Malaysia bets on durian as China goes bananas for world’s smelliest fruit

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Promoters work at a booth of Musang King durians at the Malaysia Durian Festival in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, on Nov. 4, 2017. (REUTERS)
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A durian hotpot is seen at Coconut Chicken Hotpot Store in Shanghai, China, on Nov. 14, 2018. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
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A durian pizza is seen at La Cesar Pizzaria in Shanghai, China on November 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
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Durian husks are seen outside a fruit store during a Double 12 shopping festival sale, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China on December 12, 2017.(REUTERS)
Updated 26 November 2018
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Malaysia bets on durian as China goes bananas for world’s smelliest fruit

  • The Malaysian government is encouraging large-scale farming of durian, counting on a 50 percent jump in exports by 2030
  • Once planted in family orchards and small-scale farms, the durian is attracting investments like never before

KUALA LUMPUR: The stinky, spiky durian is set to become Malaysia’s next major export as the Southeast Asian nation rushes to develop thousands of acres to cash in on unprecedented demand for the fruit from China.
Once planted in family orchards and small-scale farms, the durian, described by some as smelling like an open sewer or turpentine when ripe, is attracting investments like never before. Even property tycoons and companies in palm oil, Malaysia’s biggest agricultural export, are making forays into the durian business.
The Malaysian government is encouraging large-scale farming of durian, counting on a 50 percent jump in exports by 2030.
“The durian industry is transforming from local to global, large-scale farming due to the great demand from China,” said Lim Chin Khee, a durian industry consultant. “Before the boom, a durian farm in Malaysia would be a leisure farm ... Now they are hundreds of acres and bigger, and many more will come.”
Durian may be banned in some airports, public transport and hotels in Southeast Asia for its pungent smell, but the Chinese are huge fans. Durian-flavoured foods sold in China include pizza, butter, salad dressing and milk.
“At first, I also hated durians because I thought they have a weird smell,” said Helen Li, 26, eating at a shop specializing in durian pizza in Shanghai, where nearly every customer ordered the 60 yuan ($8.50) dish during a recent lunch hour rush. “But when you taste it, it’s really quite delicious. I think those who hate durian are scared by its smell. But once you try it, I think their opinion will change.”
At another Shanghai restaurant selling durian chicken hotpot — a type of sizzling broth — for around 148 yuan ($21), owner Chen Weihao said the store could sell around 20 to 25 kg of imported Thai durian every month.
“When you taste it, it has a kind of fresh and sweet flavour, as if you have arrived in the tropics,” said 27-year-old customer Yang Yang.

Top dollar
Chinese pay top dollar for Malaysia’s ‘Musang King’ variety of durian because of its creamy texture and bitter-sweet taste. Prices of the variety, now planted all over the country, have nearly quadrupled in the last five years.
China’s durian imports rose 15 percent last year to nearly 350,000 tons worth $510 million, according to the United Nations’ trade database. Nearly 40 percent was from Thailand, the world’s top producer and exporter.
Malaysia accounted for less than 1 percent, but expects sales to China to jump to 22,061 tons by 2030 from this year’s likely 14,600 tons, as trade is widened to include whole fruit from the current restriction to durian pulp and paste.
Lim, the consultant, said palm oil giant IOI Corp. and property-to-resorts conglomerate Berjaya Corp. have approached him about making ventures into durian farming.
IOI did not respond to Reuters’ queries, but a source with direct knowledge of the matter said the company was looking to plant durian on a small scale.
Berjaya, headed by one of Malaysia’s richest businessmen, Vincent Tan, did not respond to a request for comment.
State-owned palm oil company Felda said the agricultural ministry began planting durian on its land this year. PLS Plantations, a construction and palm plantation firm which counts property tycoon Lim Kang Hoo as a director, last month said it will buy a $5 million stake in a durian exporter.
M7 Plantation Bhd, a private company established last year, is developing a 10,000-acre durian estate in Gua Musang, home to the Musang King in the eastern state of Kelantan, and is selling durian trees for 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) each.
“We founded the company because we see potential in the industry, the primary target being China,” Chief Executive Ng Lee Chin said, adding that most of her buyers were from China.


Agriculture ‘gold’
“Planting durians is not just a hobby today as durians are considered as ‘gold’ in the agriculture industry,” the agriculture department said in emailed comments to Reuters.
Malaysia’s durian plantations covered 72,000 hectares last year but the area under cultivation is growing, the department said, and in some areas plantations growing palm oil are switching to durian because it is seen as more lucrative.
In March, Malaysia’s then-agriculture minister was quoted as saying one hectare of Musang King could yield nearly nine times more revenue than a hectare of palm plantation.
In Sabah state, some of the land for durian farming will come from converting palm estates, its agriculture ministry said, adding it was planning expansion over 5,000 hectares.
The increase in durian farming, however, has raised concerns it could take an environmentally destructive path similar to palm oil.
The palm oil industry has been held responsible for large-scale deforestation and destruction of species-rich rainforests in Malaysia.
The Star, a local newspaper, reported last month that around 1,200 hectares of land near a forest reserve in the state of Pahang that is home to the critically endangered Malayan tiger would be razed for Musang King plantations.
Pahang officials did not respond to request for comments.
“In a matter of time, the durian boom will run the way of palm oil,” said Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, president of the environmental non-government organization Peka Malaysia.


Ordering in with Lugmety: Zaikaki offers up Indian soul food

Updated 16 May 2019
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Ordering in with Lugmety: Zaikaki offers up Indian soul food

  • The restaurant offers vegetarian and non-vegetarian options
  • The order came with complementary sauces and pickled achar dips

Riyadh: As Ramadan continues, it can get more and more difficult to prepare a home-cooked meal for iftar everyday — especially if you arrive home from work with little time to spare.

I recently caved and ordered in using food delivery app Lugmety because time and energy were in short supply and we needed a hot meal, stat.

After scrolling through the options in my vicinity — the app offers a range of cuisines at a variety of price points — my husband and I settled on Indian food and, with our mouths already watering, selected a few dishes from Zaikaki, which offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.

Our food arrived with time to spare and the packaging kept everything piping hot.

We especially liked the meat samosas, an Indian puff pastry stuffed with fresh ground lamb meat and potato — it was the perfect start to our meal.

We then moved on to the murgh paneer angar with its marinated boneless chicken breasts in a fragrant pot of yoghurt, red chili and cottage cheese. The dish was extremely juicy, tender and moist.

The butter chicken, cooked in mild spices with a rich tomato-based gravy and crushed cashew nuts, was another winner and we were even able to customize our order on the app, which offers you the ability to choose an option of chicken, beef or prawns.

If you prefer things on the spicy side, the bhuna ghosht is a fiery meat dish with a not-so-subtle kick of character, courtesy of its chilies.

Indian cuisine needs a superb base — be it rice or naan, you cannot spoon down such intense flavors without a delicious plate-to-mouth vehicle as it were.

In my household, a traditional plain biryani is a must. The restaurant’s basmati rice garnished with coriander, spices and nuts pairs perfectly with any curry. And because we were feeling decadent, we topped it all off with a hot butter naan, with just a hint of salt and the ideal crunchy-to-soft ratio.

The restaurant also sent complementary sauces and pickled achar dips, which we mopped up with the naan long after the mains had disappeared.