If you have just entered the world of durians, you should have realized that you don’t need to be an expert to conclude that mao shan wang, or musang king, is the undisputed brand name amongst the king of fruits.
So show-stopping are they that they can command premium prices even though it costs just about the same capital to cultivate them compared to other less famous cultivars.
Which was why there was a gold rush among farmers to overhaul their plantations and concentrate on mao shan wang some years ago.
This gold rush is still ongoing, mind you.
But before the introduction of musang king, another cultivar reigned supreme and enjoyed the same status as the former is enjoying now.
And that durian is D24.
D24 is the official registration number of this specific fruit in the Malaysian list of crops.
For a veteran durian that has survived the test of time, you’d surely expect it to have some fancy aliases to accompany it’s stature… especially when we are seeing more and more fancy names of other durians these days like red prawn. and bamboo leg.
A couple of the more popular monikers of D24 that many might be more familiar with are Sultan and XO.
The place of origin for D24 is traced back to Bukit Merah in Perak.
The legend behind the Sultan nickname is that it was the only durian worthy of serving to royalty in Malaysia. Thus, the pet name was more organically generated.
Another folklore which is more down-to-earth is that it was the king of durians before being usurped by the arrival of mao shan wang. And the term Sultan was used as a reference to royalty.
The premium durians of this durian that come from old trees is often referred to as sultan king. Nice play of words there. They can also can come with a hint of floral flavour.
For the nick name of XO, this is a reference to the mild alcoholic and bitter flavour that comes with naturally fermented D24 reminding people of cognac. In the old days, this was an uncommon attribute of durians that the masses got to taste unlike today.
These days, it is mostly farmed in Pahang, Johor and parts of Penang.
Because of the longevity of D24, farmers have had a lot of time to experiment with it.
This has led to various subtypes of D24 which entered the market throughout the years.
Some of those that one might come across during durian hunting are super D24 and highland D24 which tend to fetch a slightly higher price than the regular Sultan and XO.
It is claimed that these premium D24s originate from old trees or trees grown in higher altitude.
However, when you have been duraining for long enough, you might start to think that all these premium talk is mostly fancy mambo jambo.
A “regular” D24 can exhibit these “premium” characteristics and “premium” D24s can very well taste average. A lot depends on the weather and climate in the season.
If you walk up to a durian store and ask for sultan, he would say the D24 is sultan. If you had asked for XO, he would say that they are XO. They are all D24.
Feature of D24 durian
The D24 itself can come in various sizes.
I personally find that those weighing between 1.2kg to 1.4kg tend to be more consistent in terms of good quality.
The exterior husk is almost always circular and consistently more rounded than other types of durians.
Bigger durians tend to be shaped like a kidney bean, or some would say heart-shape with the upper portion noticeably wider than the lower portion.
The colour of the husk is a fresh coat of homogeneous green that can remind you of a grass field.
The thorns of this durian can be described as irregularly clustered which seems to be pointing in all types of directions without any uniformity.
Individual slim spikes can be curvy, sharp and hard too. So be careful not to hurt yourself.
If you look closer at the spikes, you might be able to identify a slight yellow hue that becomes very distinctive when you garner more experience with durians.
However the most unique feature of D24 from it’s exterior is a somewhat indented round bottom at the area where the seams meet, almost like a bellybutton.
Durian sellers like to refer to this amusing attribute as that of a 5-cent coin or 10-cent coin depression.
This can look odd to some people as the spikes are all over the place but suddenly go bald at a small area at the bottom.
This unpredictable arrangement of spikes can be quite chaotic and can often fully hide the seams of the durian, making it impossible to determine where the different lobes are bordered.
The same special bald feature can be observed at the rim where the husk and thorns meet the relatively short stem as well.
Being bald around the rim with so many rising spike surrounding it, it can look look like a drone shot of a road with tall trees along the roadside.
Like the golden phoenix, D24 has a husk that is considered thin by durian standards.
As you pry open the durian, you will find that the flesh is of a colour that can be described as off-white or pale-yellow.
I’ve also come across sellers who describe the color as that of a cooked egg yolk.
The flesh of the fruitlet itself is super soft and it is almost certain that even a slight pressing of the flesh can create a nasty looking impression.
Like leaving footprints on the concrete floor before it dried and solidified.
Each pod section usually contains 1 or 2 fruitlets with seed. And by some stroke of fancy nature, each fruitlet is separated from another by it’s own skin unlike other durians where many seeds can clump together forming a lobe of super fruitlet.
The natural taste of freshly ripe D24s is generally agreed to be strong bitter-sweet. When this is so it is often called Sultan.
However, when it is left to continue riping after the period of “just fresh” it can take on a magical alcoholic aftertaste coupled with a stronger pungent aroma. This is when it is called XO.
Some durian sellers call this process as fermentation. Which I don’t totally agree with the wording here.
For many XO lovers, this is one durian that manages to hit that sweet spot between sweet and bitter.
And when the harvest is good, which is heavily dependent on the weather, the taste can be so stupendous that is sends people into a frenzy.
Not recommended for first timers entering the durian world unless they are those who likes to jump into the deep end of the pool before learning how to swim.
It is also classified under the group of gas durians where it supposedly produces gas. Leading the eater to burp when or after consuming it.
Despite it’s regular-sized seed, the flesh can be quite thickly dense, sticky, and delightfully creamy.
But the large seed can be a turn-off for some as it can be seen as a low yield of meat when we do the maths.
Despite slowly falling out of favour, D24 is a proven specimen and with a track record to boot.
D24 harvest season
Because of it’s commendable past glories, D24 enjoys quite a huge supply as many farms cultivated them during the gold rush so many years ago.
This is why we can find it available throughout the year in staggered supply. It is about as widespread in supply as musang king.
And it’s also why it’s a common choice for food companies to use for creating food products. Mcdonald’s and KFC are just a couple of examples with their D24 McFlurry and D24 Durian Mochi.
But the peak harvest is usually in the middle of the year, around August.
Sultan and XO is still very popular today in Singapore and Malaysia.
It has it’s own base of loyal fans who would not eat any other durians.
The price is considerably lower than musang king and can range around $12 to $16 per kilogram for the whole fruit.
At these types of prices, D24 offers great value for money for those who cannot bring themselves to pay more than $20/kg for durians.
After all, this is one durian that used to be king.