This is the first in a series about Wild Durian Species. For the next two weeks, I’ll be posting information about one edible durian species every day. Shortly thereafter I will be resuming the durian hunt in Cambodia. Enjoy!
When most people think about durian, they have a pretty monochromatic picture of the fruit. It’s big, its colors range from brown to green, and it tastes like sulfur and angel food cake. It’s grown almost everywhere in Southeast Asia, from Thailand to Papua New Guinea.
Fortunately, the durian world is far more interesting. There are 27 different
species of durian, varying in flavor from pineapples to guacamole to industrial glue. Most botanical literature lists only six of these fruits as of economical interest and disregards the rest, making it really difficult to find more than the bare bones information about more rare durian species. Rob and I traveled up rivers in Borneo and waded through scientific research papers to find out what and where these durians are so that you can now enjoy the fruit of our research (ouch!).
All 27 species are technically edible, although some have a texture so waxy and tasteless most people wouldn’t bother a second nibble. Some durians lack an edible portion (aril) at all, having only bare seeds. These I classify as “inedible.”
The greatest density of species are found in Borneo, but Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand are host to nine different species and there’s even one endemic to Southern Myanmar. A few of them are cultivated, but none to anywhere near the extent of the more common durian, which can be found everywhere.
Before doing our own on-the-ground research, the best resource I could find about durian species was the database of the World Agro Forestry Center.
Most resources exist off-line, in the corners of libraries and herbariums at Harvard and the Danish National Library of Education (I had a photocopy of one study sent to me all the way from Denmark! Now that is love.)
|Durio graveolens, Brunei
When we were traveling, I didn’t have the luxury of libraries or
access to research papers. This made it extremely difficult to figure out where to go to find the various durian species. Only when we finally got to Tenom, at the
end of our time in Borneo, did I find A.J.G.H Kosterman’s monograph The Genus Durio,
Adans. and Salma Idris’s book, Durio of Malaysia, which I consider to be the two best resources on durian species.
Even when armed with these resources, durian is by nature not an easy fruit. Many of these species reside deep in the jungle and are exceedingly rare. Some have only been sighted once, or are identified by a dried flower or leaf sent back to herbariums (botanical collections) in England. Some were described so long ago that they may have gone extinct and may never be sighted again. Kosterman, a botanist fascinated with durian, spent years in the jungles of Sumatra looking for a second specimen of a fruit he found in the 1980’s. Another specimen has never been collected despite concerted efforts, leading the durian to be known as Kosterman’s white whale.
|durio oxleyanus, Sabah
To make matters worse, there’s been quite the controversy in the durian world about which are actually different species and which are just mutations. For years botanists haggled over durio sumatranus, before deciding that it was the same species as the current durio mallacensis. Even now, there is some debate over the newcomer on the scene, Salma Idris’s durio perakensis, which some scientists say isn’t a new species, it’s just durio lowianus.
Botanists can’t decide what to call the durians, neither can the local people. The hardest part about finding
rare durian species is knowing how to ask locals about them. Each
durian has as many as seven local names, depending on the region. Sometimes due to language overlap, they might use the same
word to refer to different durians. For example, durian merah (red durian) can refer to any of the wild durians that are darker orange or red than the common durian or that have a red or dusky shell. It’s all very specific to the region, so
pay attention and bring a little notepad with you to the market when
|durio dulcis, Sabah
Finding the rare durians in the jungle is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Jungles are vast, and with increased deforestation the number of durian species are likely fewer each year. But with a little love from the durian freaks and fanatics, we can let authorities know just how much durian means to the world and how important it is to save the fruit and the forest it calls home.
Here’s a complete list of all 27 durian species. I’ve linked each species to a post with more information to create (hopefully) the most complete guide to the genus durio.
Edible Durian Species
5. Durio dulcis
11. Durio mansoni
Honorable Mentions: durio macrantha, durio johoricus, and durio perakanius.
(Here’s a post with pictures of each species)
12. Durio acutifolius
13. Durio excelsus
14. Durio griffithi
|durio testudinarum, West Kalimantan
15. Durio purpureus
16. Durio lanceolatus
17. Durio lissocarpus
18. Durio carinatus
19. Durio crassipes
20. Durio affinis
21. Durio beccarianus
22. Durio oblongus
23. Durio macrophylus
24. Durio macrolepsis
25. Durio singaporensis
26. Durio malaccensis
27. Durio pinangianus
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