True fact: hybrid durian are delicious. There aren’t very many of them, or at least not very many of the kind of hybrid you’re probably thinking about. Most durian varieties, even Musang King and D24, weren’t made by humans. Somebody made MDUR78, MDUR79, and MDUR88. They used to be hard to find, but now you can eat them to your heart’s content at the Kuala Kangsar Research Station, which opened to the public for “Duriantourism” this year (2018).
About the MARDI Kuala Kangsar Agritourism Park
For the first few years I visited Kuala Kangsar with my Durian Tour groups, it was just another outpost of MARDI that seemed semi-abandoned. The 40-hectare property was tidy; the grass trimmed, the roads clear, the trees alive — but the durians fell on the ground and the staff, whatever they were up to, didn’t seem like they were engaging in much research.
Once upon a time, maybe back in the 1990’s, Stesen MARDI Kuala Kangsar was a hub of new durian research. They have over 150 varieties, the trees topped into low rows in the germplasm, both the Malaysian registered “D#” series as well as Kuala Kangsar’s own registered varieties, marked by KK#. They also did research using Durio lowianus, a wild durian species, as disease-resistant rootstock against P. palmivora funguses. Some of the D. lowianus has white-flesh, and some yellow-flesh, and all of it super sticky and tasty.
So every visit Kuala Kangsar always yielded something interesting.
It seemed like such a pity, like a forgotten Durio treasure-trove.
I guess the staff felt that way too. Last August, Amarrudin told me they would be opening to the public and converting the Research Station into an Agricultural Tourism Park, like the MARDI Agropark in Langkawi.
They had even purchased a trolley, towed by a tractor, to ferry tourists around the property to the different fruiting areas; pomelo, rambutan, jackfruit, and Mesta, one of only two varieties of mangosteen in existence.
I knew it would be different this year, 2018. No longer would we roam by foot behind a slightly bemused research officer who wanted to see if the Westerners could handle D. lowianus. Instead, we would go by trolley on a planned tour of the orchard.
No longer would we be alone in the orchard. Since the park was now open to the public, I expected we would be sharing the trolley with other durian munchers and fruit lovers.
But I was still in for a surprise.
There was a whole new building.
A new road led off to the right of the main gate, leading to a newly laid car park and a brand new building with a waiting area, informational posters, public toilets, and a counter to buy tickets.
My group flocked to a small table laid out by the bathrooms with the fresh catch of the day. There was D2, D24, MDUR78, and MDUR88. One of them smelled numbing. We quickly snagged it to buy by kilogram price, even though our entry fee paid for an all-you-can-eat buffet on the other side of the tour.
Numb-smelling durians should never be ignored.
The price in July, 2018 was 50RM for Malaysians and 70RM for foreigners, and they didn’t offer a discount price for our local Malaysian tour guide (many tourism spot offer lower rates if you are bringing a licensed guide with you).
We hopped on the trolley with our numb MDUR88, eager to munch it before that magical, tingly, sensation diminished in the heat. Numb-taste doesn’t last long.
But first we had to suffer through the mangosteen and mesta patch.
Unlike durian, mangosteens are not very diverse. They don’t cross-pollinate, meaning most of their seeds are exact genetic clones of the mother tree. Some people don’t even consider a mangosteen seed a true seed — they call it an adventitious embryo, or hypocotyl tubercle because technically the mangosteen tree never had sex. I told you plants are weird.
But recent genetic testing has shown that there is a lot more genetic diversity within the worldwide mangosteen population than was previously thought, and proof of that is a mangosteen variant called “Mesta” from Temerloh, Pahang.
Mestas are pointy. Whereas a normal mangosteen has a round shape, like a slightly flattened peach, Mestas are long and come to a point like a toy top.
Inside, they look disarmingly similar to a normal mangosteen, but they’re not.
Mestas are crunchy. The flesh is dry and smooth, with little crackly fibers that crunch under tooth like a soft apple. The sections are seedless, and while it’s not as juicy as a regular mangosteen, mestas are less acidic and so taste sweeter.
Personally, I like them better than regular mangosteens. And there is nothing to like about regular mangosteens.
Except the whole mesta detour was taking up precious time from getting to our real mission for the day: that numb-tasting MDUR88. The group was anxious and distracted, too durian-focused to waste precious tummy space on interesting mangosteens.
Luckily next was the new picnic area set up under the durian trees for the all-you-can-eat durian buffet, which for us turned into an all you can eat MDUR buffet.
Because Kuala Kangsar, being an old MARDI research station, had all three of the MDUR hybrid durian in season all at once, all included in our buffet.
I had never before eaten all three together in one place and been able to compare them. Because while they may have had the same parents, these sibling hybrid durian are not like each other.
The Creation of The MDUR Hybrid Durian Series
What sets the MDUR series apart is that someone purposefully made them.
It’s unclear when researchers started the MDUR project, but sometime after MARDI was created in 1969, Malaysia published list of 10 recommended durian varieties for commercial planting: D2, D3, D4, D8, D10, D16, D24, D63, D66, and D96.
The researchers decided it would be fun to see what new flavors of durian they could make by mixing the commercial varieties.
Unlike mangosteens, durians are extremely genetically diverse. They have recessive traits and dominant alleles and when you put the pollen of two parent plants together, it’s really hard to predict what kind of baby they’ll make.
The researchers made 510 crosses (aka pollen placed on a flower) of which 168 successfully turned into baby trees. They were tagged MDUR1 – MDUR168, planted at the MARDI station in Kemaman, East Malaysia, and allowed to grow old enough and big enough to produce fruit — about 15 years.
In 1991, Zainal Abidin evaluated all 168 fruits and published the results. Only three were selected: MDUR78, MDUR79, and MDUR88 — all fleshy, bitter, strong-tasting, high-yielding, and disease resistant.
You would think Malaysians would have been excited. But instead, the MDURs are relatively hard to find. I’d never tasted all three together in one place, not even on my previous trips to Kuala Kangsar. But on our prior visits we’d just sort of scavenged through the orchards– this year, they’d harvested, and when we finished lumping around the orchard in the tractor trolley, the durians were ready for us with a big pile of durians under a canopy tent
All the details about the MDUR Hybrid Durian Series:
MDUR78 Hybrid Durian (D188)
We decided to go in order, starting with MDUR78, which is a cross between D24 and D10.
MDUR78 was added to the register under the D-name D188, making it confusing for anyone who hasn’t submitted to the fact that all Malaysian durians have confusing nomenclature so just go with it.
MDUR78 was a small durian with longish spikes and a surprisingly long, thin stem. Amarrudin said the stem was one of the key characteristics to recognize it. Of the three MDUR78 that we ate, we also noticed that they all had a pearish shape with fat round bottom.
It was a difficult durian to get open, mostly because the shell seemed almost soggy and ripped in half when we tried to ease it open like a normal durian.
We could totally tell that one of it’s parent varieties was a D24– it looked like D24 inside, but with a milder, milky honey taste and thick texture.
I’ve never seen a *true* D10, so I’m not sure which of the characteristics of it’s other parent it carries, but from photos this durian definitely takes after D24.
Next we steamrolled on to MDUR79, which was registered as D189.
Like MDUR78, MDUR79 is also the child of a D24xD10 happy pollen time.
This durian also had thin, longish spikes and a green-yellow color, and it even had a bottom with spikes that curve inward toward a belly-button like D24.
It was way less fleshy than MDUR78, with more seeds per section and thinner, wetter flesh.
But it did have a nice coppery orange color, which was pretty.
Of the MDURs, this ws our least favorite.
The best, of course, was that numb-tingly-gaseous-smelling MDUR88 that we’d carried with us as torture the whole trolley ride.
MDUR 88. (D190)
MDUR88, if you can believe it, is also a hybrid of D24xD10. All three of the MDURs are siblings, with the same parents (although one might be the mother and the other the father, I’m not sure which).
MDUR88 definitely takes after D10, from what I can see in pictures. It’s stem is short and rotund, and the spikes were much larger and blockier than on either MDUR78 or MDUR79.
It was so neat to see how the same set of genetics, mixed and matched, can come up with so many different results.
Then there was the flesh of the MDUR88. It was gorgeous, a beautiful burnt-yellow color that was sticky and thick, like dark chocolate encased caramel.
It had the best texture of the three and the deepest flavor.
And yes, one of them was just a little bit numbing. If you don’t know what I mean by numbing, you haven’t eaten fresh durian yet.
The group gobbled all of the MDURs, leaving some of the MDUR79 and licking the shell of the MDUR88 clean.
When Amarrudin offered some of the Durio lowianus, we were almost too full to accept.
The research station, being a research station, didn’t have just any Durio lowianus. They had actually collected and kept improved varieties of Durio lowianus. These are fleshier, fattier, and a prettier yellow color than most of the wild ones you find in the mountains of Perak or nearby Kuala Lumpur.
But they still had that classic harsh wine, cherry rum aroma of its species.
Supposedly, Durio lowianus hybridizes easily with the regular durian. It would be neat to see what would happen if researchers at the station ever decided to make a new series, the LDur series, of Lowianus-
Visiting the Kuala Kangsar MARDI Station is a better experience now that it’s open to the public and has a dedicated manager to guide the tour and tasting (thanks Amarrudin!) although if you don’t speak Bahasa Malayu, you won’t have as positive an experience. Luckily we had our own tour guide with us to translate.
The new building, road and trolley is nice, but what’s nicest is that they collected all the durian for guests to taste in one area, and were actually able to identify the varieties.
It was amazing to be able to taste the full MDUR series in one go, and see how the same genetics could be expressed in so many different flavors. These sibling durian varieties were so different — from the mild, milky MDUR78, to the sticky-bitter-carmel MDUR88.
I know I’ll be hunting MDUR88 again.
Getting to Kuala Kangsar MARDI Station
The Station is open for tasting until August 5, 2018, when it will close to the public until the next season.
Beware that while the Stesen MARDI Kuala Kangsar *is* listed on Google Maps, turning on “directions” will take you on a funky path down some very narrow neighborhood roads. The easiest way is to drive along Highway 1 until you see the MARDI signboard. Turn there and follow the trail of signs.
Stesen MARDI Kuala Kangsar
33077 Kuala Kangsar, Perak
Tel: 05-773 3030
Malaysia Durian Map
Use this map to locate the Kuala Kangsar Station, or to navigate to another durian hotspot. Each pin is linked to a blog post, so hop around and explore!