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The durian season has begun

May 14, 2011

Right now is the fruit season of eastern Thailand (the fruit provinces Rayong, Chantaburi and Trad) and they supply the rest of Thailand with rambutan, mangosteen and durian, the king of fruits!

Many tourists mix up durian (Durio zibethinus) with jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). Both fruits are large, but they have totally different flavours and belong to totally different plant families. The durian is a relative of the mallows (Malvaceae/Bombacaceae). The jackfruit is a relative of the figs (Moraceae), which is easily seen by the milky sap, absent in durian. The durian rind is painfully prickly, while the jackfruit rind is warty. Durian has showy flowers, the jackfruit flowers do not look like ordinary flowers, just like a hairy small fruit. Durian fruit tastes like pineapple with garlic butter, while jackfruit tastes like….jackfruit. Durian pulp is like butter, while jackfruit pulp is firm.

Now, if you wish to taste durian, you should be aware of at least four different commercial cultivars in Thailand:

1. Mon tong (the golden cushion). The seeds are ‘small’ (the size of a thumb), the flesh is pale yellow, the flavour is pronounced. This is Ketsanee’s favourite durian. The main season is May-June.

2. Gang yao (long stalked durian). Seeds and flesh colours are similar to ‘mon tong’, but the flavour is less pronounced. The fruit stalk is much longer than in ‘mon tong’. The main season is May-June.

3. Cha nee (chimpanzee). This durian has big seeds, more intense yellow colour and a different flavour, not so pronounced, but some love this fruit. This is the cheapest durian. It is produced early in the season (March-April).

4. Kaa dum (button). The spines are shorter and more densely packed than in previous cultivars. The stalk is short like in ‘gang yao’. The seeds are large. This is also an early cultivar (March-April).

Immature durian is firm, greenish and terribly disappointing if eaten raw, but delicious if sliced and deep fried. Remember, do not drink alcohol when eating durian, or you will be poisoned.

Ketsanee Seehamongkol and Eric Danell

The durian tree is native to Malaysia and Indonesia, and therefore prefers a hot and moist climate, and will not thrive in Chiang Mai due to the long dry season. At Dokmai Garden we keep a  small specimen in a moist section to show its beautiful leaves. However, the Chiang Mai markets are now full of durian fruits from the east of Thailand. The Thai season will last until June, and durian found afterwards are usually imported.

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