Food & Beverage : Fruits

The Controversial Durian
Sweet to bitter, creamy buttery flavor is Asia's King of Fruits

Text and photography by Loreen Neville
January 5th 2010

Perhaps you've heard top chefs describe the taste and smell of a durian as "smelly socks or stinking garbage', if so then its best to re-evaluate their capabilities. This is because chefs are expected to know a taste and smell accurately of food, vegetables and fruits, without partiality when commenting -LN.

Durian lovers all over the world have often heard negative remarks about the durian fruit in regard to taste and smell. Most common comments are "taste and smells like garbage or rotten garbage, smells like stinking or smelly socks". These comments are often inherited from mouth to mouth without the person(s) actually having eaten the fruit. I once laughed out loud and called an ignorant TV chef an idiot, when he stupidly remarked that the durian taste and smelt like smelly socks. As a chef, his taste and sense buds, should have been sharp enough to know the full flavor and scent of this particular fruit that produces an overwhelming odor which is flowery in scent and pungent as in leeks.

Many Europeans and Westerners also cannot comprehend the taste and smell of durians, therefore negative tags have descended upon this mother earth grown fruit. Even before they have met the fruit, they have already declared the fruit unfit. We know that many people have not even seen the fruit because it is clear Europe and the West do not produce durians and how many of them have visited Asia? Therefore, we can project that those who gave the fruit a negative smelly socks or garbage smell have mostly heard the input from stupid ignorant fools, who can't differentiate an overwhelming smell and taste to rotten garbage. In addition, do you think durian lovers the world over would eat the fruit if it actually smelt and tasted like garbage? Come on, where's the logic? Durian lovers are not weird people with a passion for edible garbage! The penetrating enticing and often called offensive strong odor, has resulted in the fruit being banned in certain hotels, hospitals and public transportation like in airplanes and Mass transit railways in many countries which is understandable. People rather smell their own bad breath or perfume in an enclosed area. Besides, any smell even if its perfume in an enclosed area for a prolonged period tends to give one a headache. This is why smoking has also been ban especially in air-condition rooms.

On one fine weekday afternoon, a lovely good friend of mine from France, Christine paid a visit. Out of the blue the word, durian popped up. Christine immediately declared the fruit "to be so smelly like garbage and taste like smelly socks". I asked Christine if she had tasted the fruit or even came 1 meter before it. Christine replied, "No" she had never tasted it nor was ever so closed to it. Typically, this is the norm of so many people who never had the fruit yet are full of negativity about it. To prove a point I invited Christine right away to a durian shop in Jakarta.

French lady Christine thus admited that the durian fruit did not at all smell like stinking garbage instead she now says that the scent is like a strong flower like smell and the monthong variety she tasted was sweet, creamy and a little rich in flavor. I rest my case.

It was recorded that in 1856, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described the taste of a durian as, "The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-colored pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavor are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavor it is unsurpassed."

According to a science journal, the strong smell is released from substances and may be divided into sulphur-compounds like linear and cyclic sulphides, mercaptans and thio-esters, and fruity odorants including a great number of aliphatic esters and alpha-hydroxyketones (acetoins)."In a study by Näf and Velluz it was found that the fruity aspect of the durian flavour is influenced by ethyl deca-2,4-dienoates, -3,6-dienoates and -2,4,7-trienoates. It was also identified that one of the strongest smelling sulphur compounds in durian to be 3, 5-dimethyl-1, 2, 4-trithiolane. They also found that ethyl 2-methylbutanoate had the strongest odour impact among the non-sulphurous odorants Etymology". So is ethyl 2-methylbutanoate garbage or smelly socks?

The durian is a fruit and not a vegetable, known as a delicacy to most Asians and grown in countries like Indonesia, Thailand a major exporter with the fruit being introduce only in the 18th century, Malaysia especially in Penang and in smaller scale of certain estates in Singapore. Other durian-growing region also includes India, Vietnam, Burma-Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Davao and Mindanao in the Philippines, Florida and Hawaii.

Here in Indonesia, durian plantations can be found in the regions of Sumatra, like Medan, Palembang and Riau. The fruit husk is greenish to brown and flesh is yellow in color. It is difficult to find the golden flesh or orangey color durian in Indonesia except perhaps in Bengkulu and Palembang. Indonesia's tropical climate assists in the growth of the durian and is available all year round. Durians are also sold in a number of supermarkets in Indonesia with the flesh already removed from the husk and wrapped in plastic. This is the least recommended way to have your durian because most of the fruits sold this way have stiff flesh which should not be the case. It is best to eat durian fresh straight from the spike husk and if possible with given opportunity just after the fruit have fallen from the tree. Durian flesh when properly ripen should be silky soft. Colors range from white yellow, yellowish, Golden or orange.


In the late 2008, a number of shop houses have been mushrooming in Indonesia selling and serving the Thai Monthong durians which are sweet and yellowish in colour. Thailand produces and exports the Monthong variety in large quantities to the other parts of Asia either fresh or frozen. The monthong variety is recommended suitable to be shipped or flown because the fruits are frozen. The monthong varieties are larger and fuller in appearance and come with a gold tag with Chinese writings on its cut stub.

According to reports it has been said that the Thai agriculturists have managed to achieve in minimizing the strong durian smell by transplantation surgery. This is done by transplanting branches of grown trees onto newly growing trees of less than 70 cm in height. Trees grown shorter also make it easier to harvest the unripe fruit.





The monthong variety sold in durian shops in Jakarta mainly arrives from Thailand frozen during off peak seasons and fresh during peak season.

Durian trees are large, growing to up 25-50 metres in height with its flowers clusters on large branches. Depending on the variety or species, Durian trees have one or two flowering and fruiting periods per year and the tree bears fruit after four or five years and matures three months after pollination. Apparently there are about "30 recognized durian varieties where only nine of which produce are edible fruit. Currently the Durio zibethinus is the only species available in the international market while other species are sold in the local regions of a country."



The durian fruit can grow about 12 inches in length and 6 inches in diameter. Depending on its variety, the durian weighs from 2 lbs up to 9 lbs. Its shape ranges from round to oval and has a green to brown spiked husk. There are also green spiked husk durians which are round and smaller.

In the photograph this Monthong species weighed 7.170 lb and cost Rp 52,000,000 or fifty two thousand rupiahs on December 29, 2009







The edible flesh of the durian is yellowish in color with a soft creamy texture around a large seed and is sweet. Some species are also bittersweet and orange in color. The bittersweet durian fleshes are considered the best tasting durians are more golden or orange in color and nowadays fetch a high price. These durian varieties often come from Penang in Malaysia or can be found in Bengkulu Indonesia.

When the flesh of the durian is a bit hard or stiff, this indicates that the fruit is not fully ripe when picked and is opened or is of a poorer harvest grade. Durians grown in Indonesia and Malaysia are usually ripe when harvested. The fruit falls onto the ground when ripen and is best eaten fresh, about 6 hours after the fall. However many inpatient non-professional fruit pickers often pluck the fruit off the tree unripe thus resulting in flesh being hard or stiff.



Nutritional value

Durians are a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Durians also consist of a high amount of sugar, vitamin C, potassium, and the serotoninergic amino acid tryptophan. The US Department of Agriculture concur the durian's nutritional value as:

Value: per 100grms of the edible part Minerals Vitamins
Water - 64.990 gram
Energy - 147 kcal
Energy - 615 kj
Protein - 1.47 gram
Total lipid (fat) - 5.33 gram
Carbohydrate, by difference - 27.09 gram
Fiber, total dietary - 3.8 gram
Calcium, Ca - 6 mg
Iron, Fe - 0.430 mg
Magnesium, Mg - 30 mg
Phosphorus, P - 38 mg
Potassium, K - 436 mg
Sodium, Na - 1 mg
Zinc, Zn - 0.28 mg
Copper, Cu - 0.207 mg
Manganese, Mn - 0.324 mg
Vitamin C, ascorbic acid - 19.7 mg
Thiamin - 0.374 mg
Riboflavin - 0.2 mg
Niacin - 1.074 mg
Pantothenic acid - 0.23 mg
Vitamin B-6 - 0.316 mg
Vitamin A, IU - 45.000 IU
Vitamin A, RE - 5.000 mcg_RE

Apart from eating fresh durians, a number of sweet concoctions have also been produced like durian ice-cream, Cendol durian, snacks like Do-dol durian or lempuk and durian cakes. Home cook recipes like the Sumatran sambal durian or tempuyak are a favorite amongst the Indonesians.

It has been taught through generations that after eating the fresh durian, place water and salt in one of the empty husk. Rinse and gargle straight from the husk. This will clear your throat and since durian is considered a heaty fruit, this will help prevent a sore throat. To aid in digestion after eating durian, consume chilled papaya.

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