Durian Fruit

A very big welcome if you’re visiting blogjam for the first time today, drawn here by Stephen Jelbert’s mouth-watering meat exposé in the Independent. Please take a look around – and if you’re after the dishes mentioned in the piece, follow these links:

Anyway, on with normal service. Blogjam reader Ant writes:

…for your next food-related post, I’d be very impressed if you were to try some durian fruit. Apparently it’s delicious, if you can get past the horrendous smell. Which in itself is interesting, as most things tend to taste and smell the same, or at least very similar.

Indeed they do, Ant, indeed they do. Even the processes themselves are broadly similar – the direct chemoreceptors of the taste buds, those cells that allow us to distinguish between the five basic flavours (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami), work along the same lines as the distance chemoreceptors of the nasal channel that control our sense of smell. The major difference is that taste requires actual contact with the item in question, whereas smell doesn’t.

And so to the durian. Native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, the fruit can now be found all over Southeast Asia. It’s known as both the world’s most dangerous fruit (weighing up to 6KG and covered in laceration-inducing spikes, it can easily crush an unwary tourist’s skull on its short journey to Earth) and as the ‘King Of Fruits’, a term used throughout the region.

What it’s most famous for, however, is its smell. Top food scientist Harold McGhee reveals in his brilliant encyclopedia how the fruit uses this aroma to attract elephants, tigers, pigs and other jungle creatures (in order that they might eat the pulp and further spread its seed), and how some of the sulphuric compounds found in the durian are also present in onions, garlic, overripe cheese, skunk spray and rotten eggs. Some quick research on the web revealed the following, less scientific, descriptions of the scent of this most odour-ridden of foods:

  • a backed up toilet
  • carrion in custard
  • rotting fish
  • unwashed socks
  • a city dump on a hot summers day
  • clogged drains in August
  • the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction
  • the diapers of a baby that had diarrhea two weeks ago and was not looked after

You get the idea. This stuff has a reputation. Even the nice checkout lady at Colindale’s excellent Oriental City supermarket, where I procured my example, raised her eyebrows and asked if I knew how bad the smell could be, telling me that it could “stink like dead cow”.

Price is also an issue of concern to the UK buyer. Esteemed Saigon-based streetfood blogger Noodlepie says the durian fruit costs about 12,000 Vietnamese Dong locally – less than 50 British pence – while my imported and defrosted version is 1500% more expensive – about the same price as half a kilo of organic sirloin steak in London.

As you can see from the picture below, in which I’ve placed the fruit next to an appropriate CD by the Thai Elephant Orchestra, it’s a bit of a monster, but it doesn’t smell too explosive, giving off nothing more than a faint whiff of burnt rubber fermenting in parmesan.

Cutting it isn’t easy. I’m forced to use an old snowboarding glove to prevent the fruit’s spikes from carving tattoos into my hands, but pretty soon I’ve split the beast asunder and am able to inhale deeply.

It doesn’t smell quite as strongly as I thought it would (I expect that the stench from fresh examples is far more potent), but the blocked drain comparison is pretty apt. Gagging only slightly, I scoop out the flesh, which has the texture of slightly stringy mud, and take a mouthful.

The 19th century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace described his first taste of durian as being “flavored with almonds, but intermingled with wafts of flavor that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry and other incongruities.” I think Wallace got lucky. My example tastes like decomposing apple soaked in garlic and, while it’s not completely unpleasant, it’s a little disconcerting to find this in a fruit, and it’s not nearly as sweet as I’d like. Ice cream is the answer.

I quickly rustle up a custard of milk, cream, sugar and egg yolk, add a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract, slowly heat the liquid, then combine with the durian pulp. After a few hours in the freezer (stirring occasionally to prevent the formation of ice crystals), I have my ice cream.

It’s not bad. The sugar and vanilla have taken the edge off the garlicky tang, and while the smell is still slightly off-putting, the taste and texture are much improved. It’s another triumph for the blogjam kitchen.

Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be testing durian flavoured condoms.


  1. You cna also buy ready exhumed durian fruit from Wing Yip and the main Chinese supermarket on Gerrard Street in Chinatown in Leicester Sq.
    My parents always forbade me from eating more than one portion of durian at a time due to its reputation in SE Asia as a overly nutritious food and apparently you cna get spontanesous nose-bleeding from over-indulging! Also, its banned on all aircraft and hotels. Add that to the stinky folklore..

    • lye veei chiew (Mr.)

      Dear Gloria,

      What s the price of Durian/kg in UK, Leichester?

      They are some species here in Malaysia which is very, very tasty! Like’mao sang king’ which was so good that the HK tycoon Lee Kah Seng and Stanley Ho(Macau) used private plane to carry from Singapore to HK and macu just to taste the fruit.

      Welcome your sharing.

      Best regards,
      Mr. Lye Veei Chiew

  2. Congrats, more food scares debunked.
    I’ll nominate a dish for your next gasto experiment
    How about “Fugu Puffer sashimi”. You may need to train for seven years in order to avoid fatal toxic poisoning. But i’m sure that’s just another food myth.

  3. Haha. I’m not brave enough for that one. I’m a clumsy cook at the best of times, so there’s no way I’m going to start chopping into something that contains a toxin 1200 times deadlier than cyanide.

  4. Your culinary skills never cease to amaze me. Kudos on a repulsive and yet refreshingly original production. How is it that you can make something so wonderful out of something so devastatingly disgusting? I’d oddly satisfied.

  5. Ouch. That is pricey innit? I’ve spotted a durian ice cream seller in Saigon. I promise to blog forthwith. Good work.

  6. Hooray! And thank you: I am duly impressed. Enjoyed that very much. Also, as an unexpected side-benefit, it reminded me of mangosteens (the Queen of Fruit to durian’s King) which I once ate as a mere strip of a lad in Hong Kong. Think I might see if I can get my hands on some…

  7. Sounds like it was a bit of a let down really!

    Fraser, have you ever tried either Rat or Squirrel? (I’m assuming you’d have to catch them yourself though?)

  8. Neither. I tried to find rat when I was in Beijing, but to no avail.

  9. curious. what ever happened to your photo links page? for example…what you ate in madrid, and other locations?

  10. Louis: I plan to upload all my old photos to Flickr, just haven’t got round to it. I’m surprised anyone remembered them…

  11. Fraser. It just occurs to me that your fluffy cow logo is DINNER.

    I can see you know. Loading Photoshop. Salivating.

  12. Hey Fraser, When are you going to prepare haggis? I have a great recipe for rotted/fermented Icelandic shark if you interested.

  13. Ogh, I think the Sheepshead Broth would be a wicked idea. I recall some pretty bland-british style recipies with calf’s heads in the old Dairy Diaries. Think it was Mock Turtle Soup.

    Durian reminds me of Jack Fruit, which I experienced on some of my travels. Looks like a huge lumpy Grapefruit, oozes stinky stuff that the locals use for glue, is about 40% pith, but I had a very pleasant episode with a curry in Sri Lanka, where is was amazingly similar to tuna.

  14. Doesn’t that just entail sticking it in a hole in the ground and pissing on it now and then for six months?

  15. Exactly. But it recommends doing it far from any inhabitated dwelling.

  16. I’m not surprised: I’ve smelt the stuff. Declined the offer of a taste, though. Just stuck to the booze they serve with it instead.

  17. I’m in no hurry to try this, though I see it with some regularity. Last year, I believe, there was a small rash of elderly Thai men keeling over dead after durian binges. A bit like the old folks here in Japan who choke to death every New Years on their pounded rice cakes.

  18. Fraser,

    Cracking effort with the Durian, but could I suggest you try to do something with a sheeps testicle? Any halfway decent halal butcher should be able to supply such a thing (try the Uxbridge Road) and I reckon they’d be spiffing gently grilled on a barbeque. Not sure if they should be marinated or not.


  19. So it’s settled then. Fraser will buy a whole sheep and use every last edible part of it within 7 days ;-)
    This would make a great TV programme, better than the tripe that’s on TV at the moment.

  20. Is that tripe literal or figurative?

  21. Fraser, my hero.

    Durian is my favourite fruit, ever.


  22. I tasted Durian fruit on a Maly holiday. It was banned from the hotel. But managed to smuggle one back. It is absolutely delicious a taste not to be forgotten. It did the Job ! Hit all the right places for me. If you ask me to describe the taste I guess it is a bit like eating vanilla cream sat on the toilet.

  23. Good-looking site. Congratulations.

  24. i’ve tried this magic fruit during an asiatic wedding, it was my greatest surprise into the world of TASTE, come on my website to see what i mean… (sorry its written in french!)
    bye bye

  25. Durian is absolutely gorgeous. Though I remember I took some time to take use too, after coming to Singapore. A couple of times, though and it’s very easy to get use to.

    Though the durian is defrosted?

    Doesn’t sound like a very good idea…

  26. That’s great, looking forward to reading the rest of your entries.
    Take care,

  27. I work in an office building where people kept reporting a gas leak. We had called the fire department and BGE and no-one could find the problem. Then one of my co-workers confided in me that it may be his lunch that was making everyone think there was a gas leak. I tried Durian Fruit today for the first time and it was ok. I do not however think that the odor is worth putting up with when there are a million and one other fruits I can eat that don’t stink ! :)

  28. where can I get an organic durian fruit in Los Angeles, CA or in United States?

  29. Or, where can I get an organic durian fruit in Asia and delivers it in United States?

  30. Hello all,

    Well what can I say – a great dedication to a wonderful fruit!

    I work in a fruit/veg area of a supermarket in Sydney (Aus) and have enjoyed many encounters with Durian. It has made me bleed many times, and I have had to contain my urges to throw up all over myself on many occasions.

    To me – it tastes like baked onion, congealed in a thick gooey mush of vomit and a splash of ‘dead cow’ smell as described in the above article.

    If you ever ingest anything poisonous and need a means of inducing vomiting – then being anywhere near Durian will be extremely useful.

    Anyway, I hope you all enjoy Durian as I do every time I am at work. MMmm can’t wait for my next encounter :-)

  31. Durian is also famous as a vasodialator. After eating it, you start to sweat like a … well, like someone who just ate durian. Jack Fruit, mentioned above, is called the Poor Man’s Durian in Malaysia. As I recall, it has neither the pungency nor the physiological affects of durian.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum is chiku, from the chikel tree (also in Malaysia). It is the most wonderful fruit on the planet (or at least that part of the planet I’ve been to). It tastes like a perfect combination of pineapple and brown sugar. My guess is that it is next to impossible to transport chiku long distances, for it has a very thin skin and is easily bruised.