Durian, known in Southeast Asia as the King of Fruits, is a fascinating member of the genus Durio and the Malvaceae family. It has the distinction of being a fruit that people either passionately love or passionately hate, due to its unique strong aroma and flavor. It is native to Malayasia, Brunei and Indonesia. Although it has been eaten since prehistoric times, it has only been known in the West for about six hundred years.
The trees are tall – from 80 to 165 feet. Its flowers bloom only at night and are pollinated by fruit bats and large bees. The fruit itself is oblong to round and varies in color from green to brown, depending on the variety of fruit. The flesh varies from yellow to red, depending on the variety. The fruits weigh between two and seven pounds, and are covered with a thick, thorny husk. Because of the weight and thorniness of the fruits, people are advised not to linger under the trees. Death by durian? I’ll pass.
The fruit emits a distinctive odor that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from attractive to intense disgust. The odour has led to the fruit’s banishment from hospitals, hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia. Until fairly recently, it was difficult to bring durian into the United States as airlines refused to transport it. However, durian cultivars have varying degrees of aroma and flavor, and some are less offensive than others, so it can be found in some Asian markets in the U.S.
The edible part of the fruit is in five distinct pockets and the flesh is creamy and custard-like. The fruit is seasonal, unlike many tropical fruits. It contains a high level of sugar, vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates and fat. Some scientists rank it as high-glycemic; others do not. It is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. The question is whether it’s worth enduring the fruit for the hoped-for effect.
I admit I have a fascination for durian, mainly as I’ve never tried it. I almost had my chance in Hainan China at a fruit stand. They had durians there and one was partially open so I sniffed it. It didn’t smell bad, so it might have been the less offensive one. However, it meant I would have needed to purchase a ten pound fruit and bring it into the hotel with me, as they wouldn’t sell me one slice. One of these days I’ll have my chance….