Origin of Durian
According to “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs,” durians are an ancient fruit, enjoyed in Southeast Asia since prehistoric days. Some botanists place durian’s birthplace within the belt from Sumatra through Borneo. Here, durians flourished. Around the mid-1500s, Europeans took the seeds and spread them throughout the rest of Asia. The Portuguese, for example, brought durian to Sri Lanka around this time. In 1884, Dominica received the fruit by way of London’s Kew Botanic Gardens.
Today, durian is an exotic fruit in Burma, India, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and Zanzibar. As of 2011, Thailand accounts for 95 percent of the world’s durian exports. Other top growing countries include Malaysia and Indonesia.
Availability of Durian in India
Durian lovers are heartbroken to discover that the fruit is not cultivated commercially in India. Indeed, it has none of the popularity as it does in other parts of Asia. Jackfruit has a much larger fan base than durian.
However, the putrid-smelling fruits do grow throughout the backwaters of Kerala, the occasional backyard in Coorg, and along the coastlines of Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Where to find Durian in India
Finding locally grown durian is a matter of chance and luck. However, it is possible to find imported fruits in expat grocery stores. Whichever shop sells imported nut butters and expensive raspberries will likely carry durian when in season, too.
In Sri Lanka, durian season is from March and April, and the fruits along the Malay Peninsula have an additional season in September and November. Expect to pay high prices for imported durian—the price tag will be on par with the cost per kilo of mangosteen and other exotic fruits.
Checking for Ripeness in Durian
If picking fresh durians, choose fruits with the stem in tact—this indicates that the fruit fell from the tree, and was not hacked prematurely. Ripe durians are also a golden brown color, whereas unripe fruits are green. The fruits will continue to ripen off the tree: If still green, then, wait a few days for the spiky skin to become engulfed in yellows and browns. Durian’s infamous “gym socks and gasoline” smell will grow during the ripening phase as well.
Overripe durians have brown skin and the inner core turns red. The durian pods become slimy and purplish with an ever pungent, fermented aroma. If the fruit has already cracked open, it is at peak maturity and may be overripe. If possible, buy a slightly under ripe fruit and wait for it to mature, rather than take the risk of buying a spoiled durian.
Taste of Durian
Durian has the slogan of “tastes like heaven, smells like hell.” In truth, only some would agree with the taste’s heavenly descriptor. Durian is a controversial fruit: Some are staunch allies of the peculiar fruit and glorify its taste, while others denounce durians as foul and offensive. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain recalled the fruit’s taste in an episode of his show, No Reservations: “Its taste can only be described as indescribable—something you either love or despise. Your breath will smell as if you’ve been French kissing your dead grandmother.”
Durian’s texture is richer and creamier than the rubbery jackfruit, but not quite as buttery as cherimoya or avocado. Its taste is a bizarre combination of flavors: imagine mixing avocado, cherimoya/custard apple, vanilla, garlic, heaps of onion powder, and banana—the result is durian. The taste of perfectly ripe durian is savory, smoky, sweet yet distinctly musky. The pungent taste of garlic and onion grows stronger as the fruit becomes overripe.
Nutritional Value of Durian
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of durian has the following values:
3.8g Fiber (15% RDI)
1.5g Protein (3% RDI)
44IU Vitamin A (1% RDI)
19.7mg Vitamin C (33% RDI)
.4mg Thiamin (25% RDI)
.2mg Riboflavin (12% RDI)
1.1mg Niacin (5% RDI)
.3mg Vitamin B6 (16% RDI)
36mcg Folate (9% RDI)
.2mg Pantothenic Acid (2% RDI)
6mg Calcium (1% RDI)
.4mg Iron (2% RDI)
30mg Magnesium (8% RDI)
39mg Phosphorous (4% RDI)
436mg Potassium (12% RDI)
.3mg Zinc (2% RDI)
.2mg Copper (10% RDI)
.3mg Manganese (16% RDI)
Health Benefits of Durian
Relative to other fruits, durian does not have many health benefits. In fact, its high sugar and fat content renders it a treat to be enjoyed sparingly. Some fruitarians, however, enjoy durians because they provide a good proportion of fats and carbs. With such a restricted diet, fruitarians seldom find other sources providing both.
In Chinese medicine, durian is considered a “hot” food and an aphrodisiac.
A few scientific studies mention the following health benefits:
--According to a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, compounds in durian have hematoprotective and heart-protective qualities.
--A 2010 report published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that durian fruit hulls are potent skin moisturizers, and may be of use in the cosmetics industry.
--A 2007 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that durian’s high antioxidants lower plasma lipid levels. As explained by a 2007 University of Chicago article, studies show that lower plasma lipid levels correlate with a decreased risk of heart disease. Elevated lipid levels correlate with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel syndrome.
How to Open/Cut:
Cutting durian’s spiky skin doesn’t require bruised hands and a few swear words. Grab a sharp, unserrated knife and rotate the durian to find one of its many thin, dark brown lines running from its top to bottom. These lines are where the skin is the thinnest. Pick one, and cut into and along this line. The goal is to cut a long incision along the durian—not to cut the fruit in half. Next, pry the durian apart. The edible pods will reveal themselves beautifully. Scoop out the flesh, and repeat the process by cutting along the other dark lines.
Each pod of flesh houses a chestnut-sized seed. While these should not be consumed raw because of their toxic fatty acids, the seeds can be set aside for other culinary uses.
Here’s a video showing the process (and enjoy the music!):
Keep at ambient temperature if the durian needs to ripen further. At its ripest, eat the durian within a day—the fruit is highly perishable. Otherwise, place the unripe fruit in the refrigerator to prolong its ripening.
Durians will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. If the whole fruit is already ripe, remove the edible pods of flesh and place on a dish. Cover with plastic wrap to avoid excessive moisture, as humidity will cause the flesh to grow slimy.
Do not freeze the whole fruit below 5 C for longer than a week, as durian is highly susceptible to chilling injury. This is evident by the skin becoming black and discolored. However, frozen durian flesh keeps for months. In fact, many Asian stores sell frozen durian meat and pulp.
Durian Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Durians have a remarkable number of culinary applications, and the fruit features prominently in the cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Durians appear in in ice cream, milkshakes, baked goods, and even as cappuccino creamer. For savory dishes, cooks sauté chunks of the flesh with onions, oil and chili. Malaysians serve fermented durian known as tempoyak alongside rice and dish. Just as Indians have blocks of tamarind paste as a stand-by cooking staple, blocks of durian fruit sell in Thai stores. Durian seeds, like its doppleganger, cempedak, are roasted, boiled or deep-fried and salted as a snack.
--To make durian ice cream, take frozen banana chunks, de-seeded frozen durians pods, and blend it thoroughly with coconut meat or coconut milk. Add sugar as desired.
--Make durian pudding much the same way—add vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and cinnamon to blended durian. Consider adding cherimoya and banana cream to naturally sweeten the dessert.
--Create stuffed durian roti: use any standard roti recipe and, once stretched, add durian flesh sprinkled with sugar to the center of the dough. Fold into a square, and then cook the rotis on medium heat until golden brown.
--Use unripe durian shreds in Thai salads, akin to shredded mango or papaya. Chunks of unripe flesh may also be sautéed in stir-fries and added to roasts.
--Blend pungent, sulfurous durian flesh with lemon juice and garlic. Use this cheesy spread as a dip. Or, pour atop shredded carrots, zucchinis, or any other “raw” noodles.
Note: There’s an adage in Southeast Asia that claims eating durian and drinking alcohol may kill a person. A few studies—such as a study in the journal, Food Chemistry—explain that durian’s sulfur inhibits the breakdown of toxins in alcohol. The evidence of harm from drinking and eating durian isn’t strong or conclusive, but it might be worth reconsidering any lofty plans of hosting a wine and durian tasting party.
|Durian mochi from|
Fruits: Jackfruit, cempedak, lakoocha, breadfruit, custard apple, butterfruit, mango, banana, coconut
Vegetable: Breadfruit, potato, tomato, carrot, bell pepper, parsnip, chickpea, fava bean
Herbs, spices, and oil: salt, pepper, onion, garlic, chili, asafetida, cumin, mustard, turmeric, sumac, clove, soy sauce, shallot, rice vinegar, sesame, miso, ginger, pandan leaves, coconut, sugar, jaggery, coffee, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, cashew, macadamia nut, peanut, almond, nut cream
A Thai scientist has managed to grow varieties of durian that do not possess its trademark stench. Many purists claim that such efforts are offensive to mother nature herself.
Malaysia has developed over 100 varieties of durian.
Singapore bans the transport of durians in its subways, busses and trains.
Early botanists confused durians with soursops on account of both having green spikes.
“Transvestite” and “frog” are durian varieties cultivated in Thailand.
Durian is not related to jackfruit, breadfruit, or cempedaks, despite the similar appearance.