Quarantine). The other is a government owned factory in Batu Kurau, Perak. Co-owned by three brothers, Top Fruit shipped its first container of frozen durian to China this summer. Rob and I were lucky enough to meet up with one of the brothers, Mr. Tan Sue Seng, who gave us a tour of his factory and durian orchard.
We met Mr. Tan in front of the KFC in Johor Bahru. A stocky Chinese-Malaysian, he was wearing a shirt printed with both Hawaiian flowers and plaid stripes. When we shook hands, I noticed the incredible thickness each of his short, muscular fingers. He kept peering at Rob as if slightly confused. Later he asked what Rob’s family background was. Rob replied that it was French. “Ah, I thought you look like French guy,” Mr. Tan said contentedly. “I keep my money, lah.”
of the brothers, Mr. Tan was a successful businessman in London when
his aging father threatened to sell the family’s durian orchard if he
didn’t come home. In 1998, Mr. Tan returned to find the 300 acres of
mountainous land largely overrun by jungle. The trees, planted by his
father only 10 years earlier, were just beginning to mature. It took six
years of hard manual labor, planting more fruit trees and clearing the
brush, before Mr. Tan felt the orchard was under control. Now he
owns over 1,100 durian trees, one of the largest durian plantations
in Malaysia. With so many trees about to start producing fruits, Mr. Tan was already looking for a venue when China approved direct durian trade with Malaysia.
roadside, wagging their tails as the truck passed. “These are all mine,” he
acknowledged, estimating that around 100 dogs live on the plantation. It
had just rained and under the light layer of mist the hills were a
luscious green. He pointed over the rolling landscape, noting that his
land borders the National Forest. He thinks this proximity to the virgin
jungle makes his durians taste better, although it means he has to deal with more
with worms and pests, he said insects aren’t the issue. Wild goats, cows,
and pigs all make trouble in his orchard, but the main pest is
monkeys. They steal durians from the nets and have an annoying penchant
for Musang King, the durian fetching the highest market price. To combat the monkeys, his
workers have rigged clever scarecrows wearing bright colors all around
the orchard. That was a new one for me: scarecrows for monkeys!
comparison to Sunshine’s International’s Factory in Thailand, which we
visited in May, Top Fruits is small-scale. The entire factory occupies about half an acre, as opposed to Sunshine’s sprawling 10 acres. But
unlike in Thailand, where durians are purchased en mass and allowed to
ripen with the help of ethylene for several days, durians
brought to Top Fruits must be processed the same day they arrive.
allowed to ripen on the tree, dropping to the ground or into nets at peak perfection. It’s a race to get the durians to the consumer
before the fruit becomes overripe and sour. For Top Fruits, the pressure
is on during the season to get the durians washed, sanitized, packaged,
vacuum-packed and flash-frozen within 24 hours of arrival. It also
means that the factory doesn’t need as much floor space as at Sunshine,
because there will never be crates of durian sitting around in
Tan told us the biggest challenge in building the factory was meeting
AQSIQ’s stringent regulations. He had to make many amendments before
finally meeting approval for certification on December 15, 2011. One
example he remembers in particular was that AQSIQ officers informed him
that he had too many sinks inside the processing area. The sinks put the
processed durian at risk for contamination with water, which could
cause the fruits to rot. So Mr. Tan had to remove the sinks and install
them in a separate room outside the production area. The result of his constant improvements is an impressively high-tech processing plant. Although it was already past business hours when we visited, Mr. Tan was so excited about the technology that he opened the factory and took us inside. The UV lights switched on as we stood in the main processing room, giving everything a distinctly purple hue. He even climbed inside the huge freezer, disappointed that the lights were off and we couldn’t see the racks and racks of frozen, vacuum-packed durian.
with boxes of his frozen Musang King and D24. He wanted us to
taste the frozen durian once it had thawed, claiming that both the taste
and the texture would be preserved. We let it thaw over night and ate
it for lunch the next day in Singapore. The D24 was okay, but we were very impressed with the Musang King, which
maintained its gorgeous color and satisfying flavor. Rob and I agreed
that if frozen Musang King was available in the USA, we wouldn’t mind
paying the extra cash to avoid frozen Monthong.