PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Going for at least RM60 (S$18.94) per kg now, no one can dispute that the Musang King (Mao Shan Wang) is the king of durians.
This means one has to fork out RM90 to RM120 for a fruit that weighs about 1.5kg to 2kg in Bentong - a place in the state of Pahang known for producing the variety favoured for its creamier texture and bittersweet taste.
Orchard owners attribute the steep price to rising demand as well as the adverse weather pattern.
"Tourists come in droves during weekends and public holidays to eat our Bentong Musang King," said Lee Ah Ying, adding that factories were also now freezing and exporting the fruit.
"It's so popular that we have a new saying here: if you own a durian orchard, you are set for life," added the 69-year-old.
The fall in durian harvest this year is also due to the weather.
"The durian is not called the king of fruits for nothing. It requires hot weather to flower and bear fruit. Not many flowers bloomed this season due to monsoon rains. We see a 30 per cent drop in harvest this year," she said.
Even at its current price, the Musang King has not touched the peak.
Lee and other orchard owners recounted how a kilo of it fetched between RM80 and RM100 in September last year.
"We had just about 200kg of durian remaining in town and they were suddenly snapped up in a day. Those who craved Musang King were willing to pay more than RM80 per kg," recalled Stephen Chow, the marketing director of durian-processing factory Chow Kai Pheng Enterprise.
"Five years ago, Musang King went for RM20 to RM30 per kg. Now, most Malaysians are willing to pay RM40 to RM50," he said.
A check in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday (April 4) showed that the Musang King was being sold at between RM60 and RM68 per kg.
However, some sellers were also offering a cheaper variety at RM35-RM48.
Durian SS Two director Cheah Kim Wai said: "Just like oranges, Musang King also has Grades A, B and C."
In Johor Baru, sellers said the increased demand from Chinese tourists had driven up the price.
Desaru Fruit Farm director Alice Tong said she welcomed about 20 to 30 busloads of these tourists each week.
"Some three years ago, Musang King was selling at RM30 and people were already complaining. Now, it's about RM60 to RM88 per kg," she said.
Checks in the city showed that the Musang King from Segamat, Johor, was selling at RM60 per kg while the ones from Pahang cost RM73 and from Kelantan, RM48.
In Penang, one durian farmer expected the prices of all types of durian to rise by about 30 per cent this year compared with last year. Tan Chee Keat said the Musang King and Or Chi, which are the priciest, could fetch RM60 per kg, up from RM45 last year.
However, farmer Leow Cheok Kiang, who has 800 trees of the Or Chi (Black Thorn) variety in three locations, said it should remain unchanged at RM40 per kg.