Black Thorn Durian
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Black Thorn durians are small to medium fruits, averaging 1.5 to 3 kilograms, and generally have a round shape with a short, squat stem. The fruits sometimes display prominent, longitudinal seams, giving the surface a bulbous, bubbled appearance, and the angular, wide pyramidal spikes range in color from green, green-brown, to grey-green. At the bottom of the fruit, there is a distinct dried flower stamen found within the concave center, which is labeled as the “thorn” of the durian. This shriveled flower piece is not considered a defining characteristic of Black Thorn durians, as it can be easily snapped off, but beneath the stamen is a small, dark lump. Underneath the sharp exterior, the surface is sliced open to reveal large, fleshy lobes nestled in multiple chambers. There is also a valley or open section between the chambers in the core, sometimes known as a “drain,” revealing golden-orange tones. The flesh ranges in color from pale pink-orange, yellow, golden-orange, to dark orange depending on the tree's age. Dark flesh is an indication of mature trees. The flesh is finely wrinkled, almost fiberless, and has a very thin, translucent surface that can be easily pierced, releasing the soft, creamy flesh. Black Thorn durians are known for having a dense but soft, tender, and light consistency with high sugar and fat content, contributing to an intense, complex flavor. The flesh bears a rich, wine-like aroma and is sweet, fruity, pungent, and subtly bitter with a faint alcoholic aftertaste. It is important to note that fruits grown on mature trees have a more developed and favorable flavor. Younger trees tend to produce fruits with a very sweet, artificial-like strawberry taste.
Black Thorn durians are only available for a limited season, primarily found in late July or August. The fruits may also appear for a brief second season in December or January, depending on the region.
Black Thorn durians are botanically a part of the Durio genus and are a rare, hybrid variety belonging to the Malvaceae family. The characteristic round fruits are a Malaysian cultivar that was first grown in the mid to late 20th century, but Black Thorn durians did not become a desired variety until the early 21st century. Black Thorn durians are known by a few other names, including D200, Ochee, Hei Tze, and Duri Hitam in Malay. The fruits earned their unusual name from the small, black flower stamen remnant sometimes attached to the bottom of the fruit, known as the “thorn.” In the past decade, Black Thorn durians have quickly increased in demand across Malaysia and Southeast Asia due to celebrity endorsements, durian contests and awards, and local media outlets. Some durian enthusiasts also claim the variety will eventually become more popular than musang king durians. Currently, the demand for Black Thorn durians surpasses the supply as the best tasting fruits are harvested from very old, mature trees. Many of the Black Thorn durian trees in Malaysia are still considered young, limiting the supply of quality-tasting fruits. Black Thorn durians are a luxury variety that often sells out within hours of the fruits being harvested, and is sought after for its exclusivity, complex flavor, and light, soft, and melting flesh.
Black Thorn durians are an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that strengthens the immune system, boosts collagen production, and reduces inflammation. The fruits are also a good source of potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, magnesium to regulate blood pressure, fiber to stimulate the digestive tract, manganese to assist with protein digestion, and contain lower amounts of phosphorus, iron, copper, and zinc.
Black Thorn durians are primarily consumed raw as the rare variety is savored for its intensely sweet and subtly bitter flavor when fresh. The cultivar is challenging to find in local markets, and consumers often have to seek out multiple growers to track down one of the fruits. With its limited availability, Black Thorn durians are also expensive, leading consumers to choose to eat the flesh raw in order to experience the variety’s full flavor. Black Thorn durians are valued for their dense, soft flesh, and many consumers comment that the flesh does not feel as heavy as other durian varieties in the stomach. Despite the fruit being mainly consumed raw, Black Thorn durians can be used in any recipe calling for durian, including shakes, sticky rice, porridges, and desserts. In rare circumstances, Black Thorn durians are also frozen and consumed as an icy treat on hot, humid days. Black Thorn durians should be eaten immediately once opened for the best quality and flavor. The flesh can also be frozen for two months in an airtight, sealed package.
Black Thorn durians are famously sold at Jawi Pesta Durian, also known as the Jawi Durian Festival in Malaysia. The annual event features multiple vendors selling many different durian varieties, allowing visitors to sample both rare and common durian cultivars. Each vendor often constructs tables to crack open the fresh fruits for visitors to share in a relaxed setting. Jawi Pesta Durian is held to celebrate the diversity among the durian varieties. Durian connoisseurs appreciate Jawi Pesta Durian as it allows for sampling of the same varieties through multiple vendors. Among varieties such as the Black Thorn durian, fruits will widely vary in flavor depending on the tree's age, and purchasing the fruit from multiple vendors will provide a better understanding of the fruit’s true flavor. At the festival, two vendors are known for selling Black Thorn durians. Leow Cheok Keong, the farmer who registered Black Thorn durians with the Malaysian Department of Agriculture, has been selling durians at the festival for many years. Leow has a developed a reputation among locals for his quality and reasonably priced durians. Peter Lai, the largest distributor of durian in Penang, is also known for his Black Thorn durians and sells the fruits at his 668 Durian Stall.
Black Thorn durians were first grown along the coastal mainland of Penang in Lima Kongsi. The variety was believed to have been created by Bagi Kau, a farmer who cultivated an unknown Thai durian and hybridized the variety with a local Malaysian durian. Kau kept Black Thorn durians a secret for many years, selling the fruits to consumers on a waitlist, and refused to propagate the trees. In the mid-1980s, Kau eventually allowed his friend Leow Cheok Keong to take cuttings from the beloved durian tree and graft the variety on his farm in Nibong Tebal. The initial fruits grown from the cuttings were pale and artificially sweet, lacking a distinct flavor, leading Leow to mostly ignore the disappointing fruits. It took over 30 years for the trees to mature and produce quality-flavored durians. While Leow was perfecting the flavor of his durians, Ah Heng, another durian farmer who works with durian distributor Peter Lai, grafted Black Thorn durians onto D24 trees on his farm in 2000. Ten years later, in 2010, Heng’s Black Thorn durians were sold through a durian stall at the Genting Highlands Resort near Kuala Lumpur, sparking the first publicity surrounding the new variety. In 2011, Leow was finally satisfied with his fruit’s flavor and was entered into the Penang State Government’s Annual Fruit Competition, where Black Thorn durians won second prize. Leow continued to enter Black Thorn durians into the competition, taking first prize the following three years, and generated international press around the variety. Leow registered Black Thorn durians with the Malaysian Department of Agriculture and was approved in 2015, listing the variety under the code D200. Today Black Thorn durians are one of the rarest Malaysian varieties and are in high demand, selling out within hours of being collected. The rare fruits are cultivated through multiple farms in Malaysia, especially in the states of Penang and Pahang and the territory of Kuala Lumpur. The fruits are also sometimes exported to Indonesia and China.
Recipes that include Black Thorn Durian. One is easiest, three is harder.
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