Odd Eats: Durian, Forbidden Fruit

by Valerie on Friday, June 17, 2011

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Well, our last Odd Eats experience with ambergris might have been distinct smelling but at least it was subtle. This week's Odd Eats is everything but! Durian is one of the naturally strongest smelling fruits I've ever come across. And apparently I'm not the only one who feels that way. In Singapore, it is actually forbidden to even have any of the fruit with you on public transport and in some hotels because its odor is considered so revolting by some. One thing's for sure: it seems to be a love-it-or-hate it kind of food.

This tropical fruit is native to Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia but is now also grown in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Florida, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, the Polynesian Islands, Madagascar, southern China, northern Australia, and Singapore. A quick trip through the interwebs reveals a range of interesting descriptions of the fruit from the flattering, “…a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed,” to the slightly less-than, “Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise. …Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” (Gotta love Tony Bourdain).

My first experience with durian was a few years back in Taiwan where I ingested it only through my nose in the open air produce markets. One smell and I was sure I didn't want to eat it. So since I was already biased I decided to try this infamous fruit out for the first time right alongside my boyfriend who is a passionate durian lover. And wow did we have differing opinions!

First off, I shall we say… affected THREE freezers in the process of eating this fruit. I transported it from friend's house to friend's house and left all their ice boxes smelling… distinctive. Through a plastic bag and a paper bag… fully frozen…distinctive. The interesting thing to me is that my reaction to the smell and his reaction to the smell are essentially opposite even though we actually describe the smell in a similar way. It should be noted that his first taste of durian was at the age of six traveling through Southeast Asia. My first taste was at the elderly age of twenty seven. I'm already a closed-minded, crotchety old lady!

So what I can only describe as a sweet tropical fruity richness followed by a pungent rotten onion smell, he describes as, “Yum!” He said one whiff and his mouth waters like crazy. His descriptors of its taste included onion, garlic, fruit liqueur, “a little banana in there,” natural gas, garbage, “the essence of tropical countries,” heavy cream, garlicky ice cream and “this can NOT be low cal.”

I would agree with all of those, especially the onions, the natural gas, the garbage and, strangely, the fruit liqueur. I can't compare it to another fruit because to me the fruitiness is unlike any other. It truly is sweet and rich, pulpy and meaty, like cherimoya with an even thicker custard consistency, but its aftertaste, which seems to travel up your throat, down your nose, and then back up and around again for hours after consumption, is incredibly powerful and I personally found it extremely unpleasant. However, I must say: I could definitely see developing a taste for durian. It's rich, it's distinctive and it's truly tropical. And I mean I do love onions…

In sum: Creamy, fruity, odiferous… polarizing. There simply is no other fruit like durian.

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{ 25 comments }

JB Bannister June 17, 2011 at 6:27 am

I love the frozen popsicles you buy in the store but I have been unable to eat the fruit itself. Most Asian stores have the popsicles and they are quit wonderful.

Also I have heard several people DIE every year from durian. They get hit in the head when they fall from trees.

Valerie June 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Oh dear! Well I got knocked over by the smell…

Belinda @zomppa June 17, 2011 at 6:28 am

Durian ice is yummy!! Distinctive IS a good way to describe it – that last photo is wild!

Jessica Bennett June 17, 2011 at 6:42 am

I’ve had the popsicles too, and they are tasty. To me they remind me vaguely of the fruit itself but still taste different.

Valerie June 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I could imagine a durian flavored popsicle tasting great because the fruit flavor of it is wonderful. It’s just the whole package that doesn’t sit all that well with me!

Sarah June 17, 2011 at 6:47 am

Have always been intrigued by durian but have yet to make the plunge…I have a feeling I would be on your side of the fence!

Cate June 17, 2011 at 7:27 am

Love that description! I have only had durian once, in Singapore, where there are No Durian signs at the entrance to lots of buildings and train stations because the smell is so bad. I remember liking it, but I don’t think I’ll ever buy one because I don’t want to fill my house up with that smell!

deana@lostpastremembered June 17, 2011 at 7:29 am

OMG, it looks like giant lobes of foie gras! I will admit I have never tried it… but I seem to like odd things soooo… one of these days. So many different flavors and smells… no wonder it’s a love it or hate it fruit. I have seen those signs in hotels… but the freezer… that is one powerful fruit.

Maria @ Scandifoodie June 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Durian is certainly unique, but I actually like the flavour! Great in smoothies too!

Nelly Rodriguez June 18, 2011 at 6:35 am

I’ve never tried durian but would venture out and try it!

Karen June 18, 2011 at 8:24 am

Okay I have to weigh in on this. I have had durian many times now, in ice cream form, in a smoothie, as fruit leather, previously frozen, and fresh wild Malaysian durian– some of the best. And as much as I try to like it, I still don’t. But like many things I believe it is what you are used to. Growing up in the US, I never had durian around me but I’m pretty sure if I did, I would like it. I mean I love cheese and some kinds are pretty stinky!!

Valerie June 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Totally. I mean an oscar mayer bologna sandwich on white wonder bread with mayo and a kraft cheese square would be equally repulsive to someone who wasn’t exposed to its joy at an early age…

Sarah June 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I had durian juice at a Pho chain and it smelled like old socks. Then I tasted it and it tasted like old socks.

Valerie June 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

LOL!!

Jermaine June 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm

People are usually for or against durian, there’s no sitting on the fence here.Eating durians has always been a pivotal part of my life (in fact, my late grandfather used to buy them weekly for my mum when she was pregnant with my siblings and I, so I guess our adventure started way before birth)! I like my durians in their original form – gnawing the flesh off the orange seeds. I find that removing the pulp and blending them into popsicles/creampuffs/etc tends to dilute the flavour and reduce its fragrance! It does make you rather stinky though, from your sweat to your breath to your pee (okay, too graphic here). But I love it 🙂

Shiro Ang June 19, 2011 at 6:34 am

Most Singaporeans and Malaysians love it.
I’m Singaporean, and I love it, especially the darker yellow and sweet ones.
Some prefer the more bitter ones.

Many premium types for premium price for it though, like D24, Mao Shan Wang, Sultan, etc…

The Duo Dishes June 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Hmmm. OK. Well. That description of the smell is not helpful for those of us who are still a little anxious about tasting it. 🙂 We both need to give it a try! It’s just one of those things that’s worth the experience if it’s tasty.

Kim June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm

AHHHHH…. this is my childhood coming back to haunt me! My Vietnamese parents are part of the “love it” camp. There was always one in the freezer. And you could smell it from anywhere.

Anywhere.

[K]

Sarah July 3, 2011 at 9:54 am

fascinating! would love to try durian one day. I saw it at Chinatown in London but didn’t dare buy it as I was staying at a friend’s house. Is it used in cooking as well as eaten raw?

Karen July 5, 2011 at 9:27 am

Give it a go (but maybe at your own house ;)) I’ve never seen it cooked. If not eaten straight off the seed, it’s usually incorporated into ice creams or milk shakes, etc

mishmash September 15, 2011 at 1:28 am

Yes it can be cooked. Usually only the less tasty ones or over ripe durians are cooked. The flesh is stripped from the seeds and dump in a wok – i’m pretty sure other things go into it – and it’s … I can’t say it’s fried…it’s been so long since I saw my mom cooking it but it becomes a sort of ‘pastry doughy’ thing that lasts pretty long. Usually clingwrapped and stored in the fridge. In this form, there is almost no smell, the taste is still there but – more savoury.

I know some people out in the villagers eat durian as it is with rice. I have not tried eating it in this manner, I love durian but I don’t think durian and rice would go down well with me.

Reese@SeasonwithSpice July 7, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Hi Karen & Valerie,

I just found your site – what a fun discovery as we follow you around the globe savoring the amazing variety of world cuisines. Your durian post really caught my attention.

I live in Penang, Malaysia where durians are grown abundantly in other side of the island. The durian festival is going on right now and you can see the craze all over the streets. They believe that durians have to be enjoyed fresh. For first timer, you will only fall in love with the taste if you have the quality fruit. We even have visitors from Japan, Taiwan, HK, China & Singapore coming all the way just to Penang just to eat the freshest King of Fruits. Quite a phenomenon!

Thought you might be interested to see the flowers & the trees of this intriguing fruit:
http://www.capturingpenang.com/2010_06_20_archive.html
http://www.capturingpenang.com/2010/06/durian-addiction.html

Cheers!

Karen July 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Thanks so much Reese! Yes I’ve meet hard-core durian fans and it doesn’t surprise me at all, but I bet it is great fun partaking in the festivities! Thanks for sending along the links

noura October 24, 2011 at 7:47 am

Love it love it love it. Did I mention that I love it? Its a little hard to get it here where I live but when I do spot it, into the shopping cart it goes. I even tried the dried durian chips that you get in Thai shops. Absolutely delicious. I wonder how the Popsicles would taste like (hmmmm).

Sara June 23, 2012 at 10:20 am

It’s durian season now in Malaysia and my grandpa’s garden estate is filled with durians!! Mouth watering!!

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