Often reviled for its pungent odor, the crop has become a delicacy in China – and export demand is rocketing.
High up in the lush green mountains of Raub, you can smell them before you see them. The pungent waft in the morning breeze comes as quickly as it goes, but there is no mistaking: this part of Malaysia is the land of the durian.
Called the “king of fruits” by 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, durian’s overpowering smell – fragrant to some noses, putrid to others – has led it to be banned from hotels and public transport across Asia, and has even prompted evacuations from airports and hospitals. However, in China something of a cultish national obsession with durian has grown in the past few years, particularly around the Musang King variety, grown almost entirely in Malaysia.
And where there is Chinese appetite, there is money. In the highlands of Raub, and all across the south-east Asian country, farmers and landowners are tearing up traditional rubber and palm oil crops to harvest this mutant-looking native fruit instead.