SINGAPORE - Durian lovers are in for a big treat as the harvest for the king of fruits this season has been better than last year.
Fruits and vegetables wholesaler Chit Huat Ptd Ltd's sales manager Ms Tan Shuqing, 34, said this was due to the good weather this year which saw a spike in harvests.
"There is a durian cycle where every 15 years, the harvest is very good and the trees grow very well. With the help of good weather, there is a two-fold increase in the number of durians harvested this year," she said.
227 Katong Durian seller Mr Wong Yew Loon, 58, said the harvest season in Pahang and Johor, Malaysia, coincided this year. It typically occurs in early July in Pahang but it started earlier this year. Johor usually sees the harvest season from end May to early June.
Both Ms Tan and Mr Wong said Singapore is seeing an increase in supply because of Ramadan in Malaysia.
"Durian sales in Malaysia slow down due to Ramadan because there is less demand and so they will push out to Singapore," said Mr Wong.
Fruits Top 1 Department Store - which has two branches in Geylang Road Lorong 36 and Toa Payoh Central - warned that good harvests in Malaysia may not mean more of the spiky fruits for fans in Singapore.
Owner Mr Teoh See Aik, 38, said: "Though the harvest is good this year, it doesn't mean high influx into Singapore. The factories in Malaysia also make durian puree and export to China for consumption."
But Mr Arthur Gan, 38, who runs the 30-year-old family-owned Durian Lingers which has shops in Still Road, Bukit Timah and Seng Kang Square - has assured fans here that there are enough durians for everyone.
"China began eating durians in the last two years and the supply to Singapore was affected and prices were high. But this year, we won't be affected because of over supply," he said.
Mr Gan also added that "The common price is 20 per cent lower than last year."
However, checks with two durian sellers revealed that th price for hot favourite Mao Shan Wang may not be necessarily lower across the board.
A kilogram (kg) of Mao Shan Wang durian at Fruits Top 1 Department Store now costs $15, pricer than last year when it was $12 at its lowest over the same period.
There is no price difference for a kg of Mao Shan Wang durian at 227 Katong Durian where it is $15, for both years. But price dropped to $12 to $13 per kg for a week last year.
But Mr Wong predicts the price may drop to $13 to $15 per kg next week.
Ms Tan said generally durian prices - regardless of variety - are cheaper this year by 30 to 40 per cent compared to mid last year. But she cautioned that "prices will still defer from shops to shops because of quality."
Durian lover Mr Ming Lim, 37, has had about 20 durians with friends and family since the season started where he paid about $14 per kg for Mao Shan Wang.
The accountant said: "On average, yes, the price is cheaper this year. I'm not sure if they will increase the price, when the real good quality Mao Shan Wang are here though."
He said he realised that the durians early in the season may not be as good as later ones. "Of those I had so far, maybe one to two out of 10 are really good. The rest are so-so," said Mr Lim.
Here are some tips on how to pick a durian
How to smell
Experts never smell the base of the durian. Mr Goh Kwee Leng, 58, owner of 717 Trading, says: "The base of the husk is the thickest part so it is harder to smell the aroma of the fruit."
Instead, sniff along the seams or split lines of the durian - you should smell a slight fragrance. If there is no aroma, the durian is unripe. If the aroma is too strong, the durian is probably over-ripe.
The right shape
The best durians are oval or slightly oblong in shape. Odd-shaped fruit are likely to have fewer chambers inside and so fewer flesh-covered seeds.
A perfectly round durian may have sub-standard fruit because it is usually less aromatic and the seeds are usually bigger and the meat less fleshy and creamy.
Different varieties of durians come in different sizes. For example, XO durians are generally smaller while there are no small Red Prawn durians - these are generally large fruit. So be suspicious if a seller points to a large XO durian or a small Red Prawn one.
Trick of the trade
Some sellers try to push durians that have been rejected by other customers. Watch the vendors to ensure that they are opening a new durian.
Instead of prodding the flesh-covered seeds when the seller presents an open fruit, customers should taste the durian. If it is bad, or not the variety promised, they are not obliged to buy it, sellers say.
Mr Richard Woo, 40, general manager of Four Seasons Durian Cafe, says: "When you pinch or prod the fruit, you are touching only the skin and not the flesh, so there is no way to tell if the fruit is good. Taste it instead, that way you can really tell if the durian is any good."
The real deal
To make sure a seller isn't passing off a lesser durian as a Mao Shan Wang, look for prominent seams radiating from the base of the durian. The seams are lines where the spikes of the durian run parallel to each other. The base of a real D24 durian has a flat round spot about half the size of a 5-cent coin.
Source: The Straits Times archive