This is a snippet from my new book, The Durian Tourist’s Guide to Penang, Malaysia, in the “Identifying Durians” chapter. The book has information just like this about 21 varieties of durian that you can find in Penang!
Black Thorn (D200)
Registered in 2013
Other Names: Black Thorn, Duri Hitam, Ochee, Hei Tze
When: Late Season, typically late July or early August
This new darling of the durian scene can out-price even Musang King with its rosy, flame-colored corpulence. It’s new even to Penang Island, since it originates on the mainland side of Penang State. To get really old-tree durians you have to drive over the bridge.
The Black Thorn mother tree originates in Kampung Lima Kongsi, near Sungai Bakap, just a bit to the south of the second bridge to the island. It was a secret for years, a popular tree with a waiting list every season since the tree’s owner, Bagi Kau, refused to propagate it.
Bagi Kau had brought the seed back from a durian he ate in Thailand. Which one is unknown.
“It took me two years to taste that fruit,” says Heng Mee Oo (Ah Heng), who now owns one of the biggest Black Thorn orchards in Malaysia with close to 6,000 Black Thorn trees.
Then in the mid-1980s, Bagi Kau permitted his friend, Mr. Leow Cheok Keong, to plant seedlings at his farm in Nibong Tebal, establishing the first commercial orchard. But Mr. Leow says that when the trees first started dropping fruits, he was unimpressed. The durian was sweet and pasty, a pale berry rosé that lacked the luscious cream and slightly alcoholic sparkle of an old-tree Black Thorn. He kept the trees, but didn’t invest in more — at least not right away.
Meanwhile, around the year 2000, Ah Heng finally tasted the durian and made his decision. He chopped down his D24 orchard and grafted the mature stumps with Black Thorn.
The trees began dropping a few years later. At the time, his son was working at the Genting Highlands Resort, near Kuala Lumpur. The director happened to visit the family’s farm and loved Mr. Heng’s Black Thorn so much he requested Ah Heng to come set up a durian stall in the resort’s car park. In 2010, he and his Black Thorn durians were featured in a media flurry over the “new” durian variety. A fad was starting.
Around the same time, Mr. Leow was realizing that his Black Thorns had matured into something pretty special. In 2011, he entered the Penang State Durian competition, and won first prize. He won first prize again in 2012, and in 2013 MARDI officially entered Black Thorn into the registry as D200, citing Mr. Leow’s farm as the source.
Today Mr. Leow and Mr. Heng are good friends, not competitors.
Mr. Heng opens his hilltop orchard to durian fanatics willing to take the wild ride, and Mr. Leow sells his durians at a stall in Nibong Tebal.
They both sell Black Thorn at the Jawi Durian Festival in late July or early August.
How to Recognize Black Thorn
Black Thorn varies a lot in terms of size, but can be recognized by it’s perfectly plump pumpkin shape and squat little stem, about as long as a thumb. The bottom has a little belly-button indent that protects the durian’s dried up flower stamen from breaking off as it grows, creating a blackened “thorn” that protrudes and gives the durian its name.
Inside, the Black Thorn has a rosy, orange hue that can vary from pastel to flame depending on the age of the tree. A signature mark is a thick core with a rust-colored “drain” or line running down the middle. The flesh is rounded and mounded and incredibly thick, and even when the tree is old, the wrinkles are small and delicate, the thin and easily broken skin stretched tightly over the corpulent mounds of flesh.
How to Visit Ah Heng and Mr. Leow
Find Ah Heng’s Serene Orchard and Mr. Leow on the map below.
Ah Heng now offers his Black Thorn durian by Delivery at https://durianrepublic.com