Hot in the Tropics: Durian Fruit

Baking Business catches up with Han Shiong Siah from Tropical Primary Products, a tropical fruit farm in the Northern Territory growing the mysterious and increasingly popular durian fruit.

Tell us a bit about Tropical Primary Products:

Tropical Primary Products is a family-owned and operated tropical fruit farm started by Mr and Mrs Siah when they purchased 40-acres of land in Lambells Lagoon 60km southeast of Darwin.

The Siahs purchased the land in 1987 when they first migrated to Darwin from Malaysia. In the early days, Tropical Primary Products grew Asian green vegetables, durians, rambutans, bananas, watermelon, guavas, carambola, jackfruit and papaya. In recent years, we have focussed on growing mangoes (we have several varieties registered to us), durians, jackfruit, pomelos and water apple.

Why did you decide to grow durian fruit in Australia?

The decision to grow durians in Australia pre-dates the Siah’s migration to Australia. The Siah family through Mrs Siah has a long history in the Malaysian horticulture industry, including cultivating durians and operating nurseries.

Tropical Primary Products planted our first durian trees as early as 1988. It can take up to 10 years for the durian trees to produce good quality durians. We sold our first small crop in the mid to late 1990s.

What are some of the challenges of growing durian?

The climate is one of the biggest challenges of growing durians in the Northern Territory. This is because the Top End’s climate is different from Malaysia/Southeast Asia. If the weather varies too greatly (too hot or too cold), there is difficulty for the flower to set and develop into fruit. It has taken many years of trial and error to understand how to take care of the trees optimally and produce crops reliably.

When is durian in season?

Our durian season is from early-mid October until early December.

When/how is it harvested?

We do not pick our durians. When the durians are ripe, they will drop from the trees. We “harvest” them by picking them off the ground. This is the common practice in Malaysia.

In certain Southeast Asian countries, however, the fruit is directly picked from the trees.

How much of it do you export v. selling in Australia?

We currently only sell in Australia. Our main markets are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

A lot of Australians are unfamiliar with durian. Can you tell us a bit about the flavour and texture of it?

The flesh of a nicely ripened durian will have a custardy, creamy texture. The colour of the fruit parcel can vary depending on the variety. Typically, our durians have a yellowish hue.

In terms of flavour, it has a unique taste. Our durians, depending on variety, range from a sweet to a sweet-bitter taste.

Taste-wise also, it has been described to have subtle hints of chives mixed with powdered sugar, and tasting like garlic and caramel poured into whipped cream.

Many people find the smell of durian very off-putting. Can you describe the smell?

This depends on whom you speak to. The answer from a durian fanatic will vary very differently to someone who encounters it for the very first time.

It has a sulphurous/gas smell which has often made the news as a mistaken gas leak causing evacuations of buildings (hospitals, universities etc.), planes and public transports.

How do you overcome this to eat it?

The olfactory system in the nose can alter your perception of taste. For the first-timers, we suggest pinching your nose as you take the first bite. We understand that many who now enjoyed the fruit have used this strategy.

Is it becoming more popular here?

Yes, definitely as Australia is now a diverse, multicultural society. Australians are also well travelled and have become adventurous in trying new foods.

How would you use durian in baking/making desserts?

One of the best ways to enjoy durian is to eat it fresh or semi-alfredo. In terms of baking / making deserts, durians can be (and has been) used to make:

  • durian gelato
  • durian ice-cream
  • durian crepes
  • durian pancakes
  • durian chiffon cakes
  • durian macaroon
  • durian panna cotta
  • durian crème brulee
  • durian sticky rice
  • durian tart

Basically most desserts!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Growing durian in Australia has been a rewarding but a tough 30 plus year journey for our family. Despite bringing significant experience from Malaysia, we faced many challenges growing durians in the NT. One of the biggest challenges was adjusting and adapting to a sub-tropical climate where the seasons are more distinct than Malaysia. We are happy that the fruit has grown in popularity in Australia and in particular, we are grateful for the patronage we have received over the years.

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  1. Nancy Ngiam

    15 December

    Please disregard the first comments.

    I migrated to Australia from Singapore and I missed eating good durian so much. Where can I buy them as I lived in Perth, WA. I certainly would love to try them as they’re grown in Australia. You can still buy durian in some Asian Grocery Store, but they’re imported from overseas Vietnam or Thailand, but they don’t taste so good.

    Thank you
    Nancy Ngiam

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