 of durianers’ favourites.
It’s quite a feat to be mentioned in the same breath as others like mao shan wang.
Features of centipede durian
At this point, it should be mentioned that there are two variants of lipan. White lipan and red lipan. The following description is for the former as the latter is a less favored one with a more reddish flesh colour..
The shape of the durian is generally oval and elongated. It can sometimes also look what durian jargon describes as slim.
And the size is generally small to medium.
The thorns can be described to be all over the place. It’s spikes can be pointing at all types of directions with many that are hooked. Some say that this is where it got it’s name as it resembles the moving legs of a centipede.
The colour of the husk is a yellowish green most of the time.
When opened, it is sometimes observed that the seams can take up very challenging curves. Yet it won’t be as hard a nut to crack as the stubborn tekka.
The pulp flesh colour is generally of milky white with a tinge of yellow hue. The word ivory is thrown around a lot. However, they can also turn out as clearly pastel yellow depending on how ripe the fruit is or how lucky you are on the day according to your astrological sign.
The colour of the flesh is a good indication of how sweet it would be. With yellower being sweeter.
A tiny hint of bitterness accompanies every bite. With the sweetness much stronger than the bitterness.
Those that are on the whiter side can sometimes appear translucent allowing you a peek at the goodness packed inside.
It’s unique taste can be said to resemble that of coconut fused with milk chocolate.
If you are able to grab one within an hour of the drop, you could taste some numbness too.
The thin fiber gives it a smooth texture that feels like a mousse cake carefully crafted by a pastry chef.
For those who have been around, the taste can remind you of D11.
In terms of the seeds’ size, this can often come down to how lucky you are.
Most people would know lipan as a durian with large seeds. However, I have encountered them with very small and flat seeds like musang king too. So this is an attribute that cannot be set in stone.
Veteran durianers would say that those from old trees have a much higher probability of harbouring small seeds. But they can have big seeds as well.
This inconsistency is probably a big reason why there are not many planters who would focus on cultivating centipede. It’s just too unpredictable to invest resources like time, effort and money in.
Sometimes fruitlets from the same durian but different pods can also taste disappointingly different. A factor that does not bode well with many consumers.
Centipede harvest season
Lipan has one of the earliest harvest in the durian season. Which is why it is often found at stalls displayed together with 604.
Durians also tend to naturally drop off the tree at a much faster pace compared to other cultivars. It takes at most 2 weeks, or 14 days, for all the fruits to drop.
And the later they drop, the more skewed the taste that it is famous for is compromised due to how fast the fruit ripe.
The implication is that to try the better quality centipede durians, you should clamour for the early to mid-harvest stock. Otherwise, you might not be able to actually sample how others have described it’s taste.
What you don’t want is to get them in a quality that does not do it’s reputation any justice.
With different plantations on different schedules, there is essentially a small window of opportunity lasting between 3 to 4 weeks to grab them fresh. Otherwise, you’d have to wait for the next harvest since this is not a cultivar that gets frozen for transport.
The harvesting period typically occurs in May.
And the fruits don’t often make it out of Penang as there is a good local demand for it.