Durian 101: Everything You Need To Know About This Exquisite Fruit 

 Last Update December 11, 2023

By Jenny Zhang

Durian is truly a fruit like no other. Hailed as the "King of Fruits," durian possesses a thorny exterior that may be seen as intimidating. But beneath this rugged armor lies a treasure trove of flavors waiting to be discovered (at least for some). While durian may have an imposing appearance, it's one of the largest edible fruits in existence, covered in spikes.

With a reputation that precedes it, durian has amassed a fervent following around the globe. Its distinct aroma, often described as a peculiar blend of tropical sweetness and pungency, has sparked passionate debates among food enthusiasts. While some embrace its fragrance as an irresistible allure, others find it an acquired taste.

But what is it about durian that ignites such passion and controversy? Whether you are an adventurous foodie eager to expand your palate or simply intrigued by the enigmatic allure of durian, we will uncover everything you need to know about durian. 

What Is A Durian?

Durians are tropical fruit grown on durian trees from Southeast Asia, mainly Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and commonly cultivated in Southeastern India 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 with a spiky, thorny husk ranging from green to brown. They can grow to 12 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, weighing up to 7 pounds. They have a thick, thorn-covered rind, although the fruit's exact shape and the rind's color can change from one variety to another.

Inside, it contains several creamy, custard-like yellow or pale white segments, each with a large seed. Depending on the variety, the durian flesh can range in color from pale yellow to deep orange.

Why Does Durian Have Such A Strong Smell

The distinctive feature that distinguishes durian from other fruits is its strong, pungent odor. While some people describe it as a pleasantly sweet fragrance, it's also been described as strong and stinky. Think of a gym sock, turpentine, rotting onions, rotten egg, even raw sewage.

The distinct smell of durian is attributed to a combination of various compounds, including ketones and esters. The presence of these chemical compounds greatly contributes to the creation of the fruit's distinct and powerful aroma.

Ketones, as organic compounds, frequently exhibit robust and distinctive odors. Esters, on the other hand, are another group of organic compounds commonly associated with fruity or sweet smells. The complex blend of ketones, esters, and other volatile compounds intermingles to form the intricate medley of aromas within durian.

However, due to the high presence of volatile amines and fatty acids, it emits a scent that can be characterized as both distinctive and somewhat pungent. While these two distinct smells coexist within durian, individuals with a discerning sense of smell may be able to differentiate between them, but for many, distinguishing between them can be challenging.

It's important to note that the smell of durian is so distinctive that it has led to bans and restrictions on consuming or carrying durian in public spaces, such as hotels, public transportation, or airplanes. These measures are in place due to the strong aroma that can permeate the surroundings and be overwhelming for some individuals.

It is also important to note that the smell and taste aren't for everyone, and a significant population still enjoys durian taste and its pungent smell. Every year in early May, the captivating city of Chanthaburi in Thailand becomes the center of attention as it hosts the highly anticipated World Durian Festival. In Malaysia, there is also a festival dedicated to commemorating tropical fruits.

What Does Durian Taste Like

Describing the taste of durian is a task that requires capturing its unique and complex flavor profile. The taste of durian is often considered an acquired one, and it elicits strong reactions from people due to its distinct characteristics. Some would say durian tastes better than it smells.

Durian melts in your mouth with a rich, creamy, and custard-like texture. The flavor is simultaneously sweet and savory, with a hint of bitterness. The sweetness of durian can be compared to a blend of tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, and banana, with a touch of caramel-like richness.

Durian's taste can exhibit variations depending on the variety, ranging from sweeter notes to subtle hints of bitterness or even a slight alcoholic undertone. Some people detect notes of vanilla, almonds, or even garlic-like hints in certain durian varieties. Each variety of durian has its unique flavor profile, adding to the allure and excitement of exploring different types.

However, it's important to mention that durian's taste is not only about its sweetness and creaminess. The aroma of durian significantly contributes to the overall taste experience. The strong and distinctive smell of durian often lingers on the palate, creating a sensory experience inseparable from its taste.

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.

A person cutting durian

Source: Pexels

What Are The Different Varieties Of Durian?

Durian, a fruit known for its diverse range of varieties, offers a distinctive array of characteristics, encompassing flavors, textures, and aromas that are unique to each variety. Here are some of the popular durian varieties you may come across:

D24: Also known as Sultan or Mao Shan Wang, D24 is one of the most sought-after durian varieties. It features a rich and creamy texture, a bittersweet taste with hints of caramel, and a distinctive aroma.

Musang King (Mao Shan Wang): Musang King is highly regarded for its intense flavor and creamy, custard-like texture. The fruit possesses a robust and unmistakable aroma, accompanied by a harmonious fusion of sweetness and bitterness.

Monthong: Monthong durian is widely cultivated and exported. With a firm and smooth texture, the fruit delights the senses, while its taste is characterized by a pleasant sweetness with subtle hints of mildness. Monthong durians are often used in durian-based desserts and candies.

Red Prawn (Ang He): Red Prawn durian is known for its reddish-orange flesh and a taste that is both sweet and slightly bitter. Adored by durian enthusiasts, the fruit offers a lusciously creamy texture and an exceptional aroma that is highly cherished.

Golden Phoenix (Jin Feng): While smaller in size compared to other varieties, the Golden Phoenix durian makes up for it with a flavor that packs a powerful punch. It has a smooth texture, a delicate sweetness, and a strong aroma.

Black Thorn: Black Thorn durian stands out for its dark purple or blackish husk. It has creamy and fiber-free flesh with a sweet, custard-like taste and a slightly bitter undertone.

XO: XO durian is favored for its strong, alcoholic aroma and complex flavor profile. The fruit's creamy texture is complemented by a flavor profile that spans from delightful sweetness to a subtle hint of bitterness.

Hor Lor: Hor Lor durian is known for its small to medium-sized pods. It has a sweet and creamy taste with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

How Do To Open A Durian

Eating durian is a unique and enjoyable experience, but it requires some preparation and understanding of the fruit's characteristics. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to eat durian:

Step One Choose A Ripe Durian

Selecting a ripe durian is crucial for a delicious eating experience. Look for durians with a strong aroma, a slightly soft outer husk, and visible cracks at the base. The cracks indicate that the fruit is ripe and ready to be enjoyed.

Step Two Prepare A Clean Workspace

Durians can be messy to open and eat, so it's best to have a clean and spacious area for the process. Lay down newspapers or a plastic sheet to catch any juice or debris that may come out during the process.

Step Three Protect Your Hands

Durian's outer husk is covered in sharp spikes, so wearing gloves or using a cloth to handle the fruit is important. Be cautious not to prick yourself while preparing the durian.

Step Four Open The Durian

Locate the natural seams or cracks on the durian's husk. Insert a knife or a durian opening tool into the seam and gently pry it open. Repeat the process until the fruit splits into two halves.

Step Five Remove The Flesh

Durian typically consists of several large pods or sections. To extract the flesh from each pod, you can use either your hands or a spoon for scooping. Be careful not to squeeze the flesh too hard, as it may result in a mess. If desired, you can separate the flesh from the seeds, although some people enjoy eating the flesh directly around the seeds.

Step Six Enjoy The Durian Fresh

Durian flesh has a creamy, custard-like texture that can be savored directly. Take a small portion of the flesh and relish the extraordinary blend of flavors. It is often suggested to begin with a modest quantity and gradually increase it if you find the taste enjoyable.

Step Seven Discard The Husk And Clean Up

Once you've enjoyed the durian flesh, dispose of the husk and any remaining debris. Clean up your workspace thoroughly, including your hands and any utensils used in the process.

Note: Remember, durian has a strong aroma that can linger, so it's advisable to consume it in a well-ventilated area or outdoors. Furthermore, since durian is a fruit with high caloric content, it is advisable to consume it in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.

Durian cut in half

Source: Unsplash

How Long Does Durian Stay Fresh After It's Opened

Once a durian is opened, its freshness begins to decline, and it's best consumed relatively quickly. After opening, durian flesh should ideally be consumed within 1 to 2 days. Nonetheless, you can slightly prolong its shelf life by storing durian in an airtight container within the refrigerator. Refrigeration can help slow down the deterioration process and preserve its quality for up to 3 to 5 days. You have been warned even with an airtight container, the durian fruit smell can still take over in your fridge. 

If you're unable to consume the durian within a few days, you can freeze the flesh. Place the durian flesh in an airtight container or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then store it in the freezer. Properly frozen durians can remain in good condition for several months.

How Do I Choose A Ripe Durian

Determining the ripeness of durian is essential to ensure a delightful eating experience. Here are some tips to help you identify whether a durian is ripe:

Observe The Color

Ripe durians typically exhibit a consistent color that corresponds to their variety. For example, the flesh of most durian varieties turns from green to yellow or creamy when fully ripe. However, some durians may have slightly different coloration, so it's essential to be familiar with the specific variety you're dealing with.

Check The Husk

Examine the outer husk of the durian for signs of ripeness. Look for cracks or fissures in the husk, particularly around the stem area. These cracks indicate that the durian is ripe, as the fruit naturally expands and causes the husk to split when it matures.

Assess The Aroma

The scent of durian can be a strong indicator of its ripeness. Ripe durians emit a powerful, distinct, and fragrant aroma. The smell should be strong and somewhat sweet, although it may still have some underlying pungency. Avoid durians with no discernible smell or those with an unpleasant odor.

Gently Press The Durian

Applying slight pressure to the durian can give you a clue about its ripeness. Ripe durians should yield slightly when you press on the husk. Exercise caution while handling the fruit, avoiding excessive pressure to prevent any damage.

What Is The Best Way To Try Durian Without Trying Durian Fruit

If you're interested in experiencing the flavors and essence of durian without consuming the actual fruit itself, there are a few alternative ways you can try:

Durian-Flavored Products

Look for durian-flavored snacks, candies, or desserts. Durian ice cream, cakes, pastries, or candies can provide you with a taste of the fruit's unique flavor. These products often aim to capture the essence of durian, offering a convenient and accessible way to explore its taste.

Durian-Infused Beverages

Seek out durian-flavored beverages such as durian smoothies, milkshakes, or fruit juices. These beverages can offer a refreshing and flavorful experience while providing a glimpse into the distinct taste of durian.

Durian-Based Dishes

Explore cuisines that incorporate durian as an ingredient. Some Southeast Asian dishes use durian to add a unique flavor to savory dishes, such as durian curry or durian fried rice. Trying these dishes allows you to experience the culinary applications of durian in a different context.

Durian Essence Or Extract

Durian essence or extract is a concentrated form of the fruit's flavor, often used sparingly in recipes or as a flavoring agent for a range of dishes and desserts. Dilute it according to the instructions and experiment with incorporating it into your favorite recipes to get a sense of durian's taste.

Durian-Scented Products

Explore durian-scented candles, air fresheners, or essential oils. While they don't offer a taste, they can evoke the distinct aroma associated with durian, providing an olfactory experience that captures the essence of the fruit.

What Can You Do With Durian

Versatile in nature, durian can be incorporated into a multitude of both sweet and savory dishes. Here are some popular ways to enjoy and utilize durian:

Fresh Consumption: Eating it fresh is the most straightforward way to enjoy durian. Simply open the durian, remove the flesh from the pods, and savor the creamy, flavorful raw fruit as is.

Desserts and Sweets: Renowned for its distinctive flavor, durian is a highly sought-after ingredient in a wide array of desserts and sweet delicacies. It can be used to make durian-flavored ice cream, cakes, pastries, crepes, puddings, candies, and more. Its unique flavor adds richness and depth to these sweet creations.

Smoothies and Milkshakes: Blend durian flesh with milk, ice, and sweeteners to create creamy durian smoothies or milkshakes. This is a refreshing way to enjoy the fruit's flavor while incorporating other complementary ingredients.

Durian Pancakes: Durian pancakes are a delicious treat. Spread durian flesh or durian paste onto pancakes and roll them up for a delightful breakfast or dessert option.

Durian Puffs or Pastries: Durian can be used as a filling for puffs, pastries, or buns. The creamy texture and intense durian flavor make it a delightful surprise inside these baked goods.

Durian Sauces or Dips: Pureed durian serves as an excellent foundation for creating flavorful sauces or dips. It can be combined with other ingredients like coconut milk, sugar, or lime juice to create a unique and flavorful sauce that pairs well with fruits or as a topping for desserts.

Savory Dishes: While less common, durian can be incorporated into savory dishes in certain cuisines. It can be used as an ingredient in curries and stir-fries or as a flavoring agent for sauces, adding a unique twist to savory recipes.

Durian Wine or Liquor: In some regions, fermented durian is used to make durian wine or liquor. These alcoholic beverages capture the essence of durian and offer a distinct and potent flavor profile.

Where Can You Find Durian

Outside of Southeast Asia, the availability of durian can be limited, but it can still be found in certain areas with a significant Asian population or Asian stores. Check Asian grocery stores or markets in your area that specializes in providing a wide range of Asian food products. These stores may import fresh durians or offer frozen or packaged durian pulp.

Are There Any Specific Durian Etiquette Or Customs To Follow?

Yes, there are certain etiquette and customs associated with durian consumption, particularly in Southeast Asian cultures where durian is highly revered. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Respect the smell: Durian has a strong and distinctive smell that can overpower some individuals. When enjoying durian in public or communal areas, it is important to show consideration towards individuals who might be sensitive to its distinctive aroma. It's advisable to enjoy durian in well-ventilated areas or designated durian-eating zones.

Seek permission: If you are in a communal or shared space, such as a hotel, public transportation, or office, it is important to seek permission before consuming durian. Due to the potent odor of durian, certain locations may have specific regulations or restrictions in place regarding its consumption.

Dispose of the husks properly: After enjoying the durian, dispose of the husks and other waste properly. Wrap them securely in bags or dispose of them in designated bins to prevent the smell from lingering or causing inconvenience to others.

Offer to share: Durian is often seen as a communal fruit, and offering some to those around you is customary, especially if you are eating it in a group or family setting. Sharing durian is considered a gesture of goodwill and creates a sense of camaraderie.

Use utensils: When eating durian, it is common to use utensils such as spoons or forks to scoop out the flesh and consume it. This helps maintain cleanliness and prevents the fingers from getting too sticky.

Enjoy the whole fruit: In some cultures, finishing the entire durian is believed to be a sign of respect for the fruit. Consuming all the edible portions, including the flesh around the seeds, is customary before disposing of the husk.

Take note of durian customs in specific regions: Different regions may have additional customs or practices associated with durian. For example, in Thailand, it is considered impolite to point at a durian with your finger, and using your chin is preferable.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.