Upstart stinker now outfoxing ‘the king’

The Black Thorn (background) and Musang King (foreground) at the durian stall in SS2.

PETALING JAYA: One durian has ruled Malaysia for years.

No other variety has been more sought after than the supremely tasty Musang King.

The creamy flesh has inspired businesses to incorporate its rich flavour in everything from ice-cream and instant coffee to cookies and even burgers.

True devotees go to extreme lengths to enjoy the taste.

Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho, nicknamed the King of Gambling for his cash-cow Macau casinos, loves Musang King so much he has been known to send his private jet to fetch him hundreds of them from Singapore.

But a relatively new variety of durian from Penang, known as Black Thorn, has recently been challenging Musang King for the throne.

“The Black Thorn is bigger and rounder than the Musang King. It has a small black thorn at the bottom near the stem which is how it got its name,” says Jason Woon, manager of a durian stall in Petaling Jaya.

Brother Durian manager Jason Woon at his stall in SS2.

The flesh of the Black Thorn is reddish-yellow, deepening to flaming orange as the tree ages. Lovers claim the taste is richer than Musang King, with a pleasing hint of bitterness.

Although the Black Thorn has been around since 2010, Woon says it is only recently that it has become highly sought after. So much so that even tourists are now asking for it by name.

According to “The Durian Tourist’s Guide to Penang” by Lindsay Gasik, the Black Thorn mother tree originates in Kampung Lima Kongsi, near Sungai Bakap in Penang.

She says that although thoroughly Malaysian now, the variety originated from a single seed brought back from Thailand by Bagi Kau who kept it a secret for years. His lone tree had a waiting list every season.

He allowed a friend to start growing more trees in the 1980s but it wasn’t until the new millennium that the variety started to become a sensation.

Black Thorn won the 2011 Penang Durian Competition. Then again in 2012.

In 2013 it was officially entered into the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute registry as D200.

A worker at Brother Durian SS2, stacking durians

These days, the variety also known as Duri Hitam, Ochee, and Hei Tze can out-price even the venerable Fox King.

Recently, headlines were made when a woman kicked up a stink after being charged RM937 for two Black Thorns and one Musang King by a roadside stall in Penang.

The domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry investigated and concluded the price was reasonable.

Woon says he was not surprised by the amount, as due to popular demand the price of Black Thorns has shot up in the past two months to between RM85 and RM120 per kg, depending on where they are sourced from.

Some farms in Raub, Pahang, home to the Musang King, now also supply Black Thorns, he says.

“Just the other day we had a few Black Thorns arrive from there and they sold out within an hour.”

An unopened Black Thorn durian at the Brother Durian stall in SS2

Woon, who still feels Musang King is the undisputed champion of durians, says he is glad that the Black Thorn is becoming famous.

“Up until now, only Musang King was known overseas as it is the one variety we export.

“So to me, it’s good for business and Malaysia that the Black Thorns are now highly sought after.”

Can Musang King prevent the upstart from stealing its crown?

Black Thorn peak season continues until mid-August.