The edible fruits of 8 species of the Southeast Asian genus Durio known commonly as durian vary considerably in terms of size, shape, pulp/fruit ratio, and flavour. However, only the fruits of Durio zibethinus are presently marketed to a significant extent across Southeast Asia, while the other Durio species are mostly of restricted use and distribution, and poorly known.
Considered in Asia the "King of the Fruits", because of its distinctive texture and flavour, durian is deeply appreciated by most Asian consumers (increasingly also in export markets), while non-Asians generally find its aroma repelling. Because of its diversity and attraction to consumers, there is potential for durian to be developed into a range of highly differentiated varieties and products. There is circumstantial evidence of the importance of local peculiarities such as soil and climate variation to influence durian quality, further adding possibilities of quality differentiation through the concept of “terroir” that has been very successfully implemented in a variety of agricultural products such as wine and cheese. Durian has all the potential to become an emblematic product of Southeast Asian countries. Stories abound of affluent consumers in China paying enormous prices for durian, which indicates emerging connoisseurship of this fruit. However, currently there is very little understanding how genotype, environment and crop management interact to result in durian quality. Also, a vocabulary to describe the subtleties of durian flavour needs to be developed and communicated to consumers in order to develop greater appreciation for durian diversity and value. There are many parallels from the wine industry that could be employed such as the branding of local product qualities, and the use of geographical indications to protect growers from disloyal competition.
This paper describes potential pathways for durian development from its current commodity status towards a high-value product, by taking advantage of the genetic diversity and emerging market opportunities. We also highlight research needs, with emphasis on the need for poor producers and keepers of durian diversity to derive greater benefits from growing this crop.