Durian

The durian is an unusual fruit from Southeast Asia. Durian fruit, known as the “king of fruits” has some very distinct qualities.

Many who have become familiar with this exotic Asian fruit admit it is definitely an acquired taste, and smell.

The durian fruit grows on trees, which begin to bear fruit after four or five years of cultivation. The fruit has a tough, thorny outer husk or shell. It is is about as large as a pineapple, sometimes growing up to a foot long, with an oblong shape consisting of several “pods.” The flesh, pulp, and seeds are edible at various stages of the fruit's maturity. The durian is a seasonal fruit. It only grows when average temperatures are 72°F (22°C) or well over, so it strictly a tropical fruit and it only grows in areas with such a climate. Currently, is propagated mostly by grafting.

The edible flesh of this fruit is a pale yellow color, and has been described as having a creamy, custard texture with a mild almond type flavor. One of its most distinctive features is the odor of the fruit itself, inside the husk. It is a strong smell that many have described as offensive or overpowering, like sulfur.

Durian fruit deserves attention on many levels

Durian are native to Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo and Sumatra and are found growing wild or semi-wild in Lower Burma (Myanmar) and the Malaysian peninsula. This fruit tree is commonly cultivated in Southeastern India, Ceylon, and New Guinea. The coastal inhabitants of Malaysia, Brunei, and neighboring countries have long considered durian a delicacy that is used in many recipes.

The Western world has known this fruit for only about the last 600 years. This fruit is either loved or loathed, there seems to no middle ground. Because of that, the importation to the United States has not been aggressively pursued. When you do find durian in the States, it is often expensive.

The odor of a freshly opened durian fruit has been compared to the smell of natural gas. This is probably due to the high sulfur content in the fruit. This is one of those cases where the fruit tastes nothing like it smells. Be aware that people have been known to be asked to leave areas when eating durian because of the odor. This is one fruit that's best eaten at home, and probably alone.

In Singapore, the mass transit line prohibits, by law, passengers boarding with a durian in their possession. But, Singapore has also paid homage to this “King of All Fruits” by constructing a building in its honor. Don't even attempt to eat durian on an airplane.

The older the durian tree is, the higher the quality of durian it will produce. But watch out while you stand and admire those old trees. Standing underneath a durian tree can be dangerous, as falling durian fruit have been known to be fatal upon impact with the unsuspecting gawker.

How to eat

Cutting open a durian fruit requires considerable care and attention to avoid puncturing yourself on the pointy outer layer. Look for a line, slit, or seam running lengthwise down the fruit. This is a natural opening. Take a knife, or your hands if you dare, and gently pull the fruit open at this seam. You will be separating the durian into “pods” each of which contains little pockets of a creamy substance which you can eat (but is not very sweet) and little solid fleshy, creamy fruit pieces.

Asian cultures make good use of the durian flesh in their diets, using the natural sweetness in milkshakes, ice cream, juice, and sauces. The seeds can be boiled, fried, or roasted for a healthy snack. Even the leaves and flowers are occasionally cooked and eaten in Indonesia. Durian is also sold in neighborhood shops in the form of delicious pudding, cakes, and crepes in Singapore.

Durian should be stored well sealed and away from other foods as the odor will permeate anything in the same container, such as the refrigerator. Durian and carbonated drinks do not mix well in the stomach and has been known to cause serious complications. In the United States you are most likely to find frozen durian that has been thawed. This is fine (and cheaper than fresh) just as long as the thorny spines are not dried and brittle.If you're looking for a truly different culinary adventure, durian would definitely be something to try. Do an online search for sources and check to see if you have an Asian marketplace in your community. Yes, the popular saying about durian is it “smells like Hell and tastes like Heaven” but that's just one more reason to be inspired to try this exotic fruit... if you dare!

A pile o durian fruits on a wood rack.

Durian