Everybody’s a special snowflake these days — maybe especially durians. These times are rift with Musang King and Red Prawn fever, where every durian eater plays favorites, but some of the Malaysia’s most special wild durians get forgotten. Here are four highly individual varieties of a wild durian species, Durio lowianus, that I ate recently in Hulu Langat, a short drive from Kuala Lumpur (also info on how to get seeds below).
In Malaysia, a real durian lover can differentiate between varieties. She’ll never get fooled by D2 pretending to be Red Prawn, or a Horlor masquerading as Musang King. These differences are important.
A funny thing about the wild durians that grow in the byways, jungle areas and forgotten farms is that no one has bothered to give them names in the local dialect.
They’re all Durian Hutan (Forest durian) or “Hilltop durian” or sometimes “Stink durian” (Bau Durian).
Sometime even completely different species are called just “Forest durian,” as if the differences in their colors and shapes, thorn types and flavors don’t matter.
It’s like nobody recognizes they’re special.
It’s horribly confusing for a label obsessive English speaker. And besides, don’t these beauties deserve to be admired and for their specialness?
So for fun, and to add to the general confusion of durian taxonomy, I’ve given these four different types of Durio lowianus names. If you think of better ones, let me know your suggestions in the comments.
The Basics Of D. Lowianus
Before we start analyzing differences between the fruits, let’s start by recognizing what makes a D. lowianus a D. lowianus and not some other Durio.
D. lowianus is a small to medium durian that can be distinguished by a glance by its glowing green color.
See the pile of durians? One is D. lowianus.
It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s something that just makes these durians stand out from normal.
The thorn shape and length varies a lot, but all Durio lowianus have a few things in common.
- The stem is always short and cylindrical, without the graceful hourglass curve of a D. zibethinus stem.
- The bottom is pointy, with all the thorns fading into tiny tiny prickles that end in a point.
- The dried out, dead flower petals are often still attached around the stem crown. This could have fallen off in transit, but the remnants are often still there.
- The flesh is ivory to pale cream.
- The seeds often have some tiger striping or light marbling.
- It always has 5 sections, not 4 like D. oxleyanus.
- The aroma is unmistakably not normal durian. Think sweet with a hint of industrial meltdown.
With those key characteristics in mind, let’s honor these special snowflakes.
Durio Lowianus #1 – The Purple Punk
This rendition of D. lowianus is the most obviously Not Zibethinus. There’s no mistaking it: It’s Other.
It’s small and round, with close knit, dense, and curly slim spines that are very short. The stem is so nubby it can be difficult to pinch between thumb and forefinger, and the dead flower-thing is hanging on for the ride.
But the thing that really makes this funky durian stand out from the crowd is the magenta skin under those green thorns, which gives the durian a fishnet look that would make any Hot Topic shopper pleased.
This durian looks the most uncultivated. It has small seeds tightly packed together with a thin layer of pungent flesh so strong it almost burns your nostrils as you inhale. The flavor is strongly fruity and alcoholic and pleasant in a perverted way, like sipping on cough medicine.
The flesh is smooth and wet, but a thin layer of the inner skin sticks persistently to the seed, a really annoying trait for those of us trying to collect and clean seeds.
I found it a bit strong for my taste but I can imagine that whiskey-connoisseurs or vodka-chuggers or anyone who loves a good, nasal-cavity clearing burn could be quite into this durian.
I found the others far more palatable, and even delicious.
Durio Lowianus Briar Rose (#2)
This dark green, prickly fruit has longer, curvier thorns. It does its best to puncture your fingers as you try to get it open, but it’s also one of the easier versions to pop open with a knife. Left alone in a hot car, it was the first of all the durians to dehisce (open on its own).
It’s shaped like an oblong heart, with mounded shoulders around it’s little thumb of a stem that protect the leftover dried bits of flower.
The flesh is the most yellow of all the Lowianus we opened, a wet, sweet and smooth flesh that wrinkles easily but also softens to mush if left neglected too long.
The inhale as you take a first bite is all alcohol-based perfume, but then the sweet, floral, and slightly bitter flavor kicks in. Fais described it as having a wild durian smell and a kampung taste, which seemed accurate to me.
At first we thought this would be our favorite of the day, but then we found more…
Durian #5 Duriosaurus
Who has the largest thorns of them all?
The large, blocky emerald spikes are big and pyramidal, and the sides are flat, and it doesn’t feel like needles in your hands. The thorns were so unusual compared to the other Lowianus specimens, that I wondered if some D. oxleyanus genetics might have snuck in there.
The flesh is thick and white, with kind of a chalky, pasty texture. It’s not too sweet, with a nice bitterness and a strong wild flavor.
It was good, but not as good as my favorite, the last of all:
Durian #6 Cheesecake
This round pumpkin of a durian is covered in a geometric thorns that seem nubby in comparison to the needle-like tips of its peers. The seams pucker into light brown ridges and the durian opens pretty easily, revealing the pleasant plumpness within.
It’s heft can’t hold a candle to a D15 or a Kun Poh or any of the cultivated durians, but for a wild durian, this fruit had a good, thick layer of something to bite.
The color was a dark cream, like caramelized sugar, spiderwebbed with small wrinkles.
To the touch it was softer than it looked, but so crazy sticky.
Even the next day, when I ate/harvested the rest of our stash, it was still sticky and thick.
The flavor was great too, a wonderfully rich bitter butter laced with something like coffee and then, just at the end, that wild alcoholic punch.
I ate every piece and could have gone for more.
I have no idea why no one is cultivating this one.
Some of the Durio lowianus tasted like a kick in the face, and I could see why they’re not everybody’s cup of tea.
But other types were just pure wonder, stickier, richer, and just as bitter as the cultivated durians, with a truly unique flavor.
I’m excited, and I’m a little in awe of the sheer diversity of things this planet makes. I’d had Durio lowianus before, but not so many clearly distinct types in one sitting. Tasting them all side by side was a little like discovering a television show that’s been running for 20 seasons. There’s a lot of newness to get lost in.
I know half of you will write me asking for seeds, so I’ll just answer your questions now:
Yes, I did keep the seeds.
Yes, I did keep them separate and labeled by the type.
Maybe you can have some. Seeds will be distributed first-come-first-serve, so leave a comment below telling me where you’re planning to plant these babies.