There are many different Durio cultivars, but the one that is most commercially produced is the Durio zibethinus. It is a curious, fruit when you first see it as it looks a little like a small jackfruit, but that is where the resemblance ends; they are not related. The fruit inside its thorny case is unusual to say the least. The husk has to be split open by the fruit seller on roadsides in Thailand, with a machete, or something that looks very like one, and inside there are slimy looking banana-type fruits, which contain large seeds. People complain about the smell and the fruit has been banned in some hotels and on public transport in parts of south east Asia, but I don’t remember the smell, perhaps because we bought the fruit in the open air and the atmosphere was quite polluted, so one more smell was not noticeable.

I only remember that it tasted a bit like custard, so had hints of vanilla, laced with banana and perhaps almonds. The English novelist Anthony Burgess famous for the book “Clockwork Orange” said that eating this fruit was “like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” I have to agree with the definition of the texture, but maybe he was talking about the red durian when he thought of raspberries.

In south-east Asia the durian is called “The King of Fruits” I have to say that the fruit pod is a pretty big one, so could agree if that’s what was meant, but I’d have to agree with the Pakistanis that the mango is the King of Fruits, I’m afraid.
People rave about the durian and say you either love it or hate it; personally I don’t care either way about it. If someone gave me one I’d eat it happily, but I wouldn’t mind if I never ate another.

In Malaysia there is a saying “to receive a falling durian” which means that the person has had some good luck. When fruits, vegetables and other foods come into a language as expressions, it shows how important they are in the culture. There is also a superstition that the fruit has eyes, which is why it only falls from the tree at night. It could do a lot of damage with its spines and weight if it hit you on the head, even more damage than the fruit of the sausage tree and the cannonball tree.

Durian are native to Brunei, Borneo, Sumatra, Malaysia and possibly also to the Philippines. They are members of the Malvaceae family of plants which includes the common mallow, hibiscus and hollyhock among others. It is pollinated by bats which feed on the nectar and pollen in the whitish to golden-brown flowers. It is extensively cultivated in Thailand, and is also cultivated in India where it is referred to as the “civet cat tree” due to its not-so-fragrant smell. It can grow to heights of 40 metres in tropical forests, and is evergreen. The trees start to bear fruit when they are 3½ to 4½ years old and one tree can produce between 40 and 50 fruit. They can have two fruiting seasons a year, depending on the climate. There have been some efforts to introduce them to other parts of the world, but in both North and South America they are confined to Botanical Gardens, and they have so far failed to thrive in Sri Lanka, although they have been introduced and then re-introduced several times.

The fruit are used in sambals (side dishes) as accompaniments to hotter, spicy main dishes, and in ice creams, other desserts, and confectionary. I have only eaten raw, and have to say that I prefer rambutan and mangosteen.

In both South and South-East Asia, hot and cold properties are attributed to foodstuffs, and durian is deemed to be a hot item. As it comes into season in summer, this means that the body needs to be cooled after eating it, so people either drink water out of the hollowed pods, or eat durian with mangosteens which have cooling properties.

The young shoots and leaves of the durian tree may be boiled and eaten as a green vegetable, and most parts of the tree are used in traditional medicine. The fruit contains the minerals, calcium, iron and phosphorous and vitamin A, carotene, some of the B-complex vitamins and is rich in vitamin E.

The seeds are eaten after boiling, drying and frying them and in Java they are thinly sliced and cooked with sugar then dried and fried in coconut oil  with spices and used as a sambal.

In traditional medicine the rind of the pod is burnt and the ashes given to women to eat after child birth. A decoction of the leaves and roots is given during fevers, and the leaf juice is expressed onto the forehead to cool the body in fevers too. The leaves are infused in bath water for jaundice patients, and a decoction of the leaves and fruits is used for swellings and skin problems. The flesh which surrounds the fruit is given to get rid of intestinal worms.

It is believed that the seeds contain toxins which can cause shortness of breath, so they should not be eaten raw. People with high blood pressure and pregnant women should avoid eating durian.

If you buy durian paste in markets in Thailand, it might have been adulterated with pumpkin, which is cheaper. However this may make it more palatable to some.

Don’t worry if you’ve never tried it, personally I think it’s another over-hyped fruit like the mangosteen.

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