Durian – stinky fruit with a peculiar taste

The smell of the durian fruit is extraordinary and very intense. Descriptions range from sweet and putrid to onion-like to flavors like ammonia, vinegar, rotten  meat  or vomit. No wonder the imposing, prickly fruit is called a stinky fruit or puke fruit. Their  taste  isn’t for everyone either. Especially in Asia, durian is loved by many people for its taste, while others loathe it and would never eat it. But what exactly is durian? Why does it smell so bad and how does it taste? Is she possibly particularly healthy? In the following you will find out what this special fruit is all about.

Durian: names, appearance and origin

The durian goes by different names: durian lovers often call it “queen of fruits”. Because of its strong smell and taste, durian is also known as puke fruit, stinky fruit, stinky fruit or cheese fruit.

The fruit is quite large, up to 20-30 centimeters long and 15-25 centimeters wide. Their brown-green to yellowish shell is covered with many strong, woody spines, from which their name is derived: “Duri” means thorn or thorn in Malaysia. With a weight of two to four kilograms and its oval to round shape, it is an impressive sight overall.

The durian is a capsule fruit. Inside there are three to five fruit chambers, separated by stable walls, in which the seeds lie. Each seed is encased in a soft, pudding-like, yellowish-white seed coat, also known as the pulp. The pulp gives off an intense smell and is eaten as fruit.

Originally from Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, the durian is the fruit of the durian tree, also known as the civet tree (Durio zibethinus), which belongs to the mallow family. In the main growing regions in Thailand there are a variety of different types of durian. They differ in shape, color of the skin, texture of the flesh, weight and price. The Thai stinky fruit includes the Mon-Thong, Gan-Yao, Cha-Nee, and Kan-Yaw varieties, among others.

How does a durian taste?

Although the smell is usually perceived as unpleasant, connoisseurs describe the special taste of the durian and the creamy consistency of the pulp as heavenly and lovely. In Southeast Asia, it is said that Europeans have to taste the durian three times before they get used to the taste.

In this country, the aroma of a durian is considered extraordinary and very contradictory. It is hard to imagine that the durian fruit can combine the whole range of the following flavors:

What does the stinky fruit smell like?

As mentioned at the beginning, the durian exudes a unique, sweet-putrid and very penetrating smell. The variety of smells and aromas that can be perceived is remarkable. The smell of durian is compared to the following smells:

  • Rotten  Onions
  • Gas
  • old socks
  • decay
  • Caramel
  • vomit
  • rotten  eggs
  • Vinegar
  • Ammonia

Why does the durian smell so bad?

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have found out why the durian smells so bad. 1  Stinky fruit contains a rare protein building block called ethionine, which, when combined with a specific enzyme, produces a strong odorant. This odorant (ethanethiol) is a sulfur-containing compound that is responsible for the rotten onion stench.

Ethanethiol shares an unofficial world record with butanethiol, another sulfur-containing compound: both substances are mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “worst smelling molecules in the world”.

Since ethanethiol can be perceived by humans as an intense odor even in tiny amounts, this substance is also added to liquid gas, for example, to detect leaky gas pipes.

Other flavoring compounds found in durian belong to the diverse chemical class of furanones. These appear to be responsible for both the caramel-like sweet scent and the “Maggi®”-like odor component. A total of around two hundred different substances have been identified so far, all of which contribute to the smell of the durian. 2

From a biological point of view, the stench of the durian is justified: Wild animals such as elephants, monkeys and tigers love this special smell. They eat the fruit and then disperse the seeds in nature with their droppings. This is how they ensure the spread of the plant.

How healthy is the durian?

A durian can do more than just stink. It is considered healthy due to the variety of valuable ingredients. According to a study, durian is said to have the following health effects 3 :

In addition, the numerous nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the durian are said to have the following health-promoting effects:

  • Macronutrients:  The high proportion of sugar (30 percent) and fat (2 percent) provides a lot of energy. A portion of durian, which is about 155 grams, contains up to 250 kcal. This is equivalent to the amount of energy contained in one large  pear  and four small  apples  .
  • Provitamin A:  There are 32 milligrams of this important vitamin in 100 grams of durian pulp. It is important for healthy skin and supports vision.
  • Vitamin B1 :  100 grams of fruit pulp contains up to 450 micrograms of the vitamin. Vitamin B1 contributes to energy production in the body cells and is important for the nerves and the heart muscle.
  • Vitamin B2 :  350 micrograms are in 100 grams of durian. It is required for many processes that take place in the body, such as the construction and growth of cells and organs and energy production.
  • Vitamin C :  With 42 milligrams per 100 grams of pulp, the durian contains as much vitamin C as a grapefruit. Vitamin C contributes to the normal functioning of the body’s own defences.
  • Potassium Approximately 600 milligrams of potassium in 100 grams of pulp are otherwise rarely found in fruit. For comparison: Bananas contain 400 milligrams per 100 grams of pulp. Potassium is involved in many processes in the body. It can help lower blood pressure and affects heart muscle activity.
  • In addition, the durian contains  phosphorus  and  iron .  While the  mineral  phosphorus is important for the body’s energy balance and the formation of bones and teeth, the trace element iron has an essential function in blood formation and is essential for oxygen transport via the blood.
  • Polyphenols, such as the flavonoids  found in durian  , have an antioxidant effect. They can protect the body’s cells from damage caused by radical oxygen compounds. At the same time, it was found that flavonoids can initiate programmed cell death (apoptosis) and thus inhibit the growth of cancer cells. 3
  • Dietary fibers  contained in the durian  contribute to the normal function of the intestine and support the intestinal flora. In particular, the fermented durian, the so-called Tempoyak, is considered to be probiotic because the processing process makes it rich in various  lactic acid bacteria , which are good for intestinal health.

Traditionally in Thailand, the bark, roots and leaves of the durian tree are used to treat  fever  and  jaundice  .

Where to buy durian

In the homelands of the durian, the fruit is often collected from the ground after falling from the tree when ripe. You can then buy them there at the local markets. For export, the fruits are carefully picked by hand from the tree and carefully packed so that the skin is not damaged.

In Europe, durians are rarely offered fresh. They are mainly found in Asian stores in major cities with a high Asian population or in specialty fruit and  vegetable stores .

If you have the opportunity to get hold of a fresh durian, you should make sure that the shell is intact and that the durian “rattles” when you shake it. This is a sign of the ripeness of the fruit. When the durian is ripe, the pulp separates from the chambers and falls back and forth with movement, creating a rattling sound. You can also tap the shell of the durian. The tapping sound should be dull and deep, not hollow or wooden.

You can sometimes buy frozen whole durians in well-stocked Asian stores. It also happens that the individually packaged segments are found in the refrigerated section or in the freezer. There are also online shops where you can order the fruit fresh or dried. Durian chips made from the pulp are also available.

How do you open and eat a durian?

For those who would like to try a fresh durian, here is a quick guide on how to open the fruit. But be careful: the spikes are very sharp and the shell is difficult to crack. Here’s how to open a durian:

  1. Use a sturdy knife to pierce one of the seams of the fruit chambers that is visible from the outside.
  2. Rotate the knife slightly to further tear the durian.
  3. Put the knife away. It is best to carefully reach into the opening with your hands and break open the shell on both sides.
  4. Now you can see the inside of a chamber. You can now carefully remove the yellowish-white and soft flesh.

Not all chambers have to be opened at once. The pulp can also be left to ripen in the unopened chambers. When the durian is ripe, the fruit is easy to break open and the flesh can be easily removed. In any case, the pulp should be eaten or processed quickly after removal. The whole fruit can also be stored at 5 to 7 degrees Celsius for about a week.

You should avoid alcohol when eating the durian, as this can lead to abdominal pain and stomach cramps.

What can you use a durian for?

Durian fruits are also used in the producing countries to make jam, cakes, ice cream, fruit juice, curries and even as a pizza topping. It is also where the seeds of the durian are eaten, which are thinly sliced ​​and roasted like potato chips and eaten as a snack.

Everything about this tropical, stinky fruit seems amazing: its appearance, its smell and, last but not least, its taste. In Asia, durian is even said to have a (scientifically unproven) aphrodisiac effect. Admiration for the stinky fruit is so great there that a monument has been set up for it both in Kampot (Cambodia) and in the southern Philippine city of Davao.

Where is the durian fruit banned?

Due to their intense odor that lingers in the air for a long time, the consumption or even the transport of a durian is prohibited in various places in Asia, depending on regional regulations:

  • In Thailand it is forbidden to consume the durian in public places. Disregard may result in a fine.
  • Many hotel complexes refuse to bring and eat the fruit. If the ban is ignored, the hotel room may have to be paid for another week because it is so difficult to get rid of the stench.
  • Transportation is prohibited on public transport in Singapore. There are even special signs in the subway that indicate the ban. It is also not allowed to take it in a taxi.
  • At some airports, the durian is generally prohibited.

In Germany, the durian even made the headlines of the press in the summer of 2020. Because a package with four durian fruits had spread its intense stench in a post office building, a gas alarm was triggered and the entire building was evacuated.

Durian and Jackfruit – What’s the Difference?

There is a regular confusion between a durian and a  jackfruit  , both of which are similar in shape and color. If you take a closer look at both fruits, you will notice a number of clear differences, but also similarities:

Durian jackfruit
Countries of origin South East Asia In the event that
Color Brown-green to yellowish Green yellow to brown
Peel Pointed long thorns Lots of little blunt bumps
Height Weight Up to 0.3 meters long and weighing up to 4 kilograms Up to 1 meter long and up to 40 kilograms in weight
pulp Yellowish-white, creamy, soft, pudding-like Yellow, rubbery to creamy or fibrous depending on ripeness
Odor Rotten Onions, Gas, Old Socks, Decay, Caramel, Vomit, Rotten Eggs, Vinegar, Ammonia Fruity, bubblegum-like (Wrigley’s® Juicy Fruit)
taste Vanilla, Fried Onions, Caramel, Soup Seasoning, Almonds, Ammonia, Peach, Banana, Strawberry Banana,  Pineapple , Vanilla
contents Individual segments with pulp in which the seeds lie

The following applies to both fruits: Since they only grow in tropical countries, very long transport routes are required so that we can buy them in this country. From an ecological point of view, you should think carefully about whether and how often you want to treat yourself to these fruits.

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