Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Durian, known as the "King of Fruits" in southeast Asia is large, about 12 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, weighs from 2 to 7 pounds, has a thorn-covered outer shell and a tremendous odor. This picture of durians was taken in a supermarket in Beijing.

Durians are native to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei but are now grown in many places in the world, including Florida, Hawaii and the West Indies. Over half the world's harvest of durians now comes from Thailand. Thailand is also the largest exporter of durians, exporting 3 times more than its nearest competitor, Malaysia. In 1999, Thailand consumed 670,000 tons. China, the largest importer, consumed 65,000 tons. The United States imported 2,000 tons, mostly for sale through Asian markets.

Esmee Tooke, my law partner's wife, is originally from Viet Nam and loves durian. Her husband, Bill, knows I like to try unusual foods, so he had her come in to our office with some so that I could try it. She brought two packages, each a different brand of frozen durian.

Each package shows the thorny outer shell of the durian and the inner pulp which is consumed. The edible portion is from 15% to 30% of the fruit.

The picture below is the bottom side of one of the packages showing the durian frozen in long, thick rolls. The thing that makes durian most distinctive is its smell. In southeast Asia there are hotels and public transportation where durian is forbidden. This is my recollection of the fruit from our trip to Thailand and China.

All of the information for this post came from a great article on durian on Wikipedia. To western noses, durian is horribly foul smelling. Anthony Burgess, the British novelist said eating it is "like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory." Anthony Bourdain, who likes durian, said, "Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." Food writer Richard Sterling said, "its odor is best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock." Others have compared the smell to skunk spray, sewage and stale vomit. Makes it sound appetizing, doesn't it? Alfred Russel Wallace, the British naturalist, was more charitable when he said: "The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed." How is that as a contrast to the previous quotes?

With that as a backdrop, Esmee set some durian out in our conference room at work and a number of us came in to try it. The longer the durian was exposed to the air, the more powerful and overpowering the smell became.

Esmee said that the first bite should be eaten without smelling, that is, hold the nose and swallow. The consistency was weird for me. She described it as like avocado. I would describe it more like really ripe banana in custard. It is very smooth and sweet, but not sicky sweet and it has a little taste of over-ripe onions. The gym sock quote rang pretty true to me. I then proceeded to have another four or five bites without holding my nose.

I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it. But it was mostly psychological, because of the smell. It tasted better with each bite and I think I could learn to really enjoy it. However, when I had a low-grade burp later in the afternoon I could feel the smell coming back up my throat, kind of like the sensation you have after drinking water with baking soda in it to deal with an upset stomach.

In a smelling contest, Limburger cheese (which I like) is not even close. The seeds, the size of chestnuts, are toxic due to cyclopropene fatty acids. However, when boiled, roasted or fried, they are okay to eat and have a texture similar to taro or yam. Esmee says that the seeds create a horrible smell when passing gas. Another quality which recommends itself to consumption. However, despite all that, the Asians, including Esmee, love it.

Last time we had a food Olympics with our young men and young women, I brought pig lips and beef heart for them to eat. I can't wait to spring durian on them. They will be impressed.


  1. Hahahahahaha, your "low-grade burp" explanation has me about in tears because I'm laughing so hard! My first experience with durian was a piece of durian flavored candy in Hong Kong. I was totally unprepared for it and thought I was going to die. However, after that, I quite enjoyed the other durian things I ate. Durian ice cream is quite good. They freeze it a lot because that neutralizes the strong odor and some of the flavor.

  2. Esmee says she was mistaken about the seeds --DON'T EAT THEM. They are, indeed, poisonous, even if boiled. Esmee was thinking about JackFruit that she says can be boiled but creates relatively noxious flatulance