I’d kind of given up on finding the Thornless Durian. I thought maybe it was an urban legend for the gullible, maybe something like haggis. “Durian” literally means thorny. What could a durian be without thorns? Then I ate three durians as thornless as a grapefruit. Mind blown.
I’ve seen “thornless” durians before that were definitely not thornless. One was even the result of the thorns being shaved off when the fruit was young by a pranking 16-year-old. He had a good laugh when all the adults started freaking out over the new species.
But this one — this one I believe is real. I don’t understand how thornlessness happened, and I don’t have the full story. Yet.
But here’s what I do know about thornless durian — what it looks like, tastes like, smells like, and where you can find it. Scroll down for a video.
About SM Lanang Mall
We found the Thornless Durian at the SM Lanang Premier Mall.
This is actually the largest shopping mall in Mindanao. The first and even second time I visited Davao City, it wasn’t open yet. It’s a four-story “Super Mall” owned by the SM Supermall company, which has over 50 malls in the Philippines and 6 in China.
The mall is in the northern part of Davao, only 2.5 kilometers from the airport. It’s kind of a pain to get to if you’re staying anywhere else in the city.
The mall is open 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM every day. The durian sellers are supposed to keep the same hours, but from our experience, they very definitely don’t.
Durian Feasts at the SM Lanang Mall
Every durian season, the mall allows durian vendors to sell both inside and outside. They also sell fresh, stinky durian inside the SM Supermarket, on the same air conditioned shelves as bananas and oranges and apples from China. Like durian is a normal food instead of necessitating quarantine.
The SM Lanang Mall has two condoned durian eating areas. One is upstairs in an outdoor seating area called the Fountain Court Grounds. The other, where I found the Thornless Durian, is on the ground floor just outside the door to the SM Supermarket.
Some mall staff social media person updates the Twitter feed multiple times per day, so you can keep up to date on Kadayawan Durian Festival events, All-You-Can-Eat promotions, and other durian sales and events.
The Kadayawan Durian Festival
This year, the Kadaywan Durian Festival ran from August 5 – September 4, 2016. Every mall runs a Kadawayan Durian special event, but what makes the SM Lanang Durian Festival special is that two of the three vendors carry Thornless Durian.
One vendor is the BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry) stall, where they sell the superfluous oddities that come from the experimental research station. The other stall belongs to Julie Chubol, who I have yet to meet.
It took us three tries to find the thornless durian, and even then it was majorly lucky.
Attempt #1 We arrived around 11AM hungry. We went earlier in the day because we figured something as rare and interesting as a thornless durian would sell out quickly.
We were actually worried we were too late. The vendors were supposed to have opened at 10AM, with the mall. Yet at 11 AM, none of the durian vendors were there. We skulked around for a little over an hour, then took our durian appetites elsewhere.
Attempt #2 We went later in the day,around 3 PM. This time one of the durian stands was open, but Julie Chubol hadn’t arrived yet and the BPI stall was packed up and done for the season (disappointing).
So we were forced to dine on the butterscotchy D101 and wait. I was beginning to wonder if thornless durian was as common as pots of gold under rainbows.
I also ate a marang, because when you’re in the Philippines, not eating marang is a serious crime.
Marang is the sweeter, softer, more sugary cousin of a cempedak or jackfruit.
Attempt #3 I’d actually given up on finding a thornless durian this trip. I figured I’d missed the season, too bad, try again next year.
Sahara and I were at the mall researching for the Philippine Vegan project. It was late and the mall was closing. I figured the durian stalls would be too.
But, I suggested we do a walk by. Just to see. Just in case.
And there they were, durians as thorny as a grapefruit.
What is the Thornless Durian?
The thornless durian is, as far as I can tell, a genetic mutation of Durio zibethinus.
It’s small for a durian and perfectly round, like a pie pumpkin or a oro gold grapefruit. It’s not waxy smooth, but the bumpy, nubby skin is weirdly lacking in thorns.
We purchased all three of the thornless durian being sold at SM Lanang for 50 PHP each.
Then we put all three in a bag and walked back through the mall. The guard at the entrance glanced in the bag, sniffed suspiciously, but didn’t say anything.
Each time the bag brushed against my leg I jumped. The absence of cat-claw thorns leaving scratches on my shins was unnerving.
When we got home, it was photo session time. Because how many times in your life do you have three thornless durians? This needed to be Instagrammed, Snapchatted, Facebooked, Tweeted, and sent in an email to my mom.
As you can see in the photo above, the durians are in pretty rough condition. The stems were so dry they were brown all the way through and rubbery. There were black spots and splits all over the fruit’s skins.
Two were cracking open along their seams. They still have five seams and have sections (locules), just like a normal durian. The seams were nearly invisible without the thorns.
Normally, I would never purchase a durian in this condition. But, they were thornless. So, y’know.
There’s not even any thorns around the stem, although you can see the patchwork pattern of where it should have thorns.
Is this too weird or what?
What does Thornless Durian Taste like?
After the photo shoot, it was time to actually take a bite.
The durians, being so old and nasty, opened really easily. Inside they were a pale white color with soft, pasty flesh. They looked just like a kampung or native durian, but smaller.
In taste? It tasted really, sugary sweet, with a hint of that old durian funk. I’d love to taste a fresh one.
Where does Thornless Durian come from?
This story is nowhere near complete, and I will be digging for more. This is what I know so far:
It was discovered in Compostela Valley in the 1950’s by Mr. Dominador Pascual, Superintendent of the then Davao Experiment Station (BPI-DES). Several trees were planted at Llaneza Farm, in Mulig, Torril, near Calinan.
On June 27,1964, President Diosdado P. Macapagal planted a thornless durian tree during his visit at the Davao Experiment Station with BPI Director Eugenio E. Cruz during the opening of the Mindanao and Sulu Industrial, Commercial and Trade Fair. This is the tree that I saw the first time I visited BPI in 2012.
I’m already planning my 2017 roadtrip to the Compostela Valley.
How To Get to SM Lanang Durian
The mall is located off of JP Laurel Avenue in the northern part of the city, only 2.5 kilometers from the airport.