How To Choose A Good Durian
It is basic common sense that when we buy fruits or vegetables, we would want to check that the food items are generally in good order.
Unless you really don’t care much about how consumable your purchases are, you’d want to do a basic check of the quality you are buying.
Most people would at least look for telltale signs that a clump of kang kong for example, don’t have signs of rot, infestation, or decolouring, etc. And this is for a $1 to $2 purchase.
When we consider that the average durian purchase in Singapore easily exceeds $100, then it makes perfect sense to be more meticulous in making sure that you are getting good durians.
At this point, it should be mentioned that every person has individual preferences that determine which cultivars they love best.
Some would only consume musang king, and some might not be able to sleep during durian season unless they’ve had their fill of D24s. So taste-wise, what is considered a good durian can be very subjective.
But in terms of choosing a good durian, how to choose one that is the way it is supposed to be applies to everyone.
With that said, a lot of what you end up with depends on luck. Even expert pickers with years of experience can end up with fruits with worms inside. Yet remember that we can do certain things to maximize our luck in picking durians.
Ultimately, you’d want durians that are in good shape just like how you’d choose apples and oranges in the market.
The skills of picking durians takes time to hone. But just knowing about what to look out for and attempting them is often enough to help you avoid ending up with bad durians which you have paid good money for.
Here’s what to do.
1) Check the stem
The stem tells a lot about a durian fruit.
While it can be an indication of ripeness, when it comes to choosing durians, it plays a more significant role in estimating how long it has dropped off the tree. So it is more of a sign of freshness.
Instincts should tell you that the stem should be rigid and not be hunched over like parsley. You are right.
The stem of a fresh durian that has naturally dropped from the tree within the last 4 to 8 hours would also have green, white, or a combination of both colours at the part of stalk where it has detached from the tree.
This area actually consists of parts scientifically called the pith, xylem and phloem.
If this part has darkened and turned brown or black, then it indicates that this durian has been off the tree and starved of nutrients for some time.
Sometimes durian sellers try to prevent patrons from observing this part and wraps tape around it. Some wrap this area up with a leave to make it look better. This should already be a sign that not all is well.
Some sellers cut off this top portion of the stem to hide the status of the fruit. While this is a temporary measure and the pith would eventually still turn dark, it can often buy enough time for the seller to sell it at a premium price even though the fruit has already devalued from overexposure.
The good thing is that a stem that has been sliced off by a knife or cutter will show a clean cut. So do realise why some durians seem to have their stems tampered with.
If you are unable to observe the top part of the stem, then what you can do is to lightly scrap the side of stem. A fresh durian would reveal a green phloem just under the bark.
With all that said, take note that the stem only provides an estimated insight into how long the fruit has fallen off the tree. And thus, it’s freshness. It does not determine ripeness as fruits can very well drop from the branch before it’s ripe due to various factors including weak stem from malnutrition, strong wind and heavy rain. So don’t put too much weightage and emphasis on the condition of the stem.
And just because a durian appears fresh from stem observation does not necessarily mean that it’s ready for you. Sometimes it needs additional time to settle down and ferment to achieve peak flavour. Red prawn for example, is one that is best when given some time to ferment off the tree.
If you can’t digest the logic that durians can take time to get itself ready after falling off the tree. Think about bananas. They can continue to ripen after you bring it back from the supermarket. Does it make more sense now?
So a fresh durian is not necessarily the single most important factor. Which is why you should also get acquainted with the next following points.
2) Inspect the exterior
Take a good look at the exterior of the husk.
Look for holes and black spots.
Holes are signs that worms have entered into the chamber. Black spots can be the faeces left by bugs. So you might be met with a gross surprise when you crank open the fruit.
Holes burrowed into by worms are usually found at the middle or lower sections of the husk.
Why? Because if it is at the top area, the inner chamber would flood from rain and the worm would drown itself.
When you discover a worm hole and would like to stretch you luck, you can try gently blowing into the hole and listen for a hollow sound created by the wind. If the sound is present, then it means that the worm has indeed penetrated the husk and using the pod as a bnb. However, if there is no hollow sound and you feel your breath bouncing back at you, then it could mean that the worm did not penetrate the fruit. It could still be a good durian. But I’d still just pick another one.
The bottom part is the most vulnerable area of the durian.
This means that you will also want to do a quick check at the bottom of the durian to ensure that it has not cracked open from banging around during transport.
Once opened, the flesh of the opened pods are exposed to the environment. This is why we frequently see rubber bands holding the bottom closed.
Take note that a durian that has cracked open cannot command premium prices. A durian is not a premium just because a seller claims so.
Just buy a different durian.
When you see a patch mark of dirt or area of blunted thorns on the durian, it can be deduced that the durian has had impact with the ground. The implication is that the window of freshness is shorter than usual. Even if the husk is still intact.
The durian wisdom behind this is that the impact triggers the activity of enzymes that softens the flesh and ignites the flavour.
So when this switch is flipped, the window of tasting the fruit at it’s most delightful peak has opened… and is already closing.
If you are not going to consume it within the next hour or two, choose another one.
Think of a hand warmer. Once you open it, it slowly starts to heat up and warm your hands. And the countdown for it to deplete itself starts.
3) Shape of husk
It can be said that experts can identify most types of durians from the characteristics of the exteriors.
Many durians have their own distinctive features on the husks and thorns.
But what you are looking to do here is not to identify what durian you have picked. You should already done that.
This is about something else.
Fully shaped durians that are more or less circular or oval would have pods of fruitlets all around. In fact, durian grading like A is based on the shape and size of the fruit. The implication is that it has a high yield of fruitlets inside and thus valued at a higher price.
Those that are irregular, or lopsided like kidney shaped will have some small and empty chambers. This translates to less fruitlets and less meat.
Less is not necessarily worse off.
This is really a matter of how much durian you want to eat.
If you want more, get those that are fully shaped. And if you want less, get those that are lopsided.
Since whole durians are sold by weight, a fuller durian does not really mean that you get more bang for your buck… unless they are priced per fruit instead of per kilogram.
This means that when choosing kampung durians, which are often priced per fruit or per basket, picking those that are “full” will be better value for money if quantity is what makes you happy.
And in terms of size, big durians don’t necessarily mean a higher valued fruit as they could have fallen from the tree because the stem was unable to hold onto the heavy weight. Thus, dropping it prematurely before it ripes naturally.
All that said, durians tend to have a stronger taste when they are smaller because all the taste are packed into fewer fruitlets.
Since we are on this topic, an insider tip is that durians that appear to be bulging tend to have bigger seeds. If you want smaller seeds, go for those that don’t look pregnant or do appear to be “slimmer” if that makes sense to you.
A sign of a bulging durian, although not with a 100% certainty, is thorns that are more sparse than usual. The indication is that the thick fruitlets inside is causing the husk to bulge and pull the thorns further away from each other. But do realise that how clustered the thorns of a durian is also depends heavily on the type of cultivar. The characteristic of the specific cultivar sets the standard to measure sparseness against.
IOI for instance, is a cultivar with slim and very clustered spikes. So one with sparse thorn arrangement would be easier to spot.
Another advanced tip that would be classified as Top Secret by the durian ministry is to look out for those that are slightly “flat” on an area of the husk. This means that it is not the normal curve that you’d see, but appear to be flat. This characteristic indicates that the fruitlets in that particular lobe(s) have fruitlets that are more compressed due to the smaller compact space inside. Concentrating the flavour into lesser flesh. You might not be able to make sense of this physical attribute if you are a rookie. But it will be as clear as an airhorn going off when you gain more experience in the field of durian picking.
4) Smell the durian
For durian experts, this used to be the most trusted method of checking whether a durian is deliciously ripe enough, more bitter or sweet.
But in recent years, sellers have been playing odd games like spraying durian juice on the durian to counter connoisseurs.
So smelling has not been as effective a method of selecting durians as it used to be before.
But if you trust your seller to not be so playful, then your objective in doing the smell test is to sniff for a subtle durian smell at the top and bottom of the durian.
If your nose don’t detect much durian aroma and is met with the scent of a grass field, it means that the durian is not ripe. If you get overpowered by the strength of durian scent, then it is a sign that it is overripe. If you don’t smell anything, it probably means that you have a blocked nose. Try again.
The reason why you want to smell both the top and bottom is that fruitlets in the lobes ripe from the bottom up. So there’s always the possibility that one end is ripe and the other isn’t.
Having said that, the rind at the top is generally thinner than the bottom. So the top part by theory should carry a slightly stronger aroma. This is assuming that the whole fruit is ripe and ready to please you.
5) Shake it
If you are unable to conduct a fair smell test that is not skewed against you, then another way to find out what’s going on inside the husk is to shake it.
Hold the durian with both hands in a manner where the pods are somewhat oriented horizontally, and shake.
Don’t go crazy and shake it like a bartender crafting his latest blend. One or two jerks are enough.
What you are trying to do is feel the thumping of fruitlets inside the durian. This shows that it is ripe. It’s like a milder feeling of the dice in a shaker cup when shook.
If there is no movement, then it’s a sign that something is holding the fruitlets in place rigidly.
It could either be unripe and hard, or overripe and sticky wet, or even failed to develop properly while on the tree.
Since you are holding onto the fruit at this point, here is another pro tip listed in the durian police training manual. It concerns the weight.
When we see the size of a durian, we’d already estimate the weight of it in our mind and how that weight would feel like. Good durians tend to weigh less than what you’d imagine it to weigh due to the moisture loss. So if the weight of the fruit feels lighter than what you imagined it to be, it’s a good sign. If it’s as heavy, or heavier, as you thought, then there’s a chance that it’s not ready for you.
6) Drum it
The odds are that you will not have tools to drum the fruit unless you are a durian seller yourself.
If the seller hits the durian with a knife or tapping tool, you’d want to listen out for a hollow sound. This serves as the same indication as what you are looking for when shaking it in the previous step.
A durian with fruitlets thumping around when shook means that there is hollow space for them to move about within. Which is why there is a hollow sound when struck with a solid object.
A flat sound would mean that there is little to no hollow space. And therefore, not a good durian.
This is a skill that requires honing to learn what to listen for. Practice makes perfect.
And by the way, when we see sellers skilfully spin a durian with one palm and hitting it up down left right center, it’s not a cute display of showmanship. They are doing this partly as a sound check on the different chambers to find out what’s going on inside.
7) Press the flesh
Some prefer to buy a durian whole and have the fun of opening it themselves at home. Some would prefer to leave the heavy lifting to the sellers.
Sometimes, sellers open the selected durians for customers to inspect before the transaction is finalized.
When the fruitlets are revealed to you, it is generally an invitation to press the flesh to ascertain that it is soft and therefore ripe.
Do so with a little grace.
Just know that at this point, there is no turning back.
If you poke it and it’s ripe, you are expected to buy it.
But of course, no one can stop you from running away. You have the right to live your life the way you want. I won’t judge.