Fresh durian is a dream to many of us. The durians sold in our cold, northern countries have such a long journey they might as well be coming from Mars, and they taste like it too. Yet in America, we have fresh durian not too-too far away — it grows in Hawaii. So this year, I asked some friends to ship me Hawaiian-grown durian to an event in San Francisco. Here’s how we did it, and how it went.
As far as I know, Hawaiian-grown durian is not currently for sale at any retail locations in the Lower 48, and is only for available online sometimes from Ono Farms in Maui.
In fact, it’s Ono Farms that gave me the idea to try this experiment, because Jeez. Getting fresh, American-grown durian to the mainland would be a gamechanger.
Durian lovers could stop complaining about the miserable quality of frozen durians.
Environmentalist could quiet down about the travesty of international imports.
Gone would be the worries over chemical misuse in Thailand.
And besides, we’d be supporting American farmers.
Really, what’s not to love about fresh Hawaiian durian? But the question was whether it was even possible to get them to the mainland USA in an edible-enough condition. Would the postal service really permit their passage? Would it be fast enough? Could the durians survive the voyage?
Hence, Project Shipping Durian.
How We Shipped The Durian
Since we followed all the legal laws, my Hawaii friend, who prefers to remain anonymous, shipped the durians with the United States Postal Service (USPS).
What could be more legit than the government mail carrier and a friend who is totally not sketchy?
He/She chose the largest size flat-rate Priority Mail box (link here), which has a weight limit of 70 pounds or about 30 kg. That would be an awesome stash of durian, except the boxes were only large enough for 4 small durians each. So our boxes weighed about 10 lbs, rather than 70lb.
My mind immediately leapt to what you could put in there that would both max out the Flat Rate and freak out the post office staff more effectively than durian. Weight-lifting equipment? Snow chains? Iridium?
Despite the legality of our shipment, it wasn’t breezey getting the durian through the post office.
My friend tacitly texted me “”Post office staff weren’t happy about the smell.”
I didn’t ask what had to be done to get them through.
But I can guess that since the durians weren’t Live Animals, or Anything Fragile, or Hazardous Materials (technically) there wasn’t much the post office staff could do but use a lot of tape and hold their noses.
How Much It Cost
The shipping cost for the Large Size Flat Rate box was $18.75 USD. That’s less than $5 per durian to get them across the Pacific into my waiting arms. That’s like Amazon pricing.
How Long It Took
With Flat Rate Priority, the promise was 3-day delivery. This made me very nervous, because my presentation was on a Saturday. USPS doesn’t deliver on Saturdays, so if the durians were delayed for any reason, my Bay Area friends would be eating the durian on Monday without me.
Not that they were entirely sad about the prospect.
My Hawaii friend shipped the durians on Tuesday at 12PM, with the promise that the durians would arrive in the Bay Area on Friday.
I spent all day Friday out fig-hunting with friends, speculating when and if the durians would arrive. That evening, we smelled them as the Prius inched into the garage. There was the most delicious, unexpected aroma wafting through the cold San Fran fog.
“They’re here!” I squealed, rushing to the front porch and dragging the two boxes into the kitchen. We ripped into them, holding our breath with anticipation. They didn’t smell bad, which was actually a little surprising.
After all, they’d been off the tree for how many days? Maybe five? That’s a long, long time in durian days.
The Tasting (Video)
On Saturday I unveiled the durians at the California Rare Fruit Growers meeting, held at the San Ygnacio Library.
Later I sent the library a note of gratitude, since they didn’t actually call 911 for help when our durian hit the ventilation system.
Here’s what everybody thought of the Hawaiian-grown durians:
Durian Quality After 5 Days in the Mail
So how did our durians hold up after 5 days in the mail? They were a little hit or miss.
One of the boxes had been partially crushed, and most of the durians in that box were cracking along their seams.
This durian was a bit overripe, and when we opened it up, the flesh had turned dark and bruised.
You see this sometimes, especially in Indonesia, and not everyone considers it a bad thing. It doesn’t mean it’s inedible.
We ate it all, but I’ll be honest: it’s not ideal.
Others in the box were totally, beautifully fine. They even retained a slight greenish color around the base of the thorns. These ones, obviously, had the best taste.
It’s important to note that because of the long transit time, my friend decide to cut them off the tree rather than letting them drop on their own. I think it was the right decision.
But I think it affected the durian varieties differently. D132, which I remember tasting when I was in Hawaii, was sweet and creamy and almost flavorless. It was funny seeing it on the table next to the apple samples.
The Pohakulani was much much better.
I didn’t get to taste this one in Hawaii, as it wasn’t in season, but this is the one all my friends on the Big Island rave about. Ryan even says it’s his favorite, better than Davao durian, better than Bao Sheng durian. I don’t know if I can agree with that, but then, the one I tasted wasn’t fresh.
I am extremely fussy about how fresh the durian is. I really dislike durian that’s been off the tree for awhile, the way they serve it in Indonesia, for example. So I had low expectations.
I got only one nibble of this before the tasting platter was whisked away in the durian frenzy, but it wasn’t bad at all. If I’d been here in the US for awhile, instead of totally spoiled on fresh Malaysian and Philippines durian, I would have been totally impressed and gobbled it up with all the other durian lovers in the crowd.
Bringing fresh durian to the event was one of my most genius ideas ever. It took the pressure off and made me less nervous, because I knew everyone was just jonesing for the durian samples anyway.
Many people who thought they didn’t like durian changed their minds. They liked the texture of fresh durian better, said it didn’t smell as bad as the thawing frozen durian (fresh durian does smell differently) and thought these durian were sweeter, especially the yellow Pohakulani.
Shipping durian from Hawaii to the mainland has potential, but it’s something we need to work on. The three-day shipping was definitely affordable, but maybe a bit slow unless we can work out when exactly to cut the durians so they don’t split open in transit.
It’s an exciting new prospect, and one that I hope will help durian lovers get better quality durian than what’s been available, as well as making durian more normal to Americans. After all, it grows in our country.