One can safely say that Durian is the Donald Trump of fruit! Some people absolutely love it and others absolutely hate it. Durian is a great subject to talk about in this viral age of the internet because it stirs up the kind of controversy that ‘blue or black dress?’ and ‘yanni or laurel?’ do. But why do some people hate it while others are completely enamoured?
To most Sri Lankans, durian needs little introduction. But for the benefit of all, let’s first look at what durian is. At first appearance, it hardly looks edible; a greenish, extremely spiny and offensive looking fruit with a pervasive odour of death and decay that precedes it. It’s this odour in fact that tends to put people off. The foul odour of durian is so pervasive that it’s even banned in some places, such as the entire Singapore subway system and the present author’s vehicle and house, thank you, mum! Durian’s scent of death and decay is so foul and pervasive that even a library at a university in Melbourne was recently evacuated over a suspected gas leak only to find it was a forgotten durian.
Despite its notorious odour, and just like with Marmite, Corriander and Donald Trump, some people naturally find the smell pleasant and appealing, while others don’t. Smell aside, once the fruit is husked, the interior is revealed; pods of white fleshy meat that smell savoury but taste sweet, almond-like and very creamy. Those who like the taste of it tend to describe it as one of the most complex and wonderful flavours ever and those who don’t have a lot to say too. Here are quotes from some famous personalities:
‘Tastes like completely rotten mushy onions’ – Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame.
‘Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory’ – Anthony Burgess, author.
‘Your breath will smell as if you’ve been French kissing your dead grandmother’ – Anthony Bourdain, although he’s known to be a durian fan.
There are some people who, even though they may not like the smell, do become fans of the edible parts of the fruit. But whether you love it or hate it, everyone can agree on one thing; the smell of durian is a strong, heady and very intense. So the question remains, why?
Scientists have found that the odour is a result of the combination of 50 different compounds but that none of them individually smell like durian. It’s just the rare combination of all these compounds that creates the smell. Interestingly, it has also been found that durian extract strongly inhibits the aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme, which is used by the liver to break down alcohol. Thus, it’s unwise and even dangerous to consume durian and alcohol together in large quantities.
Another explanation for the smell is provided by Alfred Russel Wallace in his 1869 book, ‘The Malay Archipelago’. He submits the logical explanation that durian’s potently foul odour is actually a brilliant strategy for seed dispersal. While humans are repulsed by the smell of rotting fruit and mammalian body odour, most other powerful terrestrial animals with big mouths are keenly attracted to these scents. Given durian’s fortified exterior, attracting strong and dexterous animals that can break it open and ones that have large enough mouths to swallow the big seeds, makes perfect sense. Some of the animals known to be attracted to the scent of durian include elephants, Asian rhinos, orang-utans, gibbons, tapirs, wild boar, leopards, tigers, civets and even bears.
Fun Durian Fact: Durian is a Malay word that means ‘Spiny Fruit’!
So what do you think about the Donald Trump of fruits? Will it get your vote? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.