What is durian? Everything you need to know about the world's stinkiest fruit
Few other fruits garner such attention, divisive discussion and create powerful inhibitions amongst us. While always popular among locals -- especially in Thailand, for tourists the durian fruit can be rather affronting if not totally unfamiliar.
So what is durian and how do you eat it? And why eat durian in the first place? This is a guide to everything about durian -- just in time to enjoy South East Asia's durian season.
Mental durian preparation comes first
Durian’s larger-than-life persona can be intimidating. No other fruits have been described with so many hyperbolic similes.
It doesn’t help that long before stricter security measures on in-flight luggage and suspicious packages in hotel lobbies were introduced in the face of terror threats, durian had already got its pungent self banned from both places.
But durian is not scary. Its fumes don't kill people. It’s just a fruit.
True, the thorny durian husk is often the scorned first wife’s weapon of choice when attacking the mistress in some primetime Thai soaps. But that’s likely not going to happen to you.
Yet people are either rapturous devotees or fervent haters. Those who love do so passionately to the point of depleting their savings or, if they live with a durian-hating mate, imposing upon themselves a temporary exile to the great outdoors during durian season.
And those who hate? They heap upon the thorny fruit anything from funny, adolescent yo mama-type jokes to contemptuous, culturally insensitive insults.
Understandably you can’t help but wonder on which side of the divide you will land. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation; you may not like durian the first time yet grow to love it later just like other things in life.
It helps to know a few things about durian before you go any further.
To state the obvious, durian is pungent. While its scent is pleasing to some, it can be noxious to others.
In light of this, you may want to make sure the smell does not follow you everywhere you go after your encounter.
Carry some mouth rinse and scented hand wipes around. Some people swear by the method of filling the emptied-out durian seedpods with water and using that to rinse their hands and mouth.
Diabetics and those with health issues may want to restrain themselves when it comes to durian consumption. Though containing many vitamins and minerals, the fruit is rich in fat and carbohydrates. Prudence demands durian be consumed in moderation.
Also, anecdotes of people who have died from eating durian while drinking alcohol abound. While many dismiss this as an old wives’ tale, studies show that the sulfur compounds in durian affect the way in which the body metabolizes alcohol. In other words, durian and booze don’t mix.
Just do it
That first durian experience should be a private moment, so nobody can tell you what works best for you.
However, in general, there are two ways people choose to do it. You could start off by acquainting yourself with the mildest dose possible of durian scent.
This usually comes in the form of durian-flavored cakes and cookies, wherein the taste and scent of durian can barely be detected, or durian chips which are made from under-ripe durians.
Once you think you can handle it, move up to durian desserts that are closer to the real thing in terms of both the smell and texture, e.g., durian custard, durian ice cream, sweet sticky rice in durian coconut cream (khao niao thurian).
This should prepare you well for your first durian encounter.
The majority of durian veterans will tell you, however, that the best approach is to tackle durian head-on. Choose one that is not over-ripe and milder in both flavor and smell.
Mon thong and kan yao varieties are two of the top favorites and generally milder than others such as kop or cha ni.
Don’t even consider frozen durians, as freezing changes the texture to the point of ruin.
Go for the best and the freshest possible.
After all, you can only have your first durian once, so save yourself for a high-quality durian that is very, very special.