Durian fruit is probably the most polarizing type of produce grown by
man, inspiring fanaticism among its lovers, and a deep, deep loathing
among its critics.
Traveling around Southeast Asia for the last six months, I've yet to
meet an Asian who wasn't at least mildly fond of the hard,
thorn-covered fruit, and an unusually large segment of the population
is downright devoted to it, waiting expectantly for it to come into
season around April or May and consuming it in large quantities until
the season ends in July or August, depending on the year and the area.
It's so highly esteemed that Asians call durian, "The King Of Fruit."
Yet ask a westerner to taste it and they might not even get past the
smell, which some describe as an overwhelming onion-like aroma, or even
a gas leak. The smell is so strong that it's banned from public
transportation in much of Asia, and many hotels won't allow you to
bring durian fruit inside your room.
Durian Fruit: The Smell
durian - frozen and imported from Asia - I wasn't especially fond of
the smell, but I was able to push past it and take a bite. I liked it
enough that I came back for seconds not long after, and as time went on
I actually grew to like the aroma. It doesn't really smell like onions
to me, but rather something earthy, musky, and totally unlike any other
food smell I can think of.
After eating fresh-picked
durian fruit in southeast Asia, and really going to town with it at the
Durian Festival, I figured out
that while the smell grows stronger as the ripening process progresses,
even the ripest of durian doesn't seem to have as strong of a smell as
a frozen durian that's thawing out thousands of miles from where it was
grown, or even just a fresh imported one kept "fresh" with chemicals.
The taste also can't compare.
Durian Fruit: The Taste
There is a saying among western durian aficionados: It smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.
part of that statement, the second
part is spot on.
Crack open the armored exterior and you'll find pod-like segments of
seed-covered flesh, with hues ranging from off white to deep red. Bite
in and you're in for a trip.
Durian fruit is among the most delicious foods I've ever eaten, with a
flavor that defies easy description. The English language simply lacks
the vocabulary to do it justice, but I'll give it a shot.
The flavor is sweet, kind of like the best
custard you've ever had in
your life, but with undertones of flavor that vary among the many
cultivars. How ripe the fruit is, and how and where it was grown all
play a role in the flavor.
Sometimes I bite into a durian and taste a hint of bacon (I haven't
eaten meat since early 2005, so my recollection is questionable) while
other times it's tapioca or cinnamon.
But once you've acquired a taste for durian, it will forever hold a
special place in your heart. Most people who like durian get the
"durian stare," a kind of mellowed-out, glazed-over look in their eyes
that pops up when they take a bite of the "king of fruits." If you like
durian, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Durian Fruit: Converting the Skeptics
I have no doubt that most western people will nver give durian a fair
shake. The smell alone will drive many away, and often it takes a few
tastings to really "understand" it.
Yet all the same, durian has been displaying its remarkable ability to
covert the reluctant, even in the face of smell, for hundreds of years.
While touring southeast Asia in the mid 1800s, British Naturalist
Alfred Russel Wallace describes how he was first disgusted by the smell
of durian and unimpressed by the taste in his book, "On the Bamboo and
Durian of Borneo". After a few more tastes, though, he was hooked, and
went on to write of it glowingly.
“The five cells are silky-white within,
and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing
about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its
consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly
flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are
occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese,
onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a
rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but
which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet
it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It
produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the
less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new
sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience."
- Alfred Russel Wallance,
Durian Fruit: Nutrition And Health Rumors
Like most fruits, durian is packed with nutrients, and very high in
However, it's high in calories compared to most other fruit, with a
mere 100 grams providing 147 calories. The reason for the high calorie
load can be found in durian fruit's relative dryness (the more water in
a fruit, the less calories it carries) and high fat content.
Carbohydrates and protein both contain 4 calories per gram, but fat has
9 per gram. One durian has 32 grams of fat, with 30 percent of all the
calories found in a durian come from that fat.
For comparison, peaches, which are water-rich and low in fat, have only
39 calories per 100 grams. Five percent of the calories in a peach come
In Asia, many legends and rumors concern the durian. One of the post
persistent is that it acts as an aphrodisiac. "When the durians come
down, the sarongs come off," is a popular saying in Malaysia, for
Big durian fruit meals do charge the libido a bit, but I think that you
can produce the same effect with other fruits as well. When you
radically increase your calorie intake by a lot while also upping for
fat a bit, randiness
is often the result for otherwise healthy people.
Another thing you commonly hear in Asia is that durian is "heating,"
and that one should counteract it with a "cooling fruit," like
mangosteen, which is in season at the same time.
While it's true that durian makes you hot, similar to many fatty foods
that require more of a digestive strain and might be expected to tax
the body, mangosteen certainly won't cool you down. Combining the two
is only likely to create a bad digestive combination in your stomach.
A Durian Fruit Picnic In The Park
Want to see what a meal of
durian looks like? In this video three of my friends and I (all of us
are raw foodists) rip into a bunch of it at the Chanthaburi
Durian Festival. Check it out below.
Durian Fruit: How To Select
A Tasty Fruit
I am by no means a connoisseur, but I've learned how to pick out good
durian. In Asia, many durians are eaten before they are at the peak of
their ripeness, so they're not as sweet as they could be. The flesh is
also harder when the fruit hasn't ripened enough.
However, by only looking at the thorn-covered exterior, it can be hard
to judge when a fruit is ripe enough.
Luckily, that armored hide will start to split open when ripe, and the
smell will become quite noticeable if you take a whiff.
Just make sure the crack isn't too big, because it could be overripe or
infested with bugs.
If you're in Thailand, you can let the vendor know what you're looking
for my saying, "Nim, Nim," which means very soft, and "souk, souk,"
which means very ripe.
Durian Fruit: The Raw
Durian is tasty, there's no
getting around it, but it's also fatty and seems to digest a lot slower
than your average fruit.
Many raw foodists experience a "durian hangover," the day after a meal
the fruit, and I never feel my best when it's on the menu.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that they seems mildly addicting.
While a number of fatty foods can make me want to eat more than would
be wise, durian is the only raw fruit or vegetable I've tried of that
leaves me lusting after it for days. Often I'll be sitting around and
incongruously I'll catch a phantom whiff of it in the air, stirring my