Durian: Is It Really The King of Fruits?

‘Tastes like heaven; smells like hell’ – this is how most people would describe durian, the ‘king of fruits’.  The durian war still continues until today with people either absolutely loving the fruit or despising it with a passion. Durians are so notorious for its smell that it is banned in Singapore’s public trains and buses and even on aeroplanes! 

'No Durian' sign on Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit

But despite the hate, durian is still loved by many, and many is an understatement. So if it ‘smells like hell’, why do so many people still go crazy over durians? Is durian really the king of fruits?

Durian 101

It’s amusing to see people from the West only finding out about durian now and talking about it as though it’s some exotic fruit that’s just been discovered. Meanwhile, Asians, specifically those from the South-East, are pretty familiar with the King of Fruits. 

If you’ve never heard of durian or have never seen one before, let me paint a visual in your mind. Green exterior; yellowish interior. Spiky on the outside, but soft on the inside – almost like the consistency of a custard. Its creamy texture allows it to melt in your mouth as you take your first bite. 

Cross Section of a Durian

Durians are commonly found in countries with a more tropical climate, which explains why you’re most likely to find them in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and even in the Philippines. 

Typically, durian season would vary depending on where you are. In Thailand, it would be April to September while in East Malaysia, it starts from June through August. 

Why People Love Durian

Durian being cut open by street vendor

It tastes divine. Almost god-sent (for some, of course). Durian lovers can agree that the fruit has not one distinctive taste, but instead has an abundance of flavours that will pop in your mouth. Durian is a unique experience in itself that durian lovers are constantly looking for since durian season only lasts for a short period of time. So when it’s that time of the year, they flock.

Besides its flavourful characteristic, durians are also rich in nutritional value. They actually happen to be cholesterol-free and are free from any saturated fats. Some nutrients that can also be found in the fruit are potassium and iron and is a great source of dietary fibre. Not so sinful after all, don’t you think?

Why People Hate Durian

It stinks. It has a strong and pungent smell, and the stench lingers before it slowly dissipates in the air. But you’ll still be able to smell it as if it’s right under your nose. And that smell? It will definitely stay in your mouth for a while. The late Anthony Bourdain even said, “your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” 

But there’s a scientific explanation to describe why it smells the way that it does. Research shows that there are over 40 compounds in the fruit, which explains its unusual smell. Furthermore, the analysis reveals that the combination of the different chemicals is responsible for the stench, and not a single compound itself. And there we have the science behind the stench.

The Verdict: Is Durian Really The King of Fruits?

Durian fruit stand

So what is the final verdict on Southeast Asia’s ‘king of fruits’? Hate to disappoint, but there is no verdict! 

Durian sure is an acquired taste and the experience is different for everyone. Some enjoy the strange combination of both savoury and sweet, while some would rather not have a ‘next time’. Seen as an exotic fruit in the West and a symbol of culture for people in the East, the durian truly knows how to make its mark.

Whether or not durian is the real king of fruits is completely up to you. No matter which side you are on, you do you. 

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