Durian : A Taste of Heaven and Hell
Although this exotic fruit is banned in most of the world, there is an increasing demand for it in the export market.
Durian, of course,” replied Dr. Hilario Laperia, a Filipino physician who now works in Canada, when asked what is his most favorite fruit. “Nothing beats it. I have tasted lots of exotic fruits but I still go back to my all-time favorite -durian.”
Another physician, who describes herself as a fruit lover, likes to eat all kinds of fruits, tropical or otherwise. But durian is the best, according to her. “My first encounter (with durian) was not very pleasant due to its odor. But once you have tried to taste its soft creamy pulp, you’ll learn to love it. My husband is from Laguna and it took so many prodding before he tasted it. Today, durian is his favorite fruit.”
Durian is famous for its odor. The opinions about the qualities of that odor are quite opposite! Most Asian people say that the odor of the durian can be compared to a perfume. Other people, especially foreigners, say that the fruit, when the skin of the fruit is opened, stinks. “It smells like hell and tastes like heaven” is how some foreigners describe the fruit. Listening to foreigners, the conclusion can be as follows: “You can stand the taste of the durian fruit, but not the smell.”
The following limerick says it all:
The durian — neither Wallace nor Darwin agreed on it.
Darwin said: “May your worst enemies be forced to feed on it.”
Wallace cried, “It’s delicious.”
Darwin replied, “I’m suspicious…
“For the flavor is scented like papaya fermented, after a
Fruit-eating bat has pee’d on it.”
It is very likely that Darwin never saw or smelt a durian. Among Filipinos, durian is the second most favorite fruit — after mango. Ina survey conducted by this author, 40% of the respondents singled out durian as their fruit of all seasons.
But despite its popularity among Filipinos, durian is still unknown in other parts of the world. When I was in Florida attending an international conference, I asked some Americans if they have tasted durian. “What kind of fruit is that?” they inquired.
“Though there are many places in the West Indies, tropical America, Africa, and Oceania where it should grow well, the durian is important only to Southeast Asia,” notes Underexploited Tropical Plants with Promising Economic Value, published by the US National Academy of Sciences. “It has received no research attention and today our knowledge of durian is virtually the same as when, in the 15th century, it was first observed by Europeans.”
The British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace famously described the fruit as “a rich butter-like custard highly flavored with almonds, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion sauce, brown-sherry, and other incongruities.” Old traveler Linchott wrote: “This fruit is of a hot and humid nature. It smells like rotten onion, but once tasted, everybody will like it.”
In the 1912 issue of the Philippine Journal of Science, O.W. Barrett noted: “The chemical body which is responsible for the very pronounced odor is probably one of the sulfur compounds with some base perhaps related to that in butyric acid; it is not an oil nor a sugar, not a true starch but a substance new to the organic chemist.”
In the science world, durian is known as Durio zibethinus. The name “durian,” however, comes from the Malay word “duri” (which means “thorn”) together with the suffix —an.
Because of its “foul-smelling odor” — most airlines don’t allow the fruit on board — durian is grown only in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the Philippines, durian production areas are concentrated in Mindanao, particularly in the southern part where it earned the moniker, “durian republic.” Durian is also grown in Southern Tagalog and Western Visayas.
Although the fruit is banned in most of the world, there is an increasing demand for it in the export market. Durian is called as “exotic tropical fruit” in North America and Europe where customers offer premium price. Durian is also highly regarded in other Asian countries, including Japan and Singapore.
Unlike mango, durian is a seasonal fruit and generally it is eaten fresh. The edible portion, known as the aril (usually referred to as the “flesh” or “pulp”) only accounts for about 15-30% of the mass of the entire fruit. The ripe pulp can also be made into jam, preserve (often packed like long sausages), candies, and other sweets.
When unripe, durian can be cooked like a vegetable — including frying unripe slices just like potato chips to make uncommonly good durian snack chips. In Thailand, a popular delicious dessert treat is often sold from roadside cart vendors. It is a cup of sweet sticky rice flooded with very sweet thin syrup of the juice of fresh coconut blended with a little fresh durian, sweetened with sugar cane juice.
Durian can be made into an excellent ice cream, or a cold milk shake. As a blender ingredient, though, it seems the king of fruits does not mix well with lesser commoners. The distinct durian flavor usually dominates, and in some cases mixing with other fruits accentuates the garlicky component of durian in unfavorable ways.
One known harmonious flavor with durian is coffee. Drinking coffee while eating durian is quite pleasant and invigorating — and a durian-flavored gourmet coffee would be an exotic treat.
Some people believe durian is an aphrodisiac. In Indonesia, the Javanese impose a strict set of rules on what may or may not be consumed with it or shortly thereafter. A saying “Durian jatuh sarung naik” (“The durians fall and the sarungs come up) refers to this belief. The warnings against the supposed lecherous quality of this fruit soon spread to the West — the Swedenborgian philosopher Herman Vetterling commented on so-called “erotic properties” of the durian in the early loth century.
Durian is also a medicinal plant. In Malaysia, a decoction of the leaves and roots used to be prescribed as an antipyretic. The leaf juice is applied on the head of a fever patient.
By the way, durian fruit contains a high amount of sugar, vitamin C, and potassium. It is a good source of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is recommended as a good source of raw fats by some raw food advocates, while others classify it as a “high-fat food,” recommending less consumption of the fruit.
Now, here’s a warning: Discover magazine reported an incident where a woman with pre-existing renal failure ate a durian and ended up critically ill from potassium overdose.
By Henrylito D. Tacio