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A SPIKE IN SALES: 717 Trading's owner Goh Kwee Leng (right), 55, and his son, Goh Ming Hong, 31, are enjoying brisk business even though the prices of durians are rising.
THIS is how much normally cost-conscious Singaporeans love their durians - they are still snapping them up even though prices of the king of fruit have spiked dramatically.
Over the past few months, prices have as much as doubled. Yet business everywhere from Geylang to Upper Serangoon is still brisk.
'People who love their durians will still buy, no matter what the price is,' says Mr Goh Kwee Leng, 55, owner of 717 Trading durian shop in Yio Chu Kang Road.
At his shop, prices for the high-grade D24 variety jumped from $2 to $6 per kg last year to the current $3.50 to $10 per kg.
Many other stalls sell the same variety for even more, at up to $12 per kg.
Prices for mau shan wang, the flavour of the moment that has dethroned D24, range between $12 and $15 per kg, compared to $8 to $10 previously.
So what's behind the price jump? Well, up to 90 per cent of Singapore's durian supply comes from Malaysia, with the rest from Thailand and Indonesia.
Malaysia's supply tumbled by 30 per cent this year, causing prices to jump.
The supply squeeze follows the cutting down of durian trees by many Malaysian growers.
Over the past two years, Malaysian plantations had reaped a near phenomenal bumper harvest, causing prices here to dive to as low as 50 cents for a small D24 durian.
The owner of Wonderful Fruit Enterprise in Sims Avenue, Mr Ng Chin Kiat, 38, says: 'Last year, prices were so low that when the durians fell to the ground, farmers didn't even bother picking them up.'
To stem their losses, growers switched to growing other crops, like rubber, oil palm and cocoa.
Showing how the supply has been shrinking, Singapore imported 20,700 tonnes of durians from Malaysia last year, down from 26,300 tonnes in 2004, according to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.
It gets worse. Now, reports say that Johor, the biggest producer of durians in Malaysia, is expected to yield 7,000 tonnes this year, a far cry from the 23,000 tonnes last year.
But things might look up.
Singapore fruit sellers say prices might dip next month, as the Malaysian durian season hits its peak and feeds the market with more supply.
Despite such yo-yo price movements, competition in Sims Avenue - which has a boisterous congregation of more than 10 durian stalls - is keen but not cut-throat.
'There are a few quibbles here and there, but every stall has its own regulars,' says Mr Chia You Chee, 35, owner of Metro Trading.
'There are enough durian-lovers in Singapore to keep all of us happy,' he adds.
Unlike in the past, durians are now available in Singapore all year round, thanks to the fact that the fruit ripens at
different times across Malaysia.
Most arrive in Singapore just half a day after they fall off the trees at dawn.
In recent years, new species with bizarre names like 'red prawn', 'green bamboo' and 'golden phoenix' have emerged.
These names were given by the plantations that grew the species, mostly according to the distinctive shape or colour of the durian.
Those with the D-prefix, like D1, D2, D13 and D24, were given by the Malaysian Agriculture Department when they were registered.
The numbers are given in chronological order, meaning that D2 was classified earlier than D24.
LifeStyle sniffs out the most popular variants of the fruit with the famously distinctive smell.
How to pick a durian.
WHETHER you are a sniffer or a squeezer, choosing the right durian is an art. Here are some tips to help you get the ripe stuff.
Check that the tip of the stem looks young and white on the inside. Overnight durians - ones that have not been picked that very morning - have stems that are hard, wrinkled and brown.
The prickles must be very stiff and sharp. Stale durians have prickles that are blunt and slightly tender. Also, make sure that the durian feels light. A heavy durian tends to be overripe.
Place your ear to the durian and shake it. You should be able to hear the seeds shake, as it means that the fruit is ripe.
From the tail-end of the durian, trace the 'seam' where two segments meet. Smell along this 'seam'.
The durian scent should not be too overpowering as it means that the durian is overripe. It should emerge slowly, yet surely.
Check out this guide to find which Malaysia durians tempt your tastebuds
D24 OR 'SULTAN'
This was the undisputed king of durians for more than a decade before mau shan wang usurped its throne two years ago.
Grown mainly in Pahang, its flesh is superbly creamy and bitter. Its biggest characteristic is the meaty portions of flesh. Two big pieces are enough to fill your stomach.
It skyrocketed to fame in 1994 when then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said in his National Day Rally speech that he sampled some in Upper Serangoon Road.
Since then, it has become the variety of choice for many durian lovers. It is often used in durian puffs, cakes and pastries.
$6, $8 or $10 per kg
MAU SHAN WANG ('CAT MOUNTAIN KING')
The durian star of the moment, this award-winning variety has a thick, dry consistency that almost glues your lips together. Grown mainly in Pahang and east Malacca, its flesh is golden yellow, very smooth in texture and has no annoying fibres.
Pop one in and you'll sense an amazing transformation in flavours: sweet at first bite, but bitter when you swallow.
$13 to $15 per kg
This Johor variant is usually smaller and rounder in shape than most other durians.
Dark yellow in colour, the flesh tastes sweet, lipsmackingly moist and wet, and has no fibres. One downside is that the seeds are large, thus yielding less flesh.
$5 to $8 per kg
The shell of this species tends to be brown and thin. Grown mainly in Johor, its flesh is pale yellow and its texture is so soft that it's almost runny. The seeds are very small.
What sets it apart from all other varieties is its uncompromisingly bitter taste.
$8 to $10 per kg
HEI ZHEN ZHU ('BLACK PEARL')
Mainly from Johor, this species is called Black Pearl because its flesh has a slight grey tinge and each piece is small, like a pearl.
Shaped like a rugby ball, each fruit yields flesh that is smooth and creamy. The taste is slightly bitter.
$12 per kg
A top-seller in the 1980s, this variant from Johor usually has long and irregularly shaped shells. Its bright yellow flesh tastes sweet, is moist and extremely creamy. The seeds are small but you'd have to contend with the mesh-like fibres.
$8 to $10 per kg
HONG XIA ('RED PRAWN')
The individual pieces come in firm, well-defined lumps, and the flesh is sometimes reddish in colour, hence its name.
It is characterised by an extremely creamy texture and a bittersweet taste.
$6 to $8 per kg
JIN FENG ('GOLDEN PHOENIX')
Mainly from east Malacca, this variety boasts light, milky coloured flesh that tastes sweet but with a hint of bitterness.
Its texture is extremely creamy and its seeds are shrivelled and flat. A former Malaysian state champion in the 1990s.
$13 to $15 per kg
QING ZHU ('GREEN BAMBOO')
Grown mainly in Pahang, this species is characterised by its mild taste, which is not too sweet and not bitter at all.
What fans go for is its texture, which is extremely creamy and fleshy. Each piece is covered with a thin layer of springy skin.
$10 to $12 per kg
Be ready to get messy. The texture is so wet that some fans dig in with a spoon.
The seeds are tiny, which means that there's plenty of flesh to enjoy. The taste is a little sweet, a little bitter, with a lovely hint of milkiness.
$8 to $10 per kg
This variety is perfect if you want to initiate your kids into the wonders of durians.
The pieces are small and the taste is sweet and slightly milky. The flesh slips off the seeds easily and has a little crunch on the surface.
$6 to $8 per kg
- Prices by 717 Trading. Prices at other stalls may vary.
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