I have recently discovered an unusual fruit from the area of Southeast Asia. The fruit, known as the “king of fruits” has some very distinct qualities. Many who have become familiar with this exotic Asian fruit admit it is definitely an acquired taste, and smell.
So What is it?
The durian fruit grows on trees, which begin to bear fruit after four or five years of cultivation. These trees grow anywhere between about 85 feet to 130 feet. The fruit has a tough, thorny outer husk or shell. It is is about as large as a pineapple, sometimes growing up to a foot long, with an oblong shape consisting of several “pods.” The flesh, pulp, and seeds are edible at various stages of the fruit’s maturity.
The edible flesh of this fruit is a pale yellow color, and has been described as having a creamy, custard texture with a mild almond type flavor. One of its most distinctive features is the odor of the fruit itself, inside the husk. It is a strong smell that many have described as offensive or overpowering, like sulfur.
History of the Durian Fruit
Durian are native to Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo and Sumatra and are found growing wild or semi-wild in Lower Burma (Myanmar) and the Malaysian peninsula. This fruit tree is commonly cultivated in Southeastern India, Ceylon, and New Guinea. The coastal inhabitants of Malaysia, Brunei, and neighboring countries have long considered durian a delicacy that is used in many recipes.
The Western world has known this fruit for only about the last 600 years. This fruit is either loved or loathed, there seems to no middle ground. Because of that, the importation to the United States has not been aggressively pursued. When you do find durian in the States, it is often expensive.
Health Benefits of Durian
There are some important health benefits we can enjoy by eating durian fruit. It is a good source of fiber and is actually used successfully as a colon cleanser. Durian provides a wealth of minerals and vitamins, and the simple sugars in durian produce a powerful natural energy boost. Although high in fat, durian does not contain cholesterol.
Durian is rich in vitamin C as well as the B-complex vitamins. Important minerals found in durian include copper, iron, potassium, and magnesium. The iron and copper found in durian are utilized in the body to produce red blood cells, and potassium helps regulate blood pressure and promotes heart health.
Another healthy component found in durian is tryptophan. This is used by the body to create melatonin and serotonin, which you might recognize from drug commercials as relaxing agents or as natural sleeping aids, but these are found naturally in durian.
Facts About Durian
The odor of a freshly opened durian fruit has been compared to the smell of natural gas. This is probably due to the high sulfur content in the fruit. This is one of those cases where the fruit tastes nothing like it smells. Be aware that people have been known to be asked to leave areas when eating durian because of the odor. This is one fruit that’s best eaten at home, and probably alone.
In Singapore, the mass transit line prohibits, by law, passengers boarding with a durian in their possession. But, Singapore has also paid homage to this “King of All Fruits” by constructing a building in its honor. Don’t even attempt to eat durian on an airplane.
The older the durian tree is, the higher the quality of durian it will produce. But watch out while you stand and admire those old trees. Standing underneath a durian tree can be dangerous, as falling durian fruit have been known to be fatal upon impact with the unsuspecting person.
How to Eat the Durian Fruit
Cutting open a durian fruit requires considerable care and attention to avoid puncturing yourself on the pointy outer layer. Look for a line, slit, or seam running lengthwise down the fruit. This is a natural opening. Take a knife, or your hands if you dare, and gently pull the fruit open at this seam. You will be separating the durian into “pods” each of which contains little pockets of a creamy substance which you can eat (but is not very sweet) and little solid fleshy, creamy fruit pieces.
Asian cultures make good use of the durian flesh in their diets, using the natural sweetness in milkshakes, ice cream, juice, and sauces. The seeds can be boiled, fried, or roasted for a healthy snack. Even the leaves and flowers are occasionally cooked and eaten in Indonesia. Durian is also sold in neighborhood shops in the form of delicious pudding, cakes, and crepes in Singapore.
Durian should be stored well sealed and away from other foods as the odor will permeate anything in the same container, such as the refrigerator. Durian and carbonated drinks do not mix well in the stomach and has been known to cause serious complications. In the United States you are most likely to find frozen durian that has been thawed. This is ok (and generally cheaper than fresh), so long as the thorny spines are not dried and brittle.
If you’re looking for a truly different culinary adventure, durian would definitely be something to try. Do an online search for sources and check to see if you have an Asian marketplace in your community. Yes, the popular saying about durian is it “smells like Hell and tastes like Heaven” but that’s just one more reason to be inspired to try this exotic fruit!