Picture: Jessadapong Promjuntuk / 123rf
Durian lovers should hold their cravings for the thorny king of fruit for a few more weeks as weather woes in Malaysia have delayed its peak season by up to two months.
The season typically peaks in June, when display shelves in durian shops are crammed with the fruit. They arrive by the truckload from Malaysia during durian season, typically from May to August.
However, durian shops with empty sections on display stands are a common sight and some shops are using empty baskets to prop the fruit up, giving the illusion of a more bountiful supply.
The Sunday Times spoke to more than 10 durian vendors, all of whom say that supplies have shrunk by 30 to 50 per cent compared with last year. Quality has also been affected, with most vendors saying that the durians have dry flesh and less intense taste and smell.
The shortfall is caused by the prolonged drought in Malaysia that has plagued durian-growing states such as Pahang and Johor since January this year. The hot and dry weather has caused durian flowers to wither and fall off trees.
The durian drought has forced Ah Seng Durian in Ghim Moh Market to sell only Mao Shan Wang and D24 varieties from Pahang and Muar. It usually sells more than six varieties. Owner Shui Poh Sing, 57, laments that the quality of durians such as Green Bamboo and Black Pearl is unacceptable to customers.
He says: “Even for Mao Shan Wang durians, we are seeing a 50 per cent rejection rate. The fruit are not that ripe.”
Durian Culture in Sims Avenue has seen its business drop by half compared with last year, when its stock sold out by midnight daily.
Its director Zeslyn Lim, 37, says: “Business has been really bad. The quantity is low and the quality is poor, with most of the fruit arriving half-ripe. We have been selling other fruit such as apples, oranges and cherries to survive.”
She is urging customers to hold off orders for durian parties and corporate events as the company “is not confident of taking these orders now”.
Durian 36 in Geylang Road sells about six to seven baskets of durians daily, each weighing 60kg – half the amount it sold last year.
Founder Alvin Teoh, 36, says: “About one in two durians that we have cannot be sold and they cannot even be used for durian pulp supplied to confectioneries.”
He hopes to make up for losses with this year’s durian season extending to September.
His Mao Shan Wang durians are priced at $15 to $18 a kg and D13 durians from $8 to $10 a kg – about 10 per cent more than last year.
He adds that the rainy season in Johor and Pahang last month has been more hindrance than help.
“The strong rain and wind have damaged the durian flowers, so they are unable to bear fruit.”
Customers are disgruntled by the poor quality of durians.
Owner Linda Ang, 50, of Combat Durian in Balestier Road, says some customers have “scolded” her staff for selling inferior durians.
She says: “It is difficult to predict what the inside of the fruit will be like and we have been advising customers not to have high expectations of durians bought recently.”
She adds that prices may drop next month as supplies pick up and that the quality of durians from Pahang has started to improve.
Her Mao Shan Wang durians cost $20 a kg and D13 and D24 durians $12 a kg.
Despite having limited supplies, Ministry Of Durian in Upper Paya Lebar Road, which opened earlier this month, has seen “ideal business” with up to 300kg of durians sold a day, half by reservation.
Owner Melvin Ha, 26, expects business to pick up by 20 per cent as “the fruitful month of August approaches”.
He says: “Most of the customers know peak season hasn’t arrived, but want to satisfy their craving by ordering three to four durians.”
Organisers of durian events are also affected. Resorts World Sentosa, which organises the annual Durian Fest, a buffet featuring durians and other tropical fruit, has postponed its event by a month to August.
It has also seen a price hike of 30 per cent from its suppliers in Pahang due to the heatwave.
Durian Fest will offer about 20,000kg of durians, including five varieties such as Golden Phoenix and Red Prawn, over three days from Aug 19.
Despite the grim durian situation, some customers are going ahead with their feasts.
Bank manager Roy Lee, 50, plans to go for thrice-weekly durian sessions this season.
He says: “I’ve noticed there are fewer durians now and some are not so ripe, but I will still have them as this is my once-a-year treat.”
Businessman Eugene Sng, 52, says: “The texture and taste of the Golden Phoenix and Mao Shan Wang durians were much better last year and the durians were cheaper, but I am fine with paying up to 30 per cent more as they are in a different league.”
Barren trees in Malaysia
The prolonged drought in Malaysia that has affected the durian harvest is the worst that Mr Goh Meng Chiang, owner of 818 Durians & Pastries in Telok Kurau, has seen in a decade.
With almost no rainfall for three months since January, about a third of the trees in his two durian plantations in Pahang have turned barren.
On the branches of these trees are withered leaves and small, undeveloped flowers and fruit.
The severe drought has reduced his crop of Mao Shan Wang durians this year by more than half, compared with last year. He harvested about 1,000kg of fruit daily from June to July last year and up to 70 per cent of the harvest was of acceptable quality. This year, he is harvesting about 800kg daily, but only 20 to 30 per cent are of good quality. He has been telling customers that the fruit is not in peak condition and advises them to delay eating it till the end of next month.
The 40-year-old Singaporean says in Mandarin: “The quality of this year’s harvest is so bad that some cannot be used to make durian pastries as their flesh is too dry and not rich enough.”
For the past four weeks, he has had to temporarily halt production of confections such as durian puffs and chocolate durian cake.
He has also decided to stop selling Black Gold durians, which have a greyish green flesh and complex, bitter flavour.
“Due to a lack of water, most of the fruit turned out too small or the flowers did not develop,” he says. He adds that the soil has become so hard that water is unable to seep in.
There has been more rainfall in Pahang in the past month and he says the weather is becoming “more ideal”. He expects to harvest a fresh batch of durians by the end of next month and has received some reservations for them from eager durian fans.
His Mao Shan Wang durians cost $22 to $25 a kg and the Black Gold ones cost about $30 a kg.
He says: “It is unpredictable how the durians will turn out next month, so I can only keep my fingers crossed.”
This article is originally published in The Straits Times.