How To Tell If Balik Pulau Durians Are The Real Deal?

The Star published an article about durians from elsewhere being passed off as those from Balik Pulau. How does one tell if a durian is really from Balik Pulau and not from Kulim, Bukit Mertajam or Taiping?

A pile Balik Pulau durians on the floor before sorting
Freshly picked Balik Pulau durians.

For most, a durian is a durian is a durian no matter where it is from. However, for the connoisseurs the subtle differences in taste can be very obvious. And Balik Pulau is said to produce the best durians anywhere.

If one has been savouring Balik Pulau durians long enough, one can tell the subtle difference in tastes between an ang heh from Balik Pulau and one from Batu Kurau. The one from Balik Pulau has a stronger pungent odour and a more intense taste that lingers longer in the mouth and hand.

First things first, we need to realise that most of the popular durians like ang heh, khun poh ang and hor lor are no longer harvested from the original trees. There can only be one original tree and from a specific plantation. Due to popularity and demand, they are stem grafted from the original tree or from stems from budding seeds and cultivated in other plantations to increase yield and profit.

These durians may not taste exactly the same as those from the original tree because of soil conditions and other geographical factors. Likewise, durians from other places just do not taste the same like those from Balik Pulau due to those same factors.

The telling characteristics of a specific durian cultivar are the shape, size and colour of the thorns, and the size and shape of the fruit itself. Truth be told, after so many years of savouring Balik Pulau durians, I am still not good at identifying a durian by those characteristics but a durian planter or seller can tell with just a glance which cultivar a durian is from.

The other characteristics to look out for are the shape of the pangsa (the compartments in the fruit that holds the flesh and seed), and colour, texture, taste and aroma of the flesh, and the size of the seed. Each cultivar has a specific colour and taste that is unique.

For example, cheh puay has flesh that is a shade of bright yellow with very creamy, sweet, rich and sticky texture. On the other hand, ang heh has a mild pleasant aroma, not overly sweet and has a smooth texture with hints of pink in the flesh and pangsa that resembles a big prawn, hence its name.

Durians, be they from Balik Pulau or elsewhere, share those same general characteristics. So how do we determine that a Balik Pulau durian as claimed by the durian seller is really from Balik Pulau?

The important fact to remember is that durian season in Balik Pulau usually lasts from June to August. Any durian that is claimed to be from there in other months is probably not genuine.

I remember a story that my cousin Peter recounted. He was at a durian stall selecting durians and asked the seller where those fruits were from.

“Balik Pulau,” the guy told him.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, from Balik Pulau,” came the confident reply.

Now, Peter grew up in a durian plantation in Balik Pulau. Our great grandfather cultivated durians. So did our grandfather. Peter’s father who is my maternal uncle is still cultivating durians there. And he knew for sure that Balik Pulau durians were out of season then.

So he challenged the durian seller, “Lets go to Balik Pulau. If there’s even one single durian on the tree, I’ll eat the roots and twigs of that tree.”

There was not another peep from the durian seller after that. Peter caught the durian seller red handed but imagine how many unsuspecting customers the seller had cheated and profited from. The only way to ensure that the durian is genuinely Balik Pulau is to personally pick the fruit after it has dropped from the tree. Otherwise, one has to trust the durian seller. That is also the reason why I only get my Balik Pulau durians from the one source that I can trust.

Our Mulberry Tree

The mulberry tree we bought from Kampung Simee pasar tani in Ipoh two years ago has grown and is fruiting. What a sight it was to see the little fruits bursting out in shades of pink and red as they began to ripen. I remember reading about silkworms being fed mulberry leaves in geography class and had always wondered how a live tree looked like. Now I know.

Ripening mulberry fruits in our garden.
Photo by Wuan.

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses mulberry leaves as one of the ingredients in herbal soups to improve eyesight. The dried leaves are also used to make tea and are believed to be beneficial against a number of ailments. As for me, I prefer to enjoy the fruits. They should be ripe for harvesting in the next few days when they turn black.

Durian Kampung Jelebu

We passed by a durian stall near our house on our way back after participating in a Rakan KL event. There was a big sign offering 2 durians for RM10. That set off my craving. We drove further up the road to another make-shift durian stall to see if we could get a better deal. That stall only sold the fruits by weight.

I am from the era when we paid for durians by fruit rather than by weight, therefore had no idea what a good price was. So, we went back to the first stall. The 2 for RM10 were smaller sized durian kampung. I have eaten very good durian kampung before but these were not exactly cheap. At the peak of durian season just a while back, these were going at 3 for RM10.

Durian kampung from Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan
Durian kampung Jelebu.

Nevertheless, my craving had to be satiated. The stall was also selling Musang King durians at RM18 per kilo. I have never eaten this durian before and preferred to know how it looked like before I bought any from an unfamiliar stall. The seller told Wuan his durians were from Jelebu in Negeri Sembilan. She got the seller to select two durian kampung for us and got him to open them as well.

The durians did not exude any pungent aroma in the car. At home, even when I was sitting just a short distance from them in the living room, there was no strong smell. In the mouth, they were sweet to the taste but their odour were uncharacteristically muted. Needless to say, that left me wanting more. Perhaps I should have thrown caution to the wind and bought the Musang King instead.