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LIKE IT CREAMY, BITTER, YELLOW- OR RED-FLESHED?
Durians can now be tailored to your taste

By Arlina Arshad

WHETHER durian lovers like it creamy and sweet or firm and bitter, the King of Fruits may soon be savoured just the way they want it.

Durians can now be customised to individual preferences, says the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi), which will release hybrid durians over the next decade.

The first batch will be released within the next two years, said Mardi's plant breeder Siti Zainab Ramawas.

This includes a Thai-Malaysian crossbreed which retains the sweetness and creaminess of Thai durians and the slightly more bitter taste of Malaysian ones.

'Some people prefer creamy, others prefer bitter. Some prefer the flesh to be yellow, others prefer red. So we will be releasing the new varieties phase by phase,' said Madam Zainab.

Mardi is a semi-government body that develops and promotes leading-edge technologies for food and agriculture industries based in Selangor.

The durian hybrids are the fruit of 20 years' research.

They have taken so long mostly because durian trees take five to seven years to mature, said Madam Zainab.

Hybrids are not new, but many of the existing durian varieties - D24, Sultan and XO, for example - are clones, not hybrids.

The downside is that the fruits may vary in quality, she added.

Clones have the characteristics of the parent tree.

Hybrid durians are crossbreeds of two selected trees grown in the field, in a controlled environment, she said. As such, their crossbred traits can be customised and standardised.

Mardi hopes durian growers will take up its technology once it releases the hybrids.

Madam Zainab said: 'We'll try to pick those which are disease-tolerant, able to fruit twice a year, more fleshy, and which have smaller seeds.'

Durian lover James Koh, 32, an IT assistant, is elated by the news.

'After all the trouble lugging the heavy and thorny fruit home, it's disappointing to open it and see wet, pale flesh.

'I don't care about how they grow it. As long as I get good durians to eat, I'm happy,' he said.

Good news for durian growers, too, since the quality of the fruit can be controlled.

Mr Ng Chin Kiat, 37, a Malaysian with a 40ha plantation in Yong Peng, Johor, said he's growing D24, 100 and XO clones of durians.

These trees can fruit as often as three times a year in hot weather, but not all the fruits taste good.

'Hybrid durians are of better quality. The flesh is more meaty and smooth,' said Mr Ng, who ships 150 to 250 baskets a day to Singapore. Each basket can hold 60 fruits.

Singapore imported 446,000 baskets (28,991 tonnes) from such countries as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia last year, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Sellers and suppliers say that oversupply and year-round availability are pushing prices and profits down.

D24 durians, widely available here, cost $6 to $8 a kilo. The premium 'butter' durians cost $12 to $15 a kilo, though run-of-the-mill durian can cost as little as $1 a fruit.

Mr Patrick Teh, co-owner of Shanghai Fresh Fruits Dealer in Sims Avenue, said he once made $30,000 to $50,000 a season, which usually lasted three months.

But now, profits have dwindled to $10,000 a month and, sometimes, he can make a loss.

'People used to be more excited when durian season came. But you can eat it any time now, so it's not a big deal,' he said.


After 20 years' research

HYBRID durians are crossbreeds of two selected trees grown in the field, in a controlled environment. As such, their crossbred traits can be customised and standardised. The hybrids are the fruit of 20 years' research. They have taken so long mostly because durian trees take five to seven years to mature.

Dated 8th August 2004

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