Malaysian durians have topped fruit and vegetable presales at a big Chinese retail festival; the top-selling variety at JD.com’s 618 festival, which is China’s second-largest shopping event after Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, was the Sultan durian from Pahang state.
The exotic fruit has seen a surging popularity in China. Imports of fresh durians quadrupled to $2.3 billion last year from 2017, according to United Nations data, and they overtook cherries to become the country’s No. 1 fruit import by value in 2019.
Unlike Thai growers, who pluck durians from the tree at 85% maturity to prolong the period they can be stored for, Malaysian farmers typically wait for the fruit to ripen and drop to the ground. That locks them out of the Chinese market for fresh durians, which is currently dominated by Thailand.
Malaysia used to send its durians to China only as pulp and paste but won approval to export frozen fruit in 2019. Exemplified by premium varieties such as Sultan and Musang King, the full-maturity fruit have a reputation for quality and are sought after by aficionados who view them as ‘designer durians.’