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November 25, 2018

Li Chuchu spent well over 40,000 yuan (US$5,817) to get her fill of durian, the thorny tropical fruit whose unique taste she craves.

Regarded by many in Southeast Asia as the “king of fruit”, durian is now in season. However, its pungent odor often leads to a love-hate relationship with the commodity.

Its fans sometimes describe its yellow meat as fragrant, butterlike custard, with hints of nuts or whipped cream. But others are repulsed by its smell, which has been compared to rotten eggs, turpentine or even sweaty socks.

The number of durian-lovers, such as Li, from Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, is growing fast in China, and last month she and 14 others from different parts of the country took a five-day trip to Malaysia, one of the countries in which durian is grown.

The group visited Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and Penang. Without going to attractions in the former such as Petaling Street and Independence Square – usually two “musts” for most tour groups – they went to two durian plantations instead.

There, they enjoyed all-you-can-eat durian buffets, even though the price per person for the five-day trip was equivalent to buying more than 300 kilograms of Musang King, the most recognized but expensive variety of Malaysian durian.

Li booked the trip through the online travel platform Ctrip, where the price per person was 37,999 yuan, excluding air tickets.

Durian is arguably the most fashionable and popular food in Asia, even more so than crawfish. Nearly 90 percent of the durians produced in Thailand last year were exported to China, while Malaysia is also eyeing the market.

In April, Thailand exported up to 56,000 metric tons of durian to China, a year-on-year increase of 700 percent.

Pattanan Jamphot, 58, who owns a 64,000-square-meter durian farm with 700 trees producing the fruit in the eastern Thai province of Chanthaburi, said almost all the output from her plantation is exported to China.

After being harvested, Pattanan’s durians are packed into boxes marked with Chinese characters at a roadside logistics facility. They are then shipped in containers on large trailers to Chinese consumers directly, a journey that takes just four to five days, Pattanan said.

Durians are increasingly being shipped overland instead of by sea due to falling costs, thanks to improvements to cross-border roads in Southeast Asia, said Adisorn Chanprapalert, minister-counselor at the office of agricultural affairs at the Thai embassy in Beijing.

The 114-kilometer Hongsa-Chiang Man Road, built in 2016, has cut the journey time between China and Thailand. The road, which runs through Laos, has halved the previous journey time by sea.

Just three years ago, selling durian could be a risky business, as transporting the fruit to China was time consuming.

Su Jiangshan, a Beijinger who owns an online fruit shop, said he lost almost 20,000 yuan in 2015 from durian sales.

Durian ripen in Thailand between May and September. But for both China and Thailand, the summer heat increases transportation risks for the fruit.

“It takes at least two weeks for my customers to receive their orders,” Su said, adding that it usually takes four to five days for his orders to reach the Laotian border with China and another four to five days to transport the fruit to Beijing by train or truck.

“Even though I used the Shun Feng cold chain express service to transport the durian to my customers, they requested refunds of more than 40 percent, as the fruit they received had already rotted,” Su said.

 The durians Wang Congcong tasted in Malaysia. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The improvements in cross-border transportation networks in recent years and the rise of internet commerce can directly connect durian farmers with consumers.

The growth of the durian market in China has been largely due to booming e-commerce platforms. A total of 80,000 Golden Pillow durians from Thailand sold in just one minute on T-mall, Alibaba’s business-to-consumer platform on April 17.

This came after Alibaba’s Chairman Jack Ma signed four memorandums of understanding with the Thai government on trade, investment, e-commerce and tourism.

Alibaba is reportedly spending about US$428 million in Thailand, the main durian exporter to China, as it aims to tap Chinese consumers’ appetites for Thai agricultural produce.

Ma said China is on its way to becoming the world’s largest consumer country, driven by rising incomes and a growing middle class of 300 million.

“There is no better time than now for trade-oriented countries to seize this opportunity to export to China as the country continues to open its doors wider for global trade,” Ma said at the signing ceremony in Thailand.

The MOUs signed between Alibaba and the Thai government enable the e-commerce giant to import fresh durian directly from Thai farmers.

Liu Xiang, a senior operations specialist for T-mall’s fruit and vegetable division, said this cooperation model saves time and money for consumers, as no middlemen are involved and journey time is shortened.

Zhang Can, a 42-year-old nurse living in Shanghai, said she bought five durians weighing between 5 and 10 kilograms in T-mall’s online mega sale “Taste Thailand” in April, but thinks she did not buy enough, as the price was almost the same as that in Thailand.

She said she was satisfied with her purchases, as the price per kilogram was less than 30 yuan and the pulp tasted very fresh because it had been transported directly from Thailand.

Adisorn, the Thai minister-counselor, also said his government approved a strategic fruit development plan in February aimed at making Thailand a major trading nation in tropical fruit, and also approved a project to build a “fruit corridor” in the east of the country. The government has decided to start with durian, coconut and mangosteen, and China is one of its main target markets.

This lucrative market is also attracting Malaysia.

Bloomberg reported that a durian festival held by the Malaysian government in November in the southern Chinese city of Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, resulted in about 165,000 people clamoring for a taste of thawed samples of Musang King.

 Workers package durians at the TRL company in Malaysia. (XU KANGPING / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Ahmad Maslan, Malaysia’s deputy minister for international trade and industry, said the Malaysian government is studying ways to export durians whole, as currently only frozen durian pulp, durian fruit with seeds, and other byproducts such as cookies, are exported to China.

He said it is easier for Thai durians, rather than those from Malaysia, to be exported to China because Thai farmers pick durian when the fruit is still on the tree.

“Malaysian durian farmers normally wait for the fruit to ripen and drop to the ground rather than climb the tree to collect it, so the risk of dirt and pests on the whole fruit is deterring many countries from accepting Malaysian durian,” he said.

Maslan added that negotiations with China are underway and may lead to approval for whole-fruit exports within a year.

The ministry is also working with farmers on the use of nets and ropes to harvest the fruit before it hits the ground, he said.

China imported 4.4 million metric tons of fresh fruit last year valued at US$5.59 billion. Thailand ranked the top exporter by value of fresh fruit to the country, with Chinese imports reaching US$1.2 billion, – 21 percent of the total import value.

Thailand is also the world’s leading exporter of fresh durians. The country’s annual durian production leveled off at about 600,000 tons last year, according to the Thai Customs Department. Of this, 500,000 tons was exported to China.

With Malaysia’s 45,500 durian farmers excluded from the Chinese market for whole, fresh durians, prices for Malaysian durian products are relatively high.

Prices of Musang King durians are five to six times higher than those for Golden Pillow produce from Thailand. At Beijing’s Sanyuanli market, a frozen 5 kg Musang King durian can cost as much as 1,200 yuan.

Many major Chinese e-commerce platforms have introduced durian direct purchasing in Thailand and direct selling in China, but sales of Malaysian durian products on these platforms are still low, as most consumers continue to prefer fresh fruit.

As a result, many Chinese tourists are looking for a fresher but more expensive option – traveling to Malaysia directly to taste the fruit straight from the tree.

Li, from Zhanjiang, who joined one of these trips, said it was the most expensive she had ever been on, but she thought it was worthwhile as she not only sampled “the best durian in my lifetime”, but the trip was led by well-known Hong Kong gourmet and food critic Chua Lam.

On Ctrip, some trips to Malaysia range in price from 3,000 to 8,000 yuan, with 80 percent of them featuring durian buffets, farm visits or harvests.

In June, Wang Congcong from Beijing also traveled to Malaysia, but she failed to reserve a ticket to visit Bao Sheng Yuan, the best-known durian farm among Chinese lovers of the fruit, as it had been fully booked from March, three months before the Musang King ripen.

Wang, who bought a frozen Musang King durian for 500 yuan in Beijing earlier this year, said Thai and Malaysian durians taste different.

“Eating durian is like collecting stamps. Once you like the fruit, you want to taste all different varieties,” she said. Chang Teik Seng, the 57-year-old owner of Bao Sheng Yuan, has had to cut the number of visitors to the farm from 500 to 100 a day because those from China want more services.

Chang said that as Chinese visitors now only eat the best-quality durians, he decided to grow more organic durian trees and provide his guests with the choicest fruit falling from them within three hours.

But Chang refuses to export the durians he grows on his farm. “I’d rather that people come here and taste the flavors of the Malaysian varieties”, he said.

Never mind the smell, the taste matters

Chinese have grown increasingly fond of durian in recent years. However, opinion differs among durian-lovers in both China and the fruit’s countries of origin as to what makes it so delicious.

With a strong odor that can sometimes be overwhelming, they consider the texture of the pulp, rather than the fruit’s unique smell.

Hong Kong food critic Chua Lam said that in Malaysia most people like the Ochee, or “black thorn”, variety of the fruit, which grows in the northwest of the country.

With its rosy, flame-colored flesh, the Ochee durian has a medium-soft texture that Chua said is sticky and almost fiber-free, and is considered the most-prized variety in the country. It is served on many important occasions.

But most Chinese consumers prefer the Musang King variety, rather than the Ochee, as the former has a softer carpel, which Chua said “melts immediately in the mouth”. Musang King, whose flavor has been described by food reviewers as “caramel in whipped cream”, is also sweeter than Ochee.

A total of 126 durian varieties are registered in Malaysia, and 234 in Thailand.

But only 10 varieties are recognized and consumed by Chinese, who are extremely selective when it comes to the fruit’s taste and production standards.

Adisorn Chanprapalert, agricultural minister-counsellor at the Thai embassy in Beijing, said that unlike Chinese, most Thais, including himself, prefer durian with a harder texture, while in China the Golden Pillow variety, with its soft and creamy pulp, is in hot demand.

Adisorn said he is not sure why Chinese consumers are so obsessed with the soft texture in the mouth, but added that this may be a good thing, as it does not conflict with demand in Thailand.

Chua said he has no personal preference for durian, but added that everyone should try it at least once in their lifetime.

November 25, 2018

What started out as a side venture of sending fresh durian to Hong Kong by three friends of banking and investment background has now grown to a global enterprise. While providing consumers worldwide access to fresh and delicious tropical produce, TRL is also helping Southeast Asian farmers reap sizeable profits from their crops.

Harvested only seasonally, Musang King durian, dubbed the “King of Durian”, will soon be bought in most supermarkets and enjoyed any time of the year, thanks to TRL’s latest nitrogen freezing facility.

The company’s product is already available at grocery shelves from New York and Madrid to Shanghai and Jakarta.

In fact, frozen durian and other frozen products such as paste/puree and pulp now account for 65 per cent of the company’s revenues.

Specialising in the exportation of fresh produce such as dragon fruit, soursop, mangosteen and sweet potato, TRL sources its products from joint-venture partner farms in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. In Malaysia, the company Nicholas Loh founded five years ago has recorded vigorous growth as it holds strong to its principles of professionalism and honesty.

TRL’s foray into durian exportation began in Hong Kong, its second-largest market. “Around 65 per cent of our customers is from mainland China, while 15 per cent is from Hong Kong and Macau,” says Loh, who is also TRL’s managing director. “We are aggressively working to introduce our products to other markets as enquiries come in steadily.”

With demand for durian in China growing at about 15 per cent annually, TRL has started supplying to the country’s major supermarkets and food and beverage players. The company is also watching developments in the e-commerce space amid the continuously growing international appetite for local delicacies. TRL deals mostly with importers and distributors and welcomes business partnerships.

“We are seeking genuine partners that know the local market,” Loh says. “We also look for big-scale farmers with 40 to 100 hectares of land who can be long-term suppliers.”

November 25, 2018

Xiong Zhenhua, a Chinese Malaysian fruit producer and exporter, has tasted the sweetness of e-commerce platform Alibaba since his company TRL (South East Asia) Sdn Bhd joined it in 2016.

In the past year, nearly 70 percent of the company’s new clients were acquired through Alibaba. Since clients from all over the world can find the company, which is located in Pahang, Malaysia’s largest state, online at the platform, it saves the company the cost of flying to foreign countries to participate in exhibitions.

Xiong said everyday he gets inquiries from all over the world and the business has grown at a speed that was out of his team’s imagination.

Durain, known as the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia, is the featured product of Xiong’s company. TRL sold durians and durian products worth 100 million yuan ($14.7 million) in the past year, with the Chinese market contributing to half of the revenue.

Last March, Alibaba launched its first Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) hub in Malaysia, with the purpose of providing small and medium enterprises with the same infrastructure as larger companies to conduct global trade.

July 22, 2018

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.

 

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.

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.

But fresh durian is still the minority of what they deal with. The majority of those 20 tons are flash frozen at their other, bigger warehouse in the Raub area of Pahang, about a 2 hour drive away.

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.

malaysia durian export

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:

malaysia durian export

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!

Source: Year Of The Durian

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