Rob and I were lucky to find Durio testudinarum twice in Borneo, as it is one of the rarest edible durian species. Many people don’t consider it edible because of the strong, musky odor it has when ripe. Yet the flavor is sweet and juicy, a contrast to the usually heavy durian. That’s reason enough to appreciate this jungle durian. Where it get its fame is that instead of growing on the branches, these durians sprout from the trunk and roots of the tree.
From the outside, the fruit of durio testudinarum looks like a small version of the common cultivated durian (durio zibethinus). Now imagine 80 or 100 durians clustered like balloons around the base of a tree. It’s a bit different, and worth the trek into the jungle to see.
When completely ripe, the durians drop unopened to the forest floor. It isn’t a long drop! The durian that Rob and I tasted was not completely ripe, although our guide assured it us it was only a day away from falling. Without removing the durian from the tree, our guide stuck the tip of his knife into the bottom of the durian and gave a slight twist. The whole fruit popped open along each of the 5 seams, revealing the caramel yellow flesh within.
I was surprised at the texture of the flesh, which was quite different than the normal heavy cream of a regular durian. The stringy flesh had the texture of a jackfruit – fibrous and just a
touch waxy – that burst with a vanilla-infused juice when chewed.The flavor was light and sweet, almost like a caramel-cream candy with a touch of pineapple. I thought it was delightful.
As far as odor, I don’t see what the fuss is about. It could be that since our durian was not quite ripe it lacked the extreme stench of a fully ripened fruit, but as a durian-lover I assume that flavor only gets better with a stronger odor.
Distribution and season
Durio testudinarum grows throughout the jungles of Borneo. It is never cultivated, although in a few areas people keep them in backyards as a curiosity. According to sources, it is most commonly found in Ulu Dusun, near Sandakan, and Kampung Lingkungan in Brunei. Very occasionally it is found in markets, such as the Thursday morning fruit market in Tutong, Brunei.
It’s relative obscurity means that the season for Durio testudinarum is unknown and varies from region to region. When Rob and I found a tree in the Upper Kapuas of West Kalimantan, the fruits were tiny and immature. Only two weeks later we managed to taste the very last fruit from a tree at the Tenom Agricultural Park.
Durian kura-kura (tortoise durian), kakura, lujian beramatai (Orang sungai, Sarawak) lujian beramatai (dyak sungai segaliud).
The Scientific Name Durio Testudinarum Beccari
Testudinarum comes from the Latin word “testudo”, which means tortoise. Locals also call this durian the tortoise durian, durian kura-kura, although why is a little unclear. The name probably refers to the peculiar way this durian fruits from the trunk and root system instead of the branches, growing fruit so low that even the tortoises can get a bite. Some references also state that the durian’s strong odor resembles the musk of the tortoise. I like the first story better.Durio testudinarum was first recorded by Odoardo Beccari in the third volume of “Malaysia, Collections and Observations” in 1889. Not much of a story there.
Growing Durio Testudinarum
- Durio of Malaysia by Salma Idris
- Durian Cultivation of Brunei with emphasis on the non-zibethnus types by Jumat Haji Alim
- Mysarawak.org “Tortoise Durian” (originally in Bahasa Malaysian)
- The Genus Durio Adans by AJGH Kosterman
- Durio Testudinarum by TK Lim
You Might Also Like: