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12 Jan 2021

Durian – A hellish smell but a heavenly taste

Around the world, there are numerous foods that bring out extreme ‘love it or hate it’ reactions. Marmite and Brussels sprouts spring to mind, but nothing evokes quite so much passion from its lovers and haters as the ‘King of Fruits.’  The King is of course the (in)famous durian, which is endemic to Southeast Asia. Even for Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais, it is a tantalizing mix of heavenly taste paired with a repulsive aroma. It is an essential part of Asian culture but it definitely polarizes the expat community.

Asian durian

What is it?
Everything about the durian is utterly unique – the spiky yellow/green outer skin, the fleshy ‘fruit’ inside and of course the pungent smell. It is encased in an oval skin with large protruding spikes and the fruit itself has a very fleshy quality. It’s also a super fruit rich in iron, vitamin C, and potassium offering various health benefits. Mostly eaten raw, durian flavored ice cream, cakes and candy can be found throughout Asia. To some people it is not a fruit at all, due to its sweet, custardy taste with hints of vanilla.

   Asian durian ice cream      Asian durian cake   

Durian no-go areas
Due to its overpowering smell, (it can linger on the breath, clothes and other surfaces long after it’s been eaten) even an unopened durian is banned in enclosed spaces, such as hotels and on aircraft. After relocation to Singapore you’ll soon spot signs everywhere warning not to take durians on the subway or in shops and other public spaces. In 2018, an Indonesian flight was grounded after dozens of passengers refused to fly due to the overpowering stench of two tons of durian in the cargo hold.

Asian durian

Aroma impossible to describe
Personally, I find the taste and texture is exquisite. However, many people just can’t get beyond that extreme stench to enjoy their very first taste.  Frankly, it’s near impossible to adequately describe the aroma. Our sense of smell works in mysterious ways and each person reacts very differently. Here are just a few words which have been famously used to describe the smell:

Vomit-flavoured custard, turpentine, sweaty socks, onions, stale cheese, rotten eggs, the smell of rotten garbage.  It has been described as eating garlic-flavoured custard over an open sewer.

Asian durian

Durian is a strange combination of savory, sweet, and creamy, and a first bite can be a downright confusing and contradictory experience. This quote from Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Cerruti perhaps best sums it up:

“I must say that I have never tasted anything more delicious. But not everyone can enjoy or appreciate this strange fruit for the disgusting smell that distinguishes it and that is apt to cause nausea to a weak stomach.”

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