A fruit so pungent that it’s banned in public places.
Why is durian the King of Fruits? Can someone actually die from durian? How are durians and tigers associated? What is the durian investment market like? And what makes durian so smelly yet be so loved (and hated)? If it smells awful. Why try it?
There are so many legit questions on the innerwebs about durian, that I decided to take a deep dive and gain a first hand account this controversial fruit.
But before trying durian I had a theory about the taste. That durian is kinda like the gorgonzola of fruit. Gorgonzola cheese straight up smells like stinky feet. It’s strong in smell, it’s not the prettiest in appearance, but it taste soooo good! Proof that our senses can confuse us when it comes to smell and taste.
In South East Asia, durian is widely available but like most fruits it has its season. And when it is in season, durian lovers go on the hunt to seek out their favorite and best durian vendors.
During the season craze, the fruit’s distinct smell wafts throughout the island. Rounding a street corner, you can quickly identify if you’re in its vicinity. Not even my social feeds are resilient to its announcement of being in-season. Groups in my WhatsApp chats and social media are flooded with durian hype. The exchanges are about which vendors have the more superior durian, who’s sold out and who’s having a durian party.
At the time of writing this, I’ve been living abroad for over a year. So I think it’s high time to try this odorific fruit.
“Without experiment a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall sure become status, repetitive and moribund“.
This notion was imprinted acutely on my friend’s 5 year old daughter. Whilst sitting at lunch my friend told her mini-her, “What did we say about trying new food?” Her daughter’s response was, “to try everything“. A parenting win that was much smoother than my parents – It’s this or nothing, approach.
Food can be a gateway into new adventures, friends and experiences. And the notion of actively searching out new exotic food is a foreign muscle to me. Hence, I enlisted the help of a few friends to help me on my durian passage. I wanted to find out all the things durian the king of fruits, hear others experiences and try it.
What exactly is Durian?
An oval spiky shaped fruit found in South East Asia and proudly named the King of Fruits, is mostly known for being the stinkiest. Contrasting to the spiky outside, the inside has 5 cavities, each filled with soft pods (the edible part). The texture of the pods have been described as creamy custard, silky and smooth.
The word durian is partly derived from the Malay term ‘duri’, meaning thorn. This fossil looking fruit can weigh between 2-8 lbs and there are over 30 different varieties (only a few are edible). The variety is divided into 2 main categories – bitter or sweet.
Durian has its health benefits such as it’s rich in vitamin C, iron, potassium, fiber, promotes good skin health and lowers blood pressure.
And most noteworthy, the ultra full-on stank causes it to be banned on public transportation and bringing it into hotels.
Why is Durian dubbed as the King of Fruits?
In Asian mythology, the protectors and kings of the jungle are tigers. And in research and observation, tigers have been sited eating durian. There are reports from Sumatran durian farmers witnessing tigers in their orchards devouring their crop. Thus, durian picking can be dangerous AF.
If the king of the jungle likes durian, well … the region has dubbed durian to be known as King of Fruits.
Which has me thinking, who is the Queen of Fruits?
Durian is considered to be heaty, meaning rich and heavy in flavor. Which can make it a meal in itself. The mangosteen is its’ counterpart. Having cooling properties, sweet in flavor and simultaneously comes in-season. Its these traits that award the mangosteen the Queen crown of jewels.
Economics of Durian
People are flocking to invest in durian.
The demand for durian is increasing, especially in mainland China. According to the United Nation’s trade database, durian imports were worth $1.1 billion last year. In April 2017, 80,000 durians from Thailand were purchased in 60 seconds on the online shopping site Alibaba.
Unlike Malaysia, Thailand is authorized to directly import fresh fruit into mainland China. The Musang King variety in frozen pulp form, is the only variety allowed to ship from Malaysia to China.
Question: So, how do you get your fresh durian fix if you’re in China?
Answer: Go to Hong Kong. Many Chinese food enthusiasts frequent Hong Kong to get their fix, and are willing to pay top dollar. In response to the mass migration of durian lovers to Hong Kong. Chinese investors are partnering with Malaysian businesses to set up durian orchards in hopes to get the green light to directly ship to mainland China to be granted.
While the durian market seems to be in a stage of infancy, there sounds like there’s a lot of opportunities to take a big portion of the market.
With the high demand of durian, there’s a lot of room for expanding menus. For instance, Western chains in SE Asia are adjusting their assortment; Pizza Huts are serving durian pizza, McDonald’s has the durian McFlurry.
Other non food companies are joining the bandwagon as well. A Malaysian cosmetic company, Elianto Make Up launched a durian makeup collection last summer.
Also, there are durian flavored condoms (sold in Malaysia).
And there’s an App for durian delivery service in both Singapore and Malaysia.
Can Durian Kill You?
This is a legitimate question users type into Google. I scoured the inter-webs for fatality reports directly from durian. None popped up easily on Googles 1st page. But I did see a few blog posts about deaths involving durian but none from news sources.
According the blog posts. Yes, one can die from durian. Most of the incidents are from fallen durian. It’s a simple scenario as, be in a durian orchard and one falls on your head. The combination of the weight (think of a bowling ball that has spikes) and the tree height from where it falls from. This combination can be fatal.
And if that doesn’t kill you, it could potentially render you unconscious. If you’re in a region where tigers are (as mentioned previously). You could unintentionally have a standoff with a tiger, over durian.
Durian banned in some areas
To me, durian does not smell pleasant. The smell smacks you in the face, elicits a dry heave and maybe your pupils dilate a little (okay, maybe there’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point).
This thorny, prehistoric-looking fruit IS THE SMELLIEST fruit in the world. There’s a legit sign in Singapore’s public transportation singles out the ban of durian.
Why does durian smell so bad?
What makes the fruit stink like it has body odor? Like the scary whisper…. the call is coming from inside the house. The smell comes from the innards.
Durians have 46,000 genes and one in particular, regulates sulfur production that emits the rotten gas smell. The ripeness of the fruit can change the strength in the smell.
“Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother”.
– Anthony Bourdain
After trying durian chocolate and a durian custard tart it was time to go fully in. BTW, durian chocolate and durian custard are completely different from eating the real thing.
“It’s time to nut up or shut up.”
-Tallahassee – Zombieland
I leaned on a local foodie who recommended a vendor that receives good reviews on Google, TripAdvisor and Facebook. Because of the vendor’s high quality durian, and popularity. It has caused them to be sold out during in-season.
I went with a girlfriend of mine who mentioned she really likes the fruit. I wanted to try it with someone who really enjoys durian and thinking by osmosis that their taste buds would influence mine.
My friend and I met at Combat Durian. A stall that has been in business more than 50 years. To the locals, the proprietors have been known to source the best quality durians from Malaysia. Among the suppliers, they are known to be picky in their selection.
Mr. Ang Seck Puan the original proprietor started this durian stall in 1965. At that time, the spiky king of fruit went for 50 cents. Now the price is contingent on seasonality and variety. Durian can sell for around $35 per kg.
Mr. Puan started his business when he 12 years old, when he dropped out of primary school. His decision was a way to contribute to his big family of 14 younger siblings.
Fun Fact: Combat Durian got its name from how Mr. Puan used to pronounce, “come back.” Knowing this little history had me falling a little more in love with this place.
Today, Combat Durian is run by his daughter, Linda. It is said, Mr. Puan has been known to make an appearance here and there.
I think I recognized him during my visit, but I couldn’t be too sure. I was a bit intimidated to ask. I believe he was the one who personally chose our durian when we were asked, bitter or sweet?
Just like the 5 segments found inside of durian. I went through 5 reactions while eating durian.
1. Repulsiveness of how much more strong smelling durian is when freshly opened.
2. The mental exercise of trying to find my happy place before eating it.
3. During consumption. I was pleasantly surprised that the taste is not how it smells. It tasted very sweet, too sweet for my liking (I’m a savory gal all the way).
4. The fourth is curiosity. Do I continue to eat it to find out if it gets better or worse?
5. And the fifth reaction was apologetic, for those around me in the aftermath, when I was belching. The aftertaste was not to my liking. It lingered for hours. HOURS!!!
Does durian taste bad?
My friend had a completely different response. To her, it tastes like custard. It also smelled sweet to her. I did not get the same taste not smell. At all.
Which makes me wonder about taste buds and what type of palette does someone have to like durian from the start? Or like it in general.
Did my theory of durian being the Gorgonzola of fruit hold up?
In regards to smelling bad = tasting good.
No. Durian does not fall into this category (for me).
Overall, I can’t say I’m overly excited about the taste of durian. Am I happy to have tried it? Absolutely!! I’ve been curious about the infamous fruit ever since I first saw it.
Also, I believe I have earned the right to express my opinion based on haven eaten durian during in-season.
Although, I don’t think I’ll be seeking it out in the near future, but if I was offered a Mao Shang Wang durian (the high end durian) I wouldn’t say no.
Yet, if there was a durian eating contest I’m not going to enter.
Happy food trails!
7 Durian Dos and Don’ts
What to know about durian before try
- Don’t judge durian by the smell (ex. blue cheese smells like hot garbage, but it taste good). In other words, don’t be nose blind. Do try it to form your own opinion.
- Don’t go in blindly choosing durian. If you don’t know how to pick or eat durian, ask a friend or the vendor to show you the ropes. This will decrease the chance of eating unripe, bad durian or pre-frozen durian. A previously frozen fruit changes the texture and ruins the flavor.
- Do ask a local or find good reviews for suggestions on a reputable vendor. Going to a bad vendor could sabotage the experience.
- Do know that there are different types of durians and within the different types there’s a choice of bitter or sweet.
- Don’t eat with milk, soda and alcohol. Any of the three can cause indigestion and or bloating.
- Don’t buy durian that is missing their stalks.
- Don’t think eating durian tart, ice cream, pizza etc. is equal to eating the fruit. It’s not the same.