The Golden Phoenix (jin feng) Is The True Original Of Durians
The golden phoenix is often considered as one of the originals among it’s admirable peers of premium durians.
This notion gets more and more rooted with each passing year, especially when new hybrid durians enter the market every now and then.
Known in mandarin as jin feng (金凤), or gim hong in hokkien, which directly translates to golden phoenix, it is one esteemed cultivar that has been around for ages.
I would have liked to say that the origin story of this durian was about a glowing red phoenix which flew down to earth just to grab a couple of it from the mother tree during peak season. This is so that it can taste the tingling numbness in the grade A harvest minutes after dropping from the tree.
But I can’t.
The name has nothing to do with it’s celestial taste, even though it taste heavenly to many. It would also have been very amusing if it’s origin story having a divine twist like thunder.
The legend behind the name is believed to be bestowed by the a farmer as a tribute to his loving wife. His wife’s name contains the character feng 凤. Yes, it’s that simple.
It is also known as D198 which represents it’s registration number on the list of Malaysian crops.
And sometimes referred to as the queen due to the connection to the word phoenix. In ancient China, the dragon is associated with the emperor and the phoenix with the queen.
In a durian world where plantsmen and agricultural architects constantly push the boundaries of biochemistry to try and create new durian trees to produce new types of durians, the golden phoenix can hold it’s head high and lay to the claim that it’s a natural breed.
The official story would lead us back to Johor which is the state where the registrant’s plantation is located. But the true origins about this phoenix is often contested since it’s said that this durian was already selling all over the place way before the official registration date.
Features of golden phoenix durians
This range of durians is generally of small to average size that don’t weigh more than 1.5kg. Many of which are under 1kg.
I tend to get those that are just above 1kg.
If you compare it side by side with typically larger durians such as the hor lor, the latter would dwarf the golden phoenix easily just by visual observation. Like a grown man and a boy… except that this boy is a prodigy.
With a shape of mostly round and some that are slightly oval, small sized fruits can sometimes fit nicely right into your hand.
But in terms of the amount of yield, the small exterior shell is made up for by a thin husk.
This means that your get more flesh from fruitlets per kilogram compared to other cultivars with notoriously thick husks such as tekka.
When we compound this with the small flat seeds hiding inside the pulp, it’s easy to see why many durian lovers find jin feng good value for money even though it commands a premium price per kilogram.
The small lobes of cute fruitlets mean that this durian is more suitable as a light dessert for sharing which will not make you feel full at all after eating. This is assuming you don’t consume everything yourself… which you would probably be tempted to.
The husk is mostly a faded and light shade of green, with some going into the grey/brown category.
This colour spectrum really depends on the farm’s climate and landscape where the trees were planted.
The spikes are considered slender and are more clustered. This creates a look of some sort like a wet crew cut.
The spikes are fairly grouped in contingent around the center but gets more concentrated towards the top and bottom. On the two ends, the spikes also start to noticeably curve upwards towards the long stem and downwards towards the bottom seam.
You should also be able to observe 5 seam lines from the bottom view like musang king, but it’s not as obvious and eye-catching as the star-shape at the king’s bottom.
As the husk is thin and the seams observable, one can often find that cranking this durian open from the base can be done with a pair of bare masculine hands… aided by tough fingernails on the thumb.
The rim is also not bald like musang king, but filled with small thorns.
Despite the wordplay, the colour of golden phoenix flesh is anything but gold. It is considered pale yellow by durian standards, maybe even creamy white, but not as close to white as something like black pearl or capri.
The meat has a complex texture that might make you wonder how you missed out on this durian for so many years…
At first sight, you might conclude that this durian seems too dry to be a premium one. Or that it has yet to ripen. But rest assured that this is how it looks like…
… and your perception of golden phoenix will validate it’s awesome reputation once you take in that seductive first bite.
Amusingly, while it can look matte dry, the texture feels amazingly creamy like butter in the mouth.
It’s gentle sweetness grabs you like your first love, and leaves a bitter after taste… also like your first love.
Depending on your taste buds, some people are able to identify an alcoholic after taste as well as a floral flavour. Some even sense the tingling alcohol taste on the very first bite. However I’ve met many people who can’t notice it even though they are stuffing their face with the same durian.
Purely from a taste perspective, it shares various characteristics as mao shan wang. Which is why it is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s mao shan wang.
But I disagree.
While that can sound like an underwhelming expression on surface, it’s actually quite a compliment.
This is one durian that deserves to be in a class of it’s own. While it is comparable to musang king, it is less in-your-face. Which is what many people might prefer.
The taste experience is also markedly different because of the alcohol sensation that attempts to make you feel high. Think champagne fused with durian oil.
The complex taste is so intense that you’d be spending the next moments following that first bite surfing your brain memory to identify where you’ve encountered such tastes before.
It’s like tumbling about in a front-load washing machine filled with durian puree from 100 different cultivars. Please do not try this at home.
I would compare the taste attributes more with green bamboo than MSW.
At feasting sessions, I remember more than 1 occasion when this durian trumped everything else on the table.
It also has a high yield of meaty fruitlets helped by it’s thin husk and small seeds. The thinness is not just referring to the rind on the surface shell. It also refers to the inner husk area in between compartments of lobes.
You’d also often find some small seeds so closely packed together that you discover 2 seeds in your mouth rather than one when you thought you were savouring just 1 fruitlet. But since the seeds are tiny and flat, it adds to the satisfaction of picking this durian. Some can be smaller than the tip of your pinky finger.
Don’t be surprised to find more than 20 fruitlets of aril with seed in a golden phoenix that weighs 1kg.
Many people say that black thorn is the first rounded durian to really go against the grain of premium tasting durians usually being oval shape. Jin feng can be mentioned in the same breath without sounding out of place.
Golden phoenix harvest
Even though the golden phoenix is considered a veteran old-timer in the durian world, the supply is surprisingly limited.
This is due to modern plantations these days preferring to cultivate durians that are more mass market and fetches a higher price such as musang king, black thorn and D214.
Jinfeng might be considered unlucky in the sense that it rose to prominence around the same time as musang king. So given a choice between the 2, farmers were more likely to choose MSW due to the better commercial value.
What we do see often in durian stalls nowadays is a variation of authentic jinfeng that grew from oddly cloned saplings or those from very young trees. This is when we see aliases like xiao jinfeng or xiao feng being used. With most, if not all, of them spotting pastel yellow aril… unlike the original jinfeng.
I’ve also seen variations of gang hai marketed with names carrying the word phoenix. So be wary of being confused or misled.
The supply of golden phoenix mostly, and some say exclusively, comes from Johor. With the bulk of it making it’s way across the Causeway into Singapore because of the better retail price aided by the currency conversion. It’s actually easier to find it in Singapore than in Malaysia.
While many durian stalls might not carry it, established durian stalls tend to have them available most of the time during the harvest season.
It’s peak season starts in May and slowly trickles off in July.
The good part is that it is almost always priced considerably lower than musang king. Except when MSW’s impending mega supply starts to hit the market like a freight train. Those times are when jinfeng can be more expensive.
A reason for this is that the price of golden phoenix is curiously stable. Even when other cultivars have fallen cheaper due to supply gluts, it seems to hold it’s price very well.
Typically $20+/kg for grade A fruits. If it falls below the magical number 20, you can bet that durianers will be sweeping it up like a robotic housekeeper.
When we consider that this durian has a higher flesh yield per kilogram, it can be a very shrewd buy for durian hunters.
And since it’s average size is also considerable smaller than most of the other premium cultivars, one can actually buy one at an affordable price.
But even though the price can seem affordable, don’t forget that it is still a high quality durian that commands a premium price. So be careful not to go overboard with your purchases.