When most people think of tropical fruit they think of bananas or mango or even guava… most don’t think of the durian. To tell the truth, many people in this part of the world have never heard of this fruit, but once you see one, they’re pretty hard to forget. Seriously, check this beast out… it’s like a punk version of a coconut:
Not only does it look like it could physically hurt you, but anyone who has eaten one will tell you that you shouldn’t open it inside your house. Ever. You see, the durian has a fragrance about it… a certain air. How does one put it? Let’s let Anthony Bourdain, a durian lover, help me out:
“God it stank! It smelled like you’d buried somebody holding a big wheel of Stilton in his arms, then dug him up a few weeks later.”
“Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise. […] Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Yes, that is what someone who likes it thinks… so in case you think he’s biased, here’s what Richard Serling has to say:
“[I]ts odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”
Oh yeah… are your tastebuds watering yet? Now, I want to tell you that while the fruit does smell, the taste and texture is something you’ll never come across again. The texture of the fruit is something like a flan or a pudding: soft and creamy. The flavor is quite hard to describe… I tasted a ton of tropical flavors that I likened to mango, banana and papaya and other flavors I couldn’t quite make out. The little downside to eating the fruit is that when swallowing and you breathe in, you suddenly get a smell of the fruit and that may take some getting used to.
When it comes to the smell, I can best describe it as taking a bunch of ripe bananas and delicately setting them on a pile of rotting onions. While nothing in the smell specifically screams “onion” to me in particular, something in it just triggers that. Others I talked to didn’t get onion, rather they got a strong cheese. I assume it is more of an association thing rather than the smell itself… either way, it brings out very interesting responses from people.
Due to the massive scent, scary exterior and awesome texture, durian has taken on the moniker of the “king of fruits” and it is easy to see why. So, when out looking for some fish sauce, you can understand why I instantly had to buy this after seeing it sitting there… waiting for me. Upon lifting the thing (using its safe mesh bag) and bringing it to the counter I was greeted with great excitement from the woman up front. It seems not many people are fans of this fruit and she was hoping that I either was or would become one. She even went so far as to tell me that if I like it she can get me other things, such as durian cake. Interesting!
After buying my fruit and taking it home, I sat it on my counter and went about doing some research. The first thing I wanted to know was: “Why does it have a black spot on it… is it bad?”
Digging around told me that it was a cold injury and that many durians purchased in the US will probably have it. Why? Well, it seems that the easiest way to transport a durian is to freeze it, then ship it over here and defrost it. Unfortunately most places still consider it to be “fresh,” but if I took a watermelon, froze it, thawed it and gave it to you, while it’d still be a watermelon, it’d be a little “off” when it came to flavor/texture. I’m told that the durian is the same way and that the cold actually dampens the smell and, like an avocado, stops it from ripening fully. That being said, if you want to try one outside of Asia, this is pretty much it. Even though the durian has many, many cultivars, only one is available to the international market… sad, no?
So, what else to do but crack it open, right? Traditionally you lay the fruit on newspapers, but all I had was line paper… guess it had to do! I will suggest to you that you do not skip this step, though, as it greatly helps with the cleanup. The second suggestion, as noted by everyone, is to open it outside. While you get a little bit of a sweet smell from the outside of the fruit, it really disguises the scent from within. Using a large kitchen knife I split the beast in two, being careful to not cut myself on the very sharp spines and then leaned down to take a whiff. Yep… it works as advertised, no missing that scent. Within a couple minutes the smell spread out from just at the fruit to the entire balcony. I’m happy that it wasn’t a hot, sunny day or else I have a feeling that many people would be wondering just what I was hacking away at up there.
You can see that the fruit surrounds a hard seed, which, unfortunately, I found out is edible if cooked after I had already disposed of them. Next time I’ll have to give that a try. A quick warning, though… uncooked durian seeds are toxic, so do not eat them raw. Seriously.
Fresh durian seeds contain […] cyclopropene fatty acids including sterculic, dihydrosterculic and malvalic acids […]. Due to the toxic and perhaps carcinogenic nature of these substances, it would be unwise to ingest uncooked durian seeds.
A fair warning to all of you getting ready to eat one of these: They’re messy. Expect to have your hands covered in fruit while digging it out from the shell and deseeding it. In fact, many people eat the fruit with their hands, as it really is easier than using a spoon and/or fork.
When you’re all done eating, I’d suggest taking out the remaining seeds, putting the flesh in a baggie, then that in another baggie and either refrigerate (if you plan on eating it the next day) or freeze it. Be warned, you may need to use a few bags, as the smell actually makes it through the plastic and will quickly make everything smell like durian. I ended up freezing mine and later in the week I made durian cake (recipe will be coming) with the leftovers.
So, have any of you folks tried durian? Have you tried it fresh (over in Asia) or thawed elsewhere? Your thoughts? Honestly, I think I like it! It is so unlike anything else that if given the chance, I’d recommend everyone give it a taste!