Tupai King Durian Is Set To Challenge Mao Shan Wang
I guess that currently very few people need to be convinced that musang king is the undisputed king of durians in Malaysia and Singapore. It’s also making quite a splash internationally, notably in China.
At the present time, the only real challenger to it’s throne and potentially throw it off the pedestal is black thorn.
Before you question how it would even be possible to overthrow the king of kings when it’s so infamously celebrated, consider that when D24 ruled these lands before musang king, many also felt the same way.
Many felt that the perch D24 stood on was too powerful to overtake. Yet it still happened.
But what many don’t know is that mao shan wang had been around for decades before it hit the big time and cemented the status it enjoys today. This was because many farmers were convinced of it’s commercial potential and went all-in. They just needed time for their saplings to grow into adult fruit-producing trees.
A certain cultivar has been the talk of the town in the durian farming inner circles in recent years. And many signs point to a comparable growth trajectory to musang king’s.
The farmers’ interest and demand for this particular durian tree is so high that it’s saplings are selling at as high as 3x the price of musang king’s.
The durian cultivar is tupai king.
It’s official registration number with MARDI is D214 on record and the official name is tupai 226.
Tupai is the Malay word for squirrel. So a direct translation of tupai king is squirrel king or song shu wang (松鼠王) in Chinese.
Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, it’s because this is about the same manner in which musang king got it’s name.
Musang king got it’s name from the tendency of the Asian civet cat to hunt it down. Tupai king, as you might have guessed by now, is a reference to squirrels sieving through the farmlands specifically in search for this durian.
But surely you’d suspect that the stories of civet cats and fluffy squirrels were conceptualized in a marketing department somewhere.
Word on the street is that the name actually comes from the name of the store belonging to the owner, Cap Tupai. Even the most skeptical investigative journalist should find that this story makes a lot of sense.
Another alias is wu jin wang (乌金王) which means dark gold king or black gold king.
The origin story behind tupai 226 was that a particular durian tree caught the attention of Mr Chew who was managing a kampung farm property in Sungai Ara Penang about 20 years ago for the landowner. He took notice of the tree because people were coming back by the dozens to ask about it after tasting it’s fruits. He tried it out of curiosity and was star-struck the moment he tasted it’s fruits. Mr Chew then proceeded to graft it on his own farm. The original mother tree is gone due to land redevelopment.
Today, his farm is the only known place where there are adult tupai kings capable of producing quality fruits. The oldest tree in existence today was grafted in 2006.
As a word of warning, because of the high price this durian commands and the rarity factor making it hard to recognize authenticity, many durian sellers are capitalizing on this to sell fake tupai kings.
Most durianers have not seen this cultivar with their own eyes, let alone taste it. So identifying authentic fruits might pose a challenge.
Many haven’t even heard of it and are totally unaware of it’s existence. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.
Tupai king durian features
The size of tupai king is small to medium to large. Yes, in various sizes. Easily exceeding 2kg. Outliers can grow up to 4kg to 5kg.
Yet at the moment, due to the meticulous care given to the few dozen mature trees by the owner, smaller fruits might be removed from the trees so that they can focus on sending nutrients to the grade A fruits. So most, if not all, of the stock you see these days would be bulky grade A inventory.
As more adult trees develop in more plantations, lesser grade fruits are expected to enter the market.
It’s exterior shape is an elongated oval, sort of like lipan but slimmer and narrower towards the lower third. Those that do not consist of a full durian of fruitlets in every pod will show obvious bulging lobes, making it look like a khun poh that has been stretched. If you rotate it along the core axis 90°, the overall appearance might take on the shape of tekka except that the thorn arrangement would give it away. It can also intuitively look like a Thai durian to some.
It has a tighter rounded bottom and a protruding raised rim around the area where the husk meets the stem.
The bottom “navel” looks like an exposed elbow.
Thorns are thick with many that are curvy pointing to all sorts of directions. As if each thorn has it’s own personality! Yet despite these naughty set of spikes, the overall shape of D214 is still rather uniform.
Imagine a meadow and a strong irregular breeze is blowing it’s way through the long grass field. That’s the picture that comes into my head when describing the pattern of thorns.
To pry open the husk on this bad boy requires more brute strength than usual. At some point, frustration might even lead you to using brutal violent aggression against it. It’s as difficult to open as tekka.
Relax. You’ve got it.
While tekka can slowly creak open as you find a firm grip to pull the husk apart, this durian can pop open when you use enough force. Maybe due to the dry characteristic of this cultivar.
When you’ve finally managed a breakthrough and dismantle tupai king’s defenses, you’d realise why it’s such a tough nut to crack.
This durian has quite a thick husk… and then some.
Some are so thick that you might not even be able to pull it apart even with a firm grip. Some hacking along the seams would be necessary.
To say that this durian is husky is an understatement. Firstly, it’s not a dog. But more importantly, this is like using steel meant for tanks to build a pencil box.
I’d say that the yield of this durian is probably much much lower than the industry average. In fact, you don’t need to be an old-timer to notice this.
Even though the thickness of the husk will vie for your attention, you’d mostly likely be too distracted by the appearance of tupai king’s fruitlets.
It is yellow-gold with a bluish grey hue.
Durian aril with such “bruises” are often associated with old trees. And this characteristic is often used in marketing to sell them as premium stuff. Black gold of musang king is one good example.
The difference with king squirrel here is that the blue-black hue is a default attribute of it’s flesh from mature trees. But even durians from young trees could come with this jaw-dropping appearance.
Durian lovers who have an eye out for this bluish grey attribute would surely gasp for air or be screaming with glee when seeing it for the first time.
The longer you leave the fruit off the tree, the darker the hue gets with natural fermentation. Some tupai kings can have this hue so outlandish that a non-durian person might think that it has rotten from the inside out.
No no no. This is tupai king naked in it’s full glory.
Those who are imaginative might liken the appearance to the back of a bumblebee or the striped coat of a tiger. Maybe even the fur of a calico cat. Bumblebee would have been such a cool name for this durian.
For connoisseurs, the urge to bite into it would be too tempting to hold back at this point. The spiritual thing to do here is to go with the flow and surrender to the squirrel.
The taste is bitter and glutinous, with a hint of sweetness within. However, most people would be stunned by the flavour’s intensity on that first bite when they didn’t know what to expect.
If you think that you have seen it all and tasted it all and nothing fazes you anymore in this durian universe, then nothing will prepare you for what’s coming up next. Veteran durianers especially, will be astonished by the compounded taste compressed into this godly cultivar because many will not expect to taste something they’ve never tasted before in a durian.
Remember that moment you experienced sheer delirious ecstasy on that first ever bite into MSW? You have another one coming.
It is precisely because of the existence of cultivars like this that lend credence to the notion that durian is heaven’s gift to mankind.
While people often say of durians having a bitter aftertaste, this expression is flipped upside down to a bitter beforetaste. Turning your whole belief system of durians on it’s head.
The dense texture is like natural peanut butter, stickier and dryer than most durians and does not become watery easily like those with wetter textures such as xiao hong. This means that the fruitlets can retain it’s quality very well like D11. Sometimes even for as long as 3 days… it is claimed.
Anyway, you’d really deserve an award for self-discipline to endure 3 days of torturous salivating for leaving D214 untouched for that long.
But even if you gorge on it immediately (who wouldn’t?) you might still drool from the numbness in the bite. Triggering a temporary bout of Bell’s palsy mouth paralysis. It’s as if the squirrel has a numb-inducing scorpion sting on it’s tail.
The gaseous aroma and pungent strength of the flavour makes it a worthy rival of musang king. Even if it’s just for comparison’s sake.
Saying that, some people who have tasted it says that they didn’t even taste a hint of bitterness, but the intensity comes from an alcoholic fruity punch. Some describe it as the fraternal twin of tekka.
Tupai king harvest season
This durian has a mid-season harvest. Right smack in the peak season of most cultivars. This makes it’s ability to command such a hefty price tag even more impressive.
And as previously mentioned, the supply is very limited. So much so that many durian hunters are more than willing to pay a price higher than black thorn to taste it.
You might not even be able to buy it with money because the current supply of approximately 4,000 pieces per year are always fully booked.
But there is hope.
One of the key reasons why this tree has garnered so much popularity with farmers in recent times is that the saplings have shown a great ability to grow well in very different climate and landscape. The implication is that it might develop just as well in Johor as it has in Penang. Maybe even in Singapore’s own Bukit Batok.
Tupai trees grow fast, the fruits don’t crack easily, and the harvest yield is also quite high.
It’s adaptability makes it a huge draw to farmers. Many have taken the plunge. Such as a huge farm in Seremban that has been planted with approximately 350 saplings… making it the biggest known farm for Tupai 226.
Yes! Even larger than Mr Chew’s in Penang.
Farmers who missed out on the black thorn gold rush many years ago are taking on this opportunity with a vengeance. Getting in early means that by the time this cultivar hits the mass market, they would be in a very good position to reap the benefits.
It also takes a relatively short time for these clones to produce commercial grade fruits. This period can be further reduced when D214 is grafted onto healthy strong adult tree stumps. The signs point to a potential for this to go mass market sooner rather than later.
A testament to this attribute is that fruits from young trees have already started to enter the market and can sporadically be found in Kuala Lumpur. Sellers are aware of the shortness in quality as they are sold at prices of about 2/3 that of MSW. Unlike in Penang where it can be priced about 2 times that of MSW.
So if all goes well, we should be seeing tupai king more often in the coming years. But it’s probably still going to be quite a pricey durian.