A durian, by any other name


Variants galore: Each of the durians seen here has its own moniker, as well as a registered fruit name which starts with the letter ‘D’, followed by a number. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: You know the smell from afar and you love the taste.

But do you know how durians got their names?

Musang King apparently, was originally known as Raja Kunyit, which means “Turmeric King”, a reference to the fruit’s deep-yellow flesh.

It is believed that a man named Tan Lai Fook from Raub, Pahang, stumbled upon a Raja Kunyit durian tree back in the 1980s in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

He brought a branch of the tree back to Raub for grafting.

This new variant then attracted other cultivators.

The cultivar was named after Gua Musang, its place of origin.

Max Goh, who has an orchard in Balik Pulau, said there were many other durians with names given by farmers over the years.

These variants got their special names from their physical appearance or the name of the person who planted it, he said.

“The Khun Poh durian comes from the name of the person who planted the tree.

“It only goes by the name Khun Poh. We can identify it by its shorter stem,” said Goh, who has been in the business for two decades.

As for the Xiao Hong (Little Red) durian, he said that this was in reference to its flesh which is of a darker hue.

He said the Hor Lor durian is named after the Hokkien word for bottle gourd.

“It is longish in shape and has a slightly broader lower half,” he said.

Penang Agriculture Department director Mohd Muhaimin Ibrahim said the names were usually given by those growing the fruit.

“All durians have a registered fruit name which starts with the letter ‘D’, followed by a number.

“The Red Prawn durian, for example, is known as D175, but it usually called Red Prawn due to its appearance,” he said.

He was of the view that this was due to its pulp which is shaped like red prawns.

“I believe it comes in colours like light pink or orangish,” said Mohd Muhaimin.

He said these names were usually given before the fruit is registered with the department.

“It is based on the characteristic of the fruit or perhaps the appearance of the tree,” he added.

Mohd Muhaimin said the durian known as Black Thorn, for instance, is officially registered as D200 but the fruit indeed has darker thorns.

“This is probably why it was named Black Thorn, as you can notice its darker thorns compared with other durian variants,” he said.

He also said that some durians go by their registered numbers like 222, which is D222.

Among durian fans, there is chatter that even Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan is associated with the fruit.

Or, to be more precise, his Taiwanese wife Joan Lin Feng-jiao, who was once a popular actress.

A well-known durian variant in Penang is named Lin Feng Jiao.

There was an assumption that the durian was named after her, but over the years, others said that the durian was named after a farmer’s wife who loved the fruit.

Related stories:

A 'Fan' of the durian

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