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Sabah Red Wild Jungle Durian

Well, Malaysian news these days is filled with a real mix of politicking and other entertaining stories about royal scandals but food journalism usually comes pretty close to top of the list- you should know that Malaysians love food and feel quite passionately about it sometimes more than politics (but this is quite a SE Asian thing). By following this blog, you will also have realized that durians can inspire as much love and passion (or hate and disdain) as any food or indeed topic.
In the news today, a headline “Unique red durian making heads turn” caught my eye. Apparently a durian with red flesh has been impressing visitors to Sabah due its unusual color. According the the article, the Kadazandusun (pronounced KA-DA-SAN-DU-SOON) community* calls the fruit “Sukang” or “Tabelak” or “Durian Hutan” (where hutan means jungle) and this fruit grows wild in the jungles of Sabah.
I have yet to try one of these fruits, but was told about it sometime ago by an uncle of mine who had shown me pictures a friend had sent by email and told me that the orang utans in the jungle love this type of durian. I pondered out loud if it was because that was the prevailing species in the wild, but didn’t get any response because he probably didn’t know.
The article is enclosed here in its entirety so that it remains accessible for all durian hunters. More pungent, Carrot-Durians anyone?
*The Kadazan are the majority ethnic group indigenous to Sabah and Sarawak.

Monday September 28, 2009

Unique red durian making heads turn


KOTA KINABALU: A durian species is turning heads among visitors to Sabah, thanks to its uniquely reddish flesh.

Known among the Kadazandusun community as sukang or tabelak, the fruit is also called “durian hutan”, as it is mainly found growing wild in the jungles of Sabah.

Thorny abundance: A sukang or ‘durian hutan’ tree heavy with fruits during its fruiting season.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjum said he did not know anyone cultivating sukang (its scientific name is Durio gravolens) as there was generally not much enthusiasm among locals for wild durian.

Its flesh is said to be thinner and drier compared with the cultivated fruit which is of thicker and creamier texture.

The taste is about similar with other durians, although some have described it as sweetish sour.

Masidi said the sukang’s main attraction is its red-coloured flesh.

Rare colour: Once opened, the red flesh of the sukang is revealed.

“That’s the main thing that makes it stand out,” he said, adding that this type of durian also fetched a lower price than the more common fruit.

The small-sized fruits, some about the size of a sepak takraw ball, are sold for as little as RM2 to RM3 when they are in season.

Masidi, who grew up in interior Ranau where sukang are plentiful, said some people who had tasted the fruit for the first time claimed that it had a more potent “kick”.

“Maybe it’s because this particular type of durian is generally more pungent,” he added. Others who have tasted sukang describe it having a carrot-like flavour.

Durian Despair – Optimizing Plant Growth Conditions in the UK

DavidDurian1I’m really happy and grateful that several other readers out there share their durian growing experiences with me and hope that by meticulously recording the details, it will serve to inspire many more to start their own little durianarium (new term! you saw it here first!).

David just wrote to me from the UK in some despair over his durian plantlet (see the comments) and he was most enthusiastic and methodical of us all. I have to give it to him, he had the idea, the equipment and the implementation. What on earth does it require to nurture a durian seed? I hear you ask….

Plastic bag at week 2 to prevent evaporation

Plastic bag at week 2 to prevent evaporation

Well, David’s durian seeds were imported from Singapore (which probably means that the durians are from Malaysia) and he had managed to successfully germinate them in some soil and in a very presentable plastic box. At 2 weeks, his seed looks like it had shedded its shell and the stem was starting to push up to stand. To counter the humidity, he wrapped a plastic bag around the outer tray (retains moisture) and watered his seed diligently every 3 days. After 2 weeks, he put it into a nice box by the window to keep it warm. I thought it was a marvellous idea and in fact inspired us to employ a similar method of cling filming my pot to prevent loss of water by evaporation and drying out the soil. All credit due to him for thinking up solutions for tropical plant germination in the UK.

David's Durian Plant Propagator

David's Durian Plant Propagator

I was therefore surprised when he wrote to me today stating that the tip of his durian plantlet was turning brown and he was most alarmed that it might be a sign of dehydration and premature death. My advice was limited to my own experience and I have asked him to keep his plant well watered, out of direct light, give it a little bit of organic plant food and hope for the best.

In a previous posting, Linda’s seed also had a similar issue, although she also did her utmost to look after it. I’m not sure what the issue is, whether it is prolonged shipping, insufficient water or perhaps inappropriate soil conditions that lead to this most disturbing result. An important step which I took prior to placing the seedling into soil was to immerse it into a box of water first to encourage a good headstart

The durian seedling with its initial stem and a bit of a green tip

The durian seedling with its initial stem and a bit of a green tip

simulating the monsoon rains. David and Linda, if you do decide to try planting another durian seed, maybe take this step as well and let me know if it works out better. My plantlet is absolutely flooded with water and I think it isn’t complaining…. (yet).

By the way David, where’s the seed husk? Did it fall off by itself or did you give your durian plant some help?

Dan’s Balinese Durian Experience

I was surprised that Dan managed to make 2 vacations to Malaysia within the same year, not many Americans manage to travel this far so frequently (flight and jetlag kills you, unless you’re young like Dan, of course). His thirst and quest for durian was unabated, the starvation and lack of this addictive fruit only made more so during his stay at home in Oregon, his only resort was to supermarket frozen fruit sections where durians from Thailand were purchased and consumed with such detail.

Balinese Durian with Milky Flesh

Balinese Durian with Milky Flesh

His most recent visit was over the Merdeka day holidays (end of August) and he wrote to tell me of his adventures hunting out durian in Singapore and Indonesia. It was his particular experience in Bali that impressed him the most, enough to write and send me the photos of his delicious durian delights.


“In fact, I had the most incredible experience, even better than back in April! The fruit down there is so different than Malaysian variety that when I opened it I totally thought it was old and fermenting from the color/texture. But upon tasting I was completely blown away and definitely appreciate it much more. I’ve put some photos of the “perfect” Indonesian variety so you can see what I’m talking about.”

Close up of the Balinese durian flesh

Close up of the Balinese durian flesh

What was intriguing to me was the way he thought it smelled old and fermenting, but it turned out to be a totally different experience upon tasting the durian fruit itself. I wonder if it was the high concentration of sulphur in the durian that made it smell that way.

Bali is part of the Indonesian archipelago which was formed on the faultline, hence volcanic activity is still somewhat a potential threat to life on the island. However, the volcanic activity is also a blessing for the island as the rich minerals and nutrients were laid down in the fields of today and contribute significantly to the island’s agricultural success. If you’re interested, this site describes where the Balinese Durian Plantations are.

Did your durian smell like a volcano* Dan? 🙂 Maybe that’s why it is so different from the Malaysian variety.

Yummy……the white milky and soft flesh reminds me of the Tauwa Durian….

*At the volcano in Bandung (Indonesia’s island of Java), I thought the volcano smelled heavily of H2S, Hydrogen Sulphide and commonly described as “rotten eggs”.

Don’t Drink and Durian? And certainly don’t drive

We’ve had long discussions about this over durian desserts before. Is it the truth or is it a myth that you can’t have durians with alcohol? Too many stories floating around about some guy who had a durian feast with whiskey and proceeded to keel over, turn blue and expire from this world. My doctor friends volunteered that they had never come across it personally but they thought that it was probably due to serious protein overload combined with some sort of poor digestive process caused by the durian consumed.

Well, imagine my delight when I finally found a scientific publication to back this up. Trust that it would be Japanese and Philippino scientists too. John Maninang and Hiroshi Gemma from the University of Tsukuba in Japan linked durian‘s high sulphur content with the impairment of alcohol breakdown. The durian extract they tested inhibited aldehyde dehydrogenase activity by up to 70%. So, it is conceivable that if you haven’t got much in the way of alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes in the first place and consumed both durian and whiskey (which has a high alcohol content) simultaneously, that the durians could be inhibiting your enzymes which are supposed to break down the alcohol before it gets to levels of toxicity that your body can’t tolerate*.

How did the researchers get inspired to look into these experiments? They thought that it possible that the link would be the same as a condition known as Disulfiram-Ethanol Reaction (DER). This is where the Sulphur interferes with your liver alcohol metabolism, and the researchers thought that Durian probably contained a high enough sulphur content to cause the same symptoms.

Certainly something to bear in mind, but its not often that durian is served with any alcohol at all. The worst combination would probably be a fermented Durian Alcohol or durian flavored cocktail… eeugh..

*Note: Some asians lack this enzyme and so experience alcohol toxicity at lower doses.

Baby Durian Seed is Now a Growing Plant

I’ve been away for a trips the last two weeks and had to entrust the watering of the durian seeds to my sister who is no durian lover. Upon my return this evening, she loudly proclaimed that she had not watered my durian plant for the last few days that I had been away. Immediately this called for a visual inspection and I think the plant still fairly good in the semi darkness.

Baby Durian Plant's New Leaves

Baby Durian Plant's New Leaves

Before I left on my most recent trip a few days ago, I took some photos of the durian plantlet (yes, I think it’s well and truly on its way now) to share its progress with you. Still going slow but steady as long as the water supply isn’t compromised. Yes, this is an important point, lots of hydration. SW and I had put on a “cling film blanket” over the pot, leaving a small slit for the plant to grow through. The purpose being to slow down evaporation of water from the dampened soil and keep the base of the plant cosy and warm (even though this is the tropics). A previous comment from David mentions him using a plastic bag over the plant pot, well its good to have some ventilation too so remember to make some slits in your plastic bag.

I think this strategy works quite well as you can see.

The leaves are a lush verdant green, and they are getting bigger. It has also grown a little taller and the stem a little thicker.

SW, you’re away for ages but the durian plant is still alive and doing fine I think. I’ll be making sure it’s nice and watered while you’re gone.

Durians in Hanoi, Vietnam

It was Merdeka weekend just a few days ago, SW suggested that we go to Hanoi. I’ve never been to Vietnam before and as my sister had just been there a few months ago, she had already given me a quick run down of what to expect. Firstly, the streets are impossible to cross without a jaywalking attitude. Secondly, the street food is amazing and plentiful. Thirdly, taxi drivers will always try to rip you off so really know what you’re getting into before you hop into a cab. Fourthly, Ha Long Bay is worth a visit.

On all of those counts, we fared pretty well (partly also because SW had lived there many years ago). Firstly, SW is an expert jaywalker and pulled and pushed me along the busy side streets weaving through people, cars, motorbikes and bicycles, creating a path even where the pavement had been utilized by the various vendors or motorbike parking. Secondly, we ate pretty well along the sidestreets and had some excellent Pho (noodle soup), just don’t look at how they wash the dishes and avoid checking out the floors. Thirdly, we walked the entire day we got there and got a reasonable sense of the size of each district. Hanoi is very spread out and over the course of 8 hours we had criss crossed a mere 2 districts, and still had enough energy to walk back to our hotel without catching any taxis or motor type tuk tuks. Fourthly, we took an overnight trip to Ha Long Bay and went cruising on the beautiful “Emeraude”, which was a splendid choice if you would ever like to go.

According to SW, Hanoi hadn’t really changed much, it just got bigger, more developed, more motorbikes and cars and less Vietnamese pretty ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai’s (pronounced Ao-Zai). A pity really, probably most of the pretty ladies head for the more commercial HCM city (Saigon) and now the latest fashion seems to be “J’adore Dior” T-shirts and tight fitting Levi jeans from a nearby garment factory.

On the last day when I was too tired to walk anymore, I persuaded SW to rent a motorbike and take me cruising around the city. It was just as well that we did because there are so many things that would otherwise have been impossible to cover either by foot or in a car, and the motorbike really is the way to get the best pulse of the city in the late afternoon and evening.

How did I spy the durian? Ok, I’ll stop the woffle and get down to the stinky spikey story that is the reason why we bother with this site :).

We had hopped onto our rented motorbike at 2 pm and I was appointed as the co-pilot/Chief navigational officer for our impending journey. First on our mind was a late lunch (we had just returned from Ha Long bay), and I had a secret agenda. On the way out to Ha Long bay by car, I had spied  a stall in Bat Dan market selling Durians early in the morning (8am) and it was my intention to look for it again. So, I directed my pilot via a meandering route through the side streets near our hotel and onto the Bat Dan market street. On the way there, I did see another stall on the corner of Hang Da and Ngo Tram that had durians stacked all over one side of the stall and I made a mental note to self in the event that the market was no longer open.

Well, the market was open but the stall was no longer where I thought I had seen it. SW and I were ravenous at this point and decided to try a joint that seemed to still be serving some food. We had our fill and since we could not find that durian stall, we went sightseeing the entire day before ending up in the Hai Ba Trung district for dinner. After more Pho (beef noodle soup this time), we sought out a fruit stall which sold durians and thought that we ought to give at least one of them a go just to know whether they were any good.

Durian and Fruit Stall in Hang Da

Durian and Fruit Stall in Hang Da

This was a fruit stall selling durian which I spotted on our way from our hotel on the way to Bat Dan market. I asked SW to swing by the corner again so that I could take a quick photo of it so that I would remember where it is located. Do you like the patters of fruit display where the largest are kept at the top and back of the stall while the smaller, more colorful fruit are kept out front? With exception of the durian of course, which takes center stage at the front of the stall.

We didn’t actually have any durian at the Hang Da stall, simply because we had just had our lunch and had a whole day of sightseeing ahead of us and didn’t want to have a protein overload. Now that I had spotted durians at fruit stalls, I was confident that we would also find other such stockists around the city. SW had doubts as to whether durians were popular in Hanoi, simply because the price would be too expensive for locals to afford. In the evening, after we had motorcycled all around Hanoi (it was great fun and I highly recommend it if you know how to ride a motorbike in heavy traffic), we had dinner at Pho Thin in the Hai Ba Trung District (recommended in our Lonely Planet guide) and then found 2 fruit stalls next to each other which were selling durians.

Durian Stall in Hai ba Trung District

Durian Stall in Hai ba Trung District

The old lady manning the stall on the left immediately approached us, waving us over and calling for her assistant (maybe her daughter) to fetch stools. She could see that we were after durians and of course was most keen to earn our Dong. A cursory examination of the wares on display (and the durian stems as an indication of freshness) drew me to the other stall (on the right) but as there was no one to serve us, SW suggested that we take the one which was keen to have our business.

We sat down and the little old lady (sitting in the photo) started negotiating and opening the durian for us to have a look at the yellow flesh within. The smells were not particularly strong but it was hard to get a sense of perspective without effective comparison. Furthermore, our lack in Vietnamese communication skills didn’t allow us to negotiate very well.

Eating Durian in Hanoi, Vietnam

Eating Durian in Hanoi, Vietnam

After a very brief discussion on the price per kilo, we agreed to give a durian a try. The daughter/assistant opened the durian by first cutting off the stem (they never do this in KL) and then using a pair of big scissors, proceed to “slice” it open. She tipped all the fruits out into a styrofoam box and handed us a plastic glove. SW didn’t think much of the glove and handed it to me, preferring to eat it with bare hands. I used the glove as I’m such a stickler for hand washing hygiene and I didn’t see any sinks nearby.

Anyway, if you’re any durian expert, you’ll be able to tell that this wasn’t the best durian that we’ve had, the flesh was sort of wet and neither fibrous nor smooth. The flesh comes off easily from the seed and really lacked any character whatsoever. I wasn’t too impressed with the fruit but to be fair, the season is probably ending (like in Malaysia) and because we had paid for it, we ate it anyway.

Durians into the Styrofoam Box in Hanoi

Durians into the Styrofoam Box in Hanoi

All the consumed durian seeds (Hanoi)

All the consumed durian seeds (Hanoi)

I’ve heard that Vietnamese durian can’t really compare to Malaysian durian (told to me by a Malaysian) so I have yet to confirm this. If anyone has any feedback, I’d be happy to know about durians in Vietnam, and whether its just a specific few species like what is available in Thailand.

Btw, durian is known as “sau rieng” in Vietnamese.