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In defense of durian: The ‘smelly’ king of fruits everyone wants to exile

In defense of durian: The ‘smelly’ king of fruits everyone wants to exile

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  • The durian is often described as a fruit that “smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.” It’s also something everyone should try *at least* twice

While durian may be nicknamed “the king of fruits,” people treat it like a bomb threat. Unlike most fruits, durian has a distinct—ehem—aroma that fills every nook and cranny of every room it enters. One whiff of this stuff can figuratively render a grown person unconscious, but if you look (or smell) beyond the initial scent, what you’ll find is decadent, creamy gold. 

Both of my parents are avowed durian lovers. As a child, we had a foam box filled with golden nuggets of the spiky fruit in our freezer. My brothers hated it, gagging and retching every time they even saw it, but I fell head over heels for durian at first smell (weird, I know). 

Durian with a deeper golden color is usually the sweetest and the ripest. Photo by Jim Teo on Unsplash

Though I acknowledge the fact that durian isn’t for everyone, especially for people with sensitive olfactory systems, what I don’t get is the smear campaign surrounding it. The fruit’s reputation enters the room long before the fruit itself even has the chance to change someone’s mind about it. 

The reason behind the durian’s “stench,” as some people like to call it, is due to the mixture of 50 different compounds. What’s interesting to note is that each compound smells completely different by itself. Some of them smell like rubber, honey, onions, or cheese, but the congregation of all the different compounds in the singular durian fruit makes it smell like—well—durian. 

Not all durian

The fruit’s characteristic pungent quality is present in all of the fresh varieties, but products made from durian don’t smell as strong. Durian chips, cakes, and even the frozen version of the fruit don’t pack the same odor as the fruit fresh from the husk. 

And in my experience, some varieties of durian don’t smell as funky as others. Durian variants from Singapore smell milder and much sweeter than those that come from Thailand or even Davao. And honestly, the taste of the durian from Singapore is genuinely unparalleled. 

The Singaporean durian my family used to buy was smaller in size than the ones you’d find at the local grocery store. They had this bright golden sheen and insanely creamy pulp which had a similar texture to ice cream if you put it in the freezer. 

The local durian variants available in Davao are bigger, a little paler, and come with meatier pulps, but that doesn’t mean I’d turn away a serving. 

Try it at least twice

Again, no yucking of yums (or yucks) to be found here, but everyone should try durian at least twice in their lives. Between the reputation, expectation, and the scent, the first time is definitely a shock to the system. 

The second time you try it though, you’re a little bit more prepared for what comes next. And do give yourself the best chance to enjoy the fruit by picking out a perfectly ripe and golden one. The pale durians are less sweet and ripe, which probably factors into why you might not like it as much. 

If you’re able to, buy from your local fruit stand and ask them to cut it open for you so you can inspect the insides. Again, the more golden, the better. Or you can also try durian candies, cakes, and chips if you want to work your courage up to the fresh stuff.

People often describe durian as something that “smells like hell and tastes like heaven.” While my nose disagrees with the first half of the statement, the rest of it is bang on. 

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