Why is durian banned, why is it so stinky, why are investors taking stock in durian, a durian was auctioned off for $9K and what was my first taste of durian like?
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?
So many questions!!
Before trying durian I had a theory about the taste. That durian is the gorgonzola of fruit. Gorgonzola cheese straight up, smells like stinky feet, but it taste so good. Proof that our senses can confuse us when it comes to smell and taste.
In a similar way that sight vs. taste can also trick us. E.g. Marmite looks like melted tar (and smells so bizarre) but it tastes pretty good.
Here in South East Asia, durian is widely available. And when in season, people go on hyper focus to seek out the best durian.
The craze is much like the smell. It strongly wafts over the region and some how seeps into my social feeds. Some of my WhatsApp chats and social media feeds are flooded with durian hype. The message exchanges are about which vendors have the more superior durian, who’s sold out who’s having a durian party.
Should I try Durian?
I’ve been living abroad for over a year and it’s high time to try this odorific fruit. I have found that my eating choices are unlike my traveling lifestyle. And it’s making me a creature of habit. From the quote,
“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. Over a lunch, I witnessed my friend tell 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.
As a kid, I definitely did not go hungry. I was exposed to different types of cuisine. Later in my early adult life, my Dad gifted me Irma S. Rombauers’ famous book, The Joy of Cooking. Inside a note said, “Sarah, Good looks don’t last forever, good cooking does. Merry Christmas. Love, Dad.”
Thanks Dad. LOL.
Food can be a gateway into new adventures, friends and experiences. And the notion of actively searching out new food is a foreign muscle to me. So 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 is Durian?
An oval spiky shaped fruit found in South East Asia. Proudly named the King of Fruits and mostly known for being the stinkiest.
The stank causes its banishment on public transportation and hotels throughout South East Asia. 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.
Why is Durian the King of Fruits?
At first sight, it clearly has a ring (crown) of thorns encircling the stem, but the nomenclature doesn’t stop there. Countries in South East Asia recognize Durian as the King of Fruits. Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore (city-state), Indonesia and Vietnam.
The countries also have recognized its murderous streak. Kings like murder. More on this below (Can Durian Kill You – section).
It’s noted that jungle cats of all sizes eat durian. In Asian mythology the protectors and kings of the jungle are tigers. There are reports from Sumatran durian farmers who have sighted tigers in their orchards devouring their crop. Thus, durian picking can be dangerous AF.
So, 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. These traits 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: How do you get your fresh durian fix if you’re in China?
Answer: Go to Hong Kong. Many Chinese food enthusiasts are booking flights to Hong Kong to get their fix and are willing to pay top dollar for durian. 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 the green light to ship directly to mainland China is granted.
The durian market seems to be in a stage of infancy making it vulnerable to a lot of opportunities.
Increased durian demand is influencing innovation.
Durian is being infused into cream puffs, ice cream, pizza, chocolate, etc. Western chains have adjusted their menu in parts of SE Asia.
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. So, I thought I would address it.
I scoured the inter-webs for fatality reports directly from durian. None popped up easily on Googles 1st page. I did see a few blog posts about deaths involving durian but none from news sources.
According to the posts that I read. 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. A 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. If that doesn’t kill you, it could potentially render you unconscious. If you’re in a region where tigers are. YES, tigers, who love durian. You could unintentionally be faced in a chance encounter with a tiger over durian.
Or maybe a combination of both, could be ones demise. I’ll let your imagination think of hypothetical ways of death by 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, I might be exaggerating slightly, but this thorny, prehistoric-looking fruit IS THE SMELLIEST fruit in the world. I mean, hotels and mass transits ban the odoriferous fruit.
Why does durian smell so bad?
What makes the fruit stink like it has B.O?
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
The smell is pretty bad, but if I had to choose between smelling durian or cigarette smell …. durian wins. Every. Single. Time.
Also, durian doesn’t give anyone cancer. DURIAN WIN!
It’s quite the opposite. It’s rich in vitamin C, iron, potassium, fiber, promotes good skin health and lowers blood pressure.
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. Also, the vendor’s popularity 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 enjoyed the fruit, rather than the opposite.
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 strong smelling an open durian is.
2. 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 experience.
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 (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. Freezing the 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.