Not many fruits and vegetables are banned from train stations and airports, but durian takes the cake when it comes to controversial produce. A tropical fruit from Southeast Asia, durian is a large, oval shaped monster that can weigh up to seven pounds. Brown-green on the outside and yellowish on the inside, this heavy fruit is covered with a thick, thorny husk and filled with custard-like flesh along with a few seeds. Regarded by many people as the “King of Fruits,” durian is used to make all sorts of desserts, from candy and cookies to ice cream and cappuccinos.
So what’s the problem?
The smell is the problem. While some people find the aroma of durian fruit to be mild, sweet and even almond-like, many other people find the smell to be absolutely repulsive. Dirty socks, rotten onions, raw sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray and spilled turpentine are just a few descriptors commonly used to describe the durian’s “unique” odor. Travel writer Richard Sterling says of durian, “its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”
Because many people find the smell of durian to be revoltingly overpowering, the fruit is banned from many establishments in Southeast Asia. Hotels, subways, airports and train stations will commonly post “NO DURIAN” signs, as the fruit’s interesting odor is emitted whether the fruit is cut or whole.
Why would anyone eat a fruit that smells like dirty laundry? Because the taste of durian is rich and glutinous, with a mild flavor unlike anything else in the world. Once you get past the foul odor, the fleshy sweetness takes over your senses. The smell is hell but the taste is heaven, and many people will gladly pay the olfactory price to taste this custard-like treat.
Do you dare try durian? For adventurous eaters, durian is a “must-try” on the buffet of life. You might be absolutely revolted by the smell, you might find a new favorite treat – or both! Either way, you’ll experience an intrepid flavor adventure and try something new.
If you’re outside of Southeast Asia, you’ll have to find this funky, football-shaped fruit frozen at a specialty grocery store or Asian supermarket. Durians are seasonal and grown only in the summer months, through the end of August. Look for a thick stem on your fruit, and listen for seeds when you shake it. Durian is ripe when the husk begins to crack open; however, some people prefer to let it ripen for many days beyond that. Plan to use your durian soon. Even in an airtight container, the odor will be noticeable throughout your kitchen and house.
Lay down newspaper on your workspace or table, and then use a long knife to cut into the durian along one of its seams. Take a deep breath and inhale the aroma of the tropics. Once your cut is about ten inches long, use your hands to pry the hull apart. Now cut through the fibrous divider, and pull the fruit itself apart to expose the pale, yellow flesh. Scoop out the edible flesh and discard the husks (wrap them tightly in plastic bags before they go in the trash). Strong people can do all of these steps with their hands, no knife needed.
Eat the creamy flesh straight from the husks, avoiding the seeds, or add it to your favorite recipes that require fruit. Durian works well in pancakes, baked goods, puddings, ice cream and in sticky rice dishes.
Please note: Traditional beliefs hold that durian has warming properties, and that the fruit should be avoided by anyone who is pregnant or has high blood pressure.
Image: Ke Wynn