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.


Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

Original local cafes are working hard to maintain their reputation for serving authentic coffee. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 09 December 2018
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Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

  • The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage

JEDDAH: Coffee has always been a major part of Arab culture, a traditional companion at gatherings, weddings and a wide variety of social events.
In Arab households, there is never an occasion where the “dallah” — the Arabic traditional coffee pot — is unavailable. Coffee is served over and over again in small Arabic cups.
Recently, however, there has been a rise in another branch of coffee culture, “specialty coffee.”
Western coffee culture has spread rapidly in Saudi Arabia, with local cafes popping up on the streets and in shopping malls. Their growing popularity is well deserved.
Original local cafes such as Brew 92, meddcoffee, Cup and Couch and others have worked hard to grow their reputation for serving authentic coffee, rather than using sugar and other elements to change the taste of the beverage.
The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage.
Atheer Al-Dhari, a barista at Ekleel cafe, said: “I love coffee. After four years’ experience in coffee, it is not just a career or a job but my biggest passion. My husband encouraged me to be more than a home barista.
“A couple of years ago, modern coffee was not popular,” the 26-year-old barista said. “But, then, as people observed the complexity of coffee they became curious. It was our responsibility to show them how coffee worked and that it was more than just a beverage. It takes years to even grow the coffee tree, so it is a lot of work and effort. There are farmers, roasteries, training, lots of money and so much more involved in serving a cup of coffee.”
Abbas Anwar Khan, a marketing specialist at Qatarat cafe, said: “We work on introducing a variety of coffee to the public, to familiarize them with the many flavors and textures.”
Rawan Jambi, a partner in the Rico Coast Lounge, said: “We are looking to introduce ourselves in many different areas, such as Riyadh and Dammam. Recently people have been following the trend of drinking coffee, and they try to include it in their routine from day to night.
“Back in the day, there was just Arabic coffee, but gradually Americanos, cappuccino and other types of hot coffee were introduced. Also due to the hot weather, cold coffees were introduced, which is a big change,” she said.
Recent events have been held to highlight the history and development of coffee in Jeddah. In November, two major events promoted different cafes and offered people a chance to taste their offerings.
“It is very significant for us. The coffee business is growing quickly and competition is strong. It is like a wildfire,” said 19-year-old barista Abdullah Babouk from Beyond Coffee.
“What I like about being a barista is that people who drink coffee have a routine where they come to us every day. Rather than it being a customer-provider relationship, we are a community. Every cafe should open with a vision to stand out and not just make money. Coffee should be treated like gold and that is our mission.”
Although coffee consumption has few health risks and considerable benefits, “anything and everything is harmful when we abuse it,” said dietician Dr. Ruwaida Idrees.
“Coffee bears some risks, and high consumption of unfiltered coffee has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels,” she said.
“More than two cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific and fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.”
Caffeine addiction can be a serious problem for some people, including students and office employees who sacrifice sleep and drink coffee to stay alert.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem with coffee, then start to work on solving the problem,” Idrees said. “Drinking half-caffeinated or decaffeinated versions can help, as can walking around the office or getting other physical activity when you feel sleepy.”
As long as it is not consumed in large quantities, coffee is something to be cherished and each cup enjoyed.