Have you ever tried the "King of Fruits"? Durian has an imposing appearance - it's one of the largest edible fruits in existence, covered in spikes. It also has a particularly strong odor, which some can only describe as "stinky." But once you get past its appearance and smell, the actual flesh of durian has a lovely sweetness.
What Is Durian?
Durian is a tropical fruit grown on durian trees from Southeast Asia, mainly Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and commonly cultivated in Southeastern Indian and Ceylon to New Guinea. They grow on all 30 trees belonging to the genus Durio, although only 9 of those trees produce edible durians and you can find them at a durian stall in these countries. And only the fruit of the Durio zibethinus durian tree can be found in international markets.
The durian is a large fruit. They can grow to 12 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, coming in at up to 7 pounds in weight. They have a thick, thorn-covered rind, although the exact shape of the fruit and the color of the rind can change from one variety to another. Large seeds separated by fleshy arils within that rind split the durian into five cells. These seeds are the edible part of the fruits. The seeds can range in color from cream to yellow to red.
The Smell of Durian Fruit
One of the trademarks of durian is its pungent odor. While some people describe it as a pleasantly sweet fragrance, it's also been described as strong and stinky. Think of gym socks, turpentine, rotting onions, even raw sewage. This smell has led many hotels and public transportation services in Southeast Asia to ban the fruit outright.
Durians have high levels of ketones and esters, which taste and smell sweet. But, they also are high in volatile amines and fatty acids, which give off a more putrid smell. Both smells are there, and a keen sense can differentiate between them, but most people can't.
Many have found that the taste of the durian flesh is worth overcoming the smell for. Novelist Anthony Burgess once wrote that eating durian is "like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory." British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace said that the "rich glutinous smoothness" of the durian's cream-colored pulp is unique and found nowhere else, making it more than worth it for him to have traveled all the way over to Thailand to experience it. Think of it as similar to Limburger cheese - stinky, but worth it.
What Does Durian Taste Like?
Durian is not particularly acidic, sweet, or juicy, and it's been described as tasting like a rich custard highly flavored with almonds. The texture can call to mind cream-cheese - think of something similar to an overly ripe mango or banana. Again, there are many different durian cultivars, and the fruits range from sweet to bitter. Some people attend durian tastings to appreciate the full scope of flavors, similar to wine tastings.
Health Benefits of Durian Fruit
Sure, you'll eventually get used to the smell of durian and enjoy the taste more, but why bother getting to that point? Durian is full of health benefits!
- High in carbohydrates - 100 grams of durian cover 21% of the daily recommendation of carbs
- Rich in manganese, which helps regulate blood pressure levels
- Rich in both iron and copper
- Used in certain cultures as an aphrodisiac
- Used for its warming properties to cause excessive sweating, for medicinal purposes.
- It is believe that durian can enhance libido.
How To Eat Durian Fruit
Durian is used in a wide variety of traditional dishes. It's a staple food in some cultures and a delicacy in others. While you can eat durians raw, they can also be cooked into many incongruous dishes. Many of the dishes listed below make use of all of the various stages of ripeness, wasting nothing.
- Durian candy is popular in Malaysia.
- Frozen durian isn't as flavorful as durian eaten fresh, but you can find durian ice cream in Indonesia.
- Ripe durian is often combined with sticky rice.
- Dried durian pulp can be made into durian chips.
- Tempoyak is fermented durian made from a durian that has become overly ripe. It's often paired with rice or used in making curry.
- Durian paste is the basis for many soups and sauces.
- People in the Malay archipelago will make jams and preserves from durian.
- The young leaves and shoots of durian trees can be cooked as greens.
- Underripe durian is cooked like a root vegetable. Most traditional cultures eat durian this way, except for the Philippines.
- The discarded durian husks are often used to smoke fish dishes.
You should note the latter belief that one should not drink alcohol after eating durians as it can cause indigestion and cause bad breath.
Checking Durian Seeds For Freshness
As durian ages, its flesh will dry out and pull away from the walls of the rind, turning into true seeds. The best durians will have started this loosening process but not have dried out yet. How can you look at the imposing spikes surrounding a durian fruit and know whether it's at peak ripeness?
Check the stem for dryness and look for large cracks in the husk. You should also lightly shake the durian, listening for a slight knocking sound. This means that the seed has started to loosen from its shell, and it will also be lighter than an unripe one.
Storing durian can be tricky, as they only take about ten days to germinate. Try to buy your durian from the Asian markets in the ripeness you desire, and use it quickly.