There's a science to the way durian sellers categorise durians – big, small, round and oval; for thorns, very sharp and thorny, or blunt. You may think this method trivial, but these characteristics do affect the price you pay. Even more crucial to the cost of durian are the flavours and aromas. The latter ranges from mild to a full-on, almost intolerable pungency that promises nothing but the most bitter taste.
Most durian sellers won’t reveal their trade secrets. From the little we’ve managed to gather, we know we should pick durians that are lighter in weight and pay attention to pungency levels for desired sweetness. What are the other tips?
"If you shake the fruit and it sounds like soggy maracas, you've got a winner."
Diana Ho, 74, a lover of the fruit for over 50 years, swears by a technique that never fails to get the best of the lot: "The thorny, odd-shaped ones are the most bitter and flavourful," she shares in Cantonese. "Tap the side of the fruit and listen carefully to tell if the tap is hollow or full sounding. Make sure it is only slightly hollow," she adds. An unwilling-to-be-named durian seller at Ah Hung Company shared the same tips. “The sound that comes from tapping the durian shell should be crisp and clear,” he explains in Mandarin.
According to Ho, a dull sound is a telling sign that the durian is full of water (bad). Loud and loose-sounding knocks are bad too because it either means the seeds are large or the fruit is unripe. If you shake the fruit and it sounds like soggy maracas (a percussion instrument), you've got a winner.
2. Eat fresh
Avoid buying pre-packed durian. Unless you watch them pack the fruit, the quality of packed durian is inconsistent at best and a waste of money at worst.
3. Always eat on-site
A helper at a fruit shop in Geylang advises: "Always eat on site, don't take-away." It is often easier to ask for a replacement when the durians are less than satisfactory when you’re dining in.
4. Don’t rush
A little durian-sleuthing revealed that in May prices of whole durians range from $8-$18 per kg of durian, depending on variety. Don't be persuaded to pay anything more than that, said a durian seller we interviewed. He added that prices will drop significantly by mid-June, once the incoming supply of durians surges.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask
Ask around, ask us. Through our ultimate durian taste test, we found the nicest, and the most unpleasant, durian stalls to patronise – there are a good number of places where you can get your fix at a reasonable price, some just round the corner from where you live.