Ah, the fruit that will forever live in infamy. Durian – both hero and anti-hero outcast of the fruit world! The fruit that launched a thousand ships! This fruit is more controversial than Janet Jackson’s nip-slip at the Superbowl.
Durian has rightfully earned the title as “The King of Fruits.” Its notoriety stems from its unique smell, described as being like overripe cheese, dirty socks, almonds and rotten onion – just to name a few of the descriptors bestowed upon it. And just like a stinky cheese, people will either love that pungent aroma or run for the hills. In some countries in Southeast Asia, it is banned from public transportation, hospitals and airports. Look for the “No Durian” signs in hotels.
Its spikey exterior screams “Don’t mess with me!” and as off-putting as the smell may be, the yellow fruit inside is mellow and sweet with an enjoyable texture like custard. Love it or hate it, before you judge it you must try it.
Famous chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, who loves durian, wrote: “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Fruit whispering: How to choose a durian
It’s easiest to buy it already segmented and plastic-wrapped at the market. Very lightly touch the fruit through the plastic-wrap – it should feel tender and soft. It should also smell a little fragrant but not too strong (that means it is too ripe and can be bitter).
If you’re up to the challenge and want to buy a whole one, then pick up the durian and give it a shake. No sound, the fruit it too ripe. If there’s a hard knocking sound, it’s not ripe enough. What you want is a subtle, dull knocking sound.
Also try durian candy, dried durian chips, even durian ice cream and pancakes. If you’re outside Southeast Asia, you can usually find it frozen at Asian grocery stores.
“Durian? Bring it on.”
There are hundreds of cultivars of Durian (over 200 in Thailand!), all with distinct tastes and aromas. Here are just some of them, descriptions taken from “Singapore at Random” (Didier Millet, 2011).
Mon Thong: fleshiest of all varieties of durian with pale-coloured flesh and a mild taste. One of the most popular varieties because it can be harvested long before ripening and travels well.
Chan Nee: less fleshy than the Mon Thong, it has a slightly more pungent taste and smell than its Thai counterpart.
Ganja: extremely sweet yellow flesh that counterbalances the pungent smell. The name is probably a reference to the sugar high will follow.
D4: this one resembles vanilla custard because of its very pale yellow colour. It is fleshy and tastes bitter.
D11: smooth and creamy with a sweet aftertaste. This is one of the less pungent varieties.
D15: smooth and very creamy with a hint of bitterness. This variety is so fleshy that it is hard to find the seed sometimes. Too rich for some palates.
D24: one of the more expensive varieties, this one has a bittersweet taste. With small seeds and plenty of dark yellow flesh, this is good value for money
XO: one of the more expensive varieties but tread carefully. It has a bitter taste and an alcoholic aftertaste.
Hong Xia: this one offers a softer texture than other varieties. The flesh is reddish-orange and thin, with an aroma that hits you before the fruit it opened.
101: this is a crowd-pleaser, with its plump reddish flesh and sweetness.
Hor Lor: not only is its shape different, its soft flesh is drier than other varieties and it tastes bitter. Very strong smell.
Mao Shan Wang: with flesh that is firm on the outside and creamy on the inside, it has a bitter first taste which ends on a sweet note. Considered the best and most satisfying of all durian varieties, it combines all the best characteristics of the durian.
Have you tried Durian? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.