Where’s all the durian going? Malaysian durian lovers are upset. Or at least, the Malaysian media thinks they are. As numerous articles have freaked about, China is importing A LOT of Malaysian durians these days. Like, in the thousands of tons kind of a lot, and the only thing stopping the Chinese from eating more is that currently supply doesn’t match demand.
So who’s exporting all them Malaysia durians? What does the export process look like? My durian tour group was lucky enough to visit a Malaysia durian factory to taste the durian heading overseas. A big thank you to TRL Group (and Adrian in particular) for hosting us.
Durian Shipping Center in Kuala Lumpur
The small corner warehouse in a nondescript, industrial neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur didn’t look like it had the capacity to freeze 20 tons of Musang King per day for shipment into the wide world. A single banner tacked on the metal siding announced the company’s name and purpose, which was obvious from the beautiful aroma slowly leaking out of it’s open garage door.
It looked a lot smaller than Sunshine Durian Factory in Thailand, where sometimes 300 tons of durian arrive in a single day.
Durian exporting is a relatively new business in Malaysia. In May of 2011, Malaysia finally settled an agreement to begin shipping durian to China, breaking Thailand’s monopoly on the industry for the first time in about 30 years. So it’s not just the Malaysian media that’s freaking out, it’s Thailand’s durian industry too.
Adrian met us in front and ushered our group inside to a sterile-feeling work space with the requisite terrible lighting.
Adrian is the marketing director for TRL (Tropical Resource Ltd). The company was founded in 2012, when only a handful of other durian factories existed to ship durian overseas (including Top Fruits Factory, who I interviewed that year).
Now, as I’m writing this, TRL durians are en route to Melbourne in Australia, Vancouver in Canada, San Francisco and New York in the USA, as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, and China.
Adrian says they’ll arrive around December 15th, 2017, just in time for Christmas, so get excited!
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If Adrian was hoping for brand loyalty, I think he got it as our group happily devoured their Grade A, premium Musang King.
While we munched, Adrian explained that this smaller office and warehouse in Kuala Lumpur is not where they’re freezing the 20 tons for export. They have another, bigger factory that we’ll look at in just a minute.
Here, they store frozen durian for local distribution, and package fresh, whole durian for shipping to Brunei and Hong Kong using a new, odor-trapping technology.
Fresh Durian Export
Adrian explained, although they deal in D24 too, 90% of the durian they export fresh is Musang King.
This is not because Musang King is inherently better (I will control the rant) but because Musang King has a better shelf life than the other commercial favorite, D24.
You understand how long it takes to fly anywhere. After driving to the airport — which is always inconveniently out of town — going through security, stamping through customs, waiting around for flight delays, and doing it all again when you arrive in the destination country, days can go by.
So yes, by the time a Musang King arrives on the shelves in China, it does taste better than a D24.
Using a new packaging technique, Adrian explained, they can extend a Musang King’s shelf life to 6 or even 7 days, an unheard of antiquity for a freshly dropped durian.
The secret is vacuum-sealing. Adrian showed us how the company uses a hard plastic shell to dull the durian’s thorns, and then vacuum-seal the whole fruit.
Then they tuck the protected fruits in some boxes, stack them in a refrigerator, and off they go.
This box will likely end up in Hong Kong, where they send about 1500 kg per week during the durian season.
Frozen Musang King Durian
The warehouse was empty when we arrived. Although there was still plenty of durian in the area, the main glut when prices drop, had passed. It was no longer profitable for the company to bother with flash-freezing.
Which was kind of great, because it meant that Adrian let us go inside the hygienically out-of-bounds areas to look.
First we looked at the loading zone, where the durians are placed on moving conveyor belts to be cleaned, sterilized, and brought into this room.
This is the room where they process the durians into frozen durian paste or packets of frozen pieces.
Unlike some factories I’ve visited, which use damaged, squirrel-eaten, or odd-looking, “alien” shape durians in their shell-less durian products, TRL has to adhere to international hygiene standards. This means they’re also opening A-grade Musang King to freeze in easier-to-consume packets.
While D24 durians, which carry a cheaper price tag, are pulverized in huge mixers lining the walls. The seeds removed, the pure durian paste is then frozen into sheets, like this:
Durian paste is in high demand thanks to the invention of things like Durian Pizza and Durian Cream Puffs and Durian mochi (picture below).
Most bakeries in Asia have at least one durian-filled item, and as durian becomes more popular there are shops popping up dedicated to durian-only menus, like Durian Haven in Penang or Durian Cottage in Melaka.
Even Pizza Hut is likely sheets of frozen D24 pulp like this for their D24-flavored pizzas.
The reason 80% of the durian paste is made from D24 is because D24 is so much cheaper than Musang King.
A few whole D24s are frozen to send to Australia (where there is apparently demand for them), but mostly the company freezes whole Musang King durians in a machine that you would never ever want to get locked inside.
Freezing Durian For Export
The machine behind Adrian cryogenically freezes the durian. Cyrogenic freezing is the fastest form of flash-freezing, and is used to preserve food because it keeps the food the freshest tasting.
If you can maybe come back from the dead after being cyrogenically frozen, you can imagine that the nutrients and texture of the durian has to be pretty close to fresh too.
The way it works is by pumping liquified nitrogen (N) into the chamber, which quickly cools the durian to -80 C (-112 F!).
And in fact, this machine is the reason the company’s phone numbers are blurred out in this post. Adrian says the company already gets too many telemarketers trying to sell them liquid nitrogen or more freezing supplies.
When the durians are completely frozen, after about — minutes, they are transferred to large walk-in freezers for storage.
These freezers are about -18 C. Adrian shocked us all by walking into the freezer in his shirt sleeves to retrieve a sample durian. Brr!
These durians can store for up to 2 years, although they won’t stay in the freezer that long. There’s too much demand for Musang King, so shortly the durians are packed up, put on trucks, and shipped off to Port Klang to be eaten around the world.
Maybe you’ll get one in your stocking this Christmas!
Adrian has been kind of enough to put me in touch with the importers where their company’s durians will be sold in America and Australia this winter. When the durians are sold to supermarkets, I will create a list for you so you know where to buy.
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