Nothing divides opinion more in Southeast Asia than the mighty or infamous durian. Out of 100 people, half love it and half hate it. Culture Trip aims to find out what durian smells like and if it really tastes as bad as people say.
What exactly is durian?
Durian, sometimes called ‘the King of Fruit’, grows in hot and humid climates around Southeast Asia including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Crack open the giant fruit’s hard shell and find yellow creamy-coloured flesh interspersed with large seeds. Weighing between one and three kilograms and often reaching 30 centimetres in length, the durian can be described as a monster fruit for more than one reason. Apart from its size and alien-like appearance, the fruit splits opinion on its smell and taste. Durian can be eaten raw as a fruit, cooked or used as a flavouring to make ice cream, crepes and cake.
What does durian smell and taste like?
According to some, durian looks like a small spiky football and smells like a sweaty footballer’s sock fermenting and putrefying in a pile of rotting rubbish under the hot tropical sun. Others claim it exhibits a sweet, fragrant smell and stimulates their senses. Scientists have analysed the fruit and discovered more than 50 chemicals that, when combined, form its distinct and often disagreement odour. People can’t agree on the flavour either. The custardy-creamy flesh can exhibit hints of everything from caramel to chives, onions and even blue cheese. But most durian-lovers agree on one thing: the strong aromatic flavour complements the smell when it’s in their mouth.
The durian lovers and haters
An old saying describes durian as ‘Hell on the outside and heaven on the inside’. Locals often say durian is delicious despite the strong smell with a ‘creamy and yummy flavour’. Those growing up around the fruit are more accustomed to it compared to outsiders and have fonder feelings towards the notorious durian.
But the haters disagree. The King of Fruit is the only fruit in the world to be banned from hotel rooms and public transport in places like Singapore. According to one disgusted taster: “I’ve eaten all kinds of exotic food from deep-fried tarantula and barbequed scorpions to rats and fertilised duck eggs. But the smell and taste of durian is too much for me!” Famous foodie personalities including TV chef Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, also express disdain towards this infamous fruit.
Advocates scoff at the haters saying they only complain because they sampled poor quality durian, while the haters find the durian lovers a bit crazy. Those who can get around the smell will either be rewarded with an explosion of complex flavours that both stimulates and satisfies the palate or feel repulsed. Everyone has a different palate, and the only way to know for sure is to try it yourself.