Australian durian farmers sniff out profitable export markets

Published: February 2020 

Some find durian disgusting – but for growers, the returns outweigh the smell.

Durian farmer Han Shiong Siah on his property near Darwin – his family are the biggest growers of the fruit in Australia. Source: supplied. 
IT’S dubbed the world’s smelliest fruit, but for farmers within a whiff of its most rapidly-growing market, China, it could be ripe for opportunity.

Durian is known for its size – up to a whopping 30cm long – and thorny exterior. But its most distinctive feature, which wafts like a miasma over all varieties, is its smell. 

But even that could be in the nose of the sniffer. While a few say durian has a “pleasant” fragrance, many others have compared it to rotten onions or even raw sewage – pick your poison. And the aroma lingers for so long it has been banned from some hotels and public transport in South-East Asia, where it is remains, nonetheless, the most lucrative fruit grown in the region.
New durian export market opportunities open in China

Now China, which along with other neighbouring countries refers to durian as the king of fruits, simply can’t get enough of it – so much so that it has approved imports of frozen whole fruit from Malaysia, a trade once restricted to frozen pulp and paste.

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Accordingly, Malaysia is gearing up to satisfy China’s insatiable appetite. Sim Tze Tzin, Malaysia’s deputy minister for agriculture, says: “The durian market in China is so big, and now the export of whole frozen durians will open the market.”

China already imports around 300,000 tonnes of durian each year, mainly from Thailand, with connoisseurs including the tropical delicacy in yoghurt, cookies, coffee and even pizza. Malaysia is also boosting production of durian products such as ice cream and biscuits, and is luring wary tourists to farms as part of its ‘durio-tourism’ campaign.

The flavour of durian is amazingly complex, melding savoury, sweet and creamy, with hints of chives, garlic, custard and caramel. Source: Getty Images/iStockphoto. 

Profitable returns and growing demand for Australian durian crop

You will also find durian grown right under your nose. The tropical crop was introduced to northern Australia in the 1970s, and today the biggest grower – Northern Territory farming family, the Siahs, who planted their first Darwin durians more than 30 years ago – sell the fruit across the country. 

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Having harvested about 40 tonnes in 2018, they are also sniffing out potential export markets. Perhaps China could be waiting for Australian farmers who can produce it in large enough volumes. But only if they can stomach the smell.  

Cartoon by John Ditchburn. 

Fast facts about Durian

  • The smell lures animals from up to a kilometre away.
  • The fruit is ready to eat when its husk cracks.
  • Some species grow so tall they can only be collected once fallen to the ground.
  • Its flavour is amazingly complex, melding savoury, sweet and creamy, with hints of chives, garlic, custard and caramel.

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