from the Fruitarian Network News, issue #40
submitted by Tatiana
Created on Sun 13 Sep 1997

Last Updated:14 Sep 97

Developing a Durian Addiction

by Jo Yoshida

The King of Fruit

The tropical environment of Southeast Asia offers a diverse banquet of succulent fruits in all sizes and shapes. Those with a sweet-tooth accustomed to apples or imported oranges are soon bewitched by the delicate flavors of mangosteens and lychees. But it's the durian that pricks the curiosity of most. Its ugly mace-like exterior and nasty odor seem inappropriate for the revered status it enjoys as a delicacy among the local population.

The title given to the fruit is not a sarcastic swipe although one historian was forced to write, "the flavor and odor of the fruit may be realized by eating a 'garlic custard' over a London sewer." Most durian neophytes reject the fruit and some never develop a taste for it. Travelers visiting the region are invited to make their own judgements. Freed from its notorious reputation, the durian, when carefully chosen and eaten properly, is a one-of-a-kind taste sensation.

To The Market

Indigenous to Borneo and Malaysia, the durian is also commercially cultivated in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The caviar of fruit commands higher prices than most. While an inferior mango is just an inexpensive mistake, a bad durian is also a wretched experience to be avoided at all costs. So unpleasant, in fact, that one rotten mouthful can force the intrepid person to write off the fruit forever. Fortunately, prices are usually fixed at supermarkets and street stalls in large urban areas. Ask a store clerk or vendor to choose one for you.

At markets where haggling is expected, the onus is on the buyer to select quality fruit at reasonable prices. Experienced durian handlers tap fruits with their knives and listen for a particular sound. But occasional buyers can try the following:

The Dining Experience

Because of its signature odor, the fruit is banned in most hotels, and unlike pineapples from Hawaii, airlines do not allow them as carry-on luggage. Riding Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit with a durian on your lap will land you with a stiff fine. Plan to eat the fruit at a park, outside on the street, or out on the veranda.

To extricate the pulp, use a sharp knife with a stiff short blade. Look for several lines of converging spikes running the length of the fruit. These are the seams (much like a football) that separate the five compartments. As the fruit ripens, the seams split from the bottom end. Gradually pry apart one seam with the knife. When the opening is wide enough, insert your fingers for more leverage. Once you have pried apart the fruit into roughly two halves, the remaining compartments can be separated by placing the fruit on the floor or table, thorn-side down, with the stem facing away from you. Place the heels of your hands on both outer edges of the section, the fingers oriented outwards. Lean forward and transfer your weight onto your hands. The central seam should split to expose more pulp.

Each compartment contains two or more oblong seeds surrounded by pulp which is attached to the inner walls along the central seam. The texture of the yellow to off-white pulp resembles a creamy custard sometimes with a fibrous grain akin to cooked chicken thighs. The flavor is an arguable mixture of caramel, bananas, cooked onions, almonds, and vanilla extract. Durian lovers prefer a slightly under-ripened fruit.

The flavor peaks two or three days after the fruit has fallen from the tree. After this, the pulp quickly turns rancid. When passed its prime, it sports a wrinkled surface with greyish discoloration. The flavor rapidly disappears and the texture deteriorates to a consistency of puss.

Don't Blame The Fruit

The durian is richer than most fruits because the pulp contains starches as well as fruit sugars. Its low water content (relative to other juicy fruits such as the mango) also contributes to the fullness after eating the fruit. Although the combination of the starches and sugars alone can be a challenge to the digestive system, many people compound the problem by eating the fruit haphazardly thereby enduring inevitable health problems. They blame the fruit out of ignorance when careless eating habits are at the seat of these complaints.

To prevent unpleasant symptoms (fever, headache, sour gas, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarhoerrea), consider these precautions:

More Encouragement

The durian season varies from region to region. In Bali, the best fruits are found during November and December. In parts of Thailand, April thru July yields prime fruit. Off-season durians are not fair samples. Visit a large wet market during peak season. Enjoy a fresh, ripe fruit.

About ten major varieties exist to be explored. Seek them out. They vary in color, shape, size, odor, flavor, texture, seed size, and pulp content. Determine your favorite. Of course, take sensible precautions when eating them.

If your first durian triggers vivid dreams about bushwhacking through tangled forests in search for the fruit, welcome to the club. Attracted to the odor that offends so many, you are among those who are found to plan their travel itenary around peak growing seasons and neglect areas that do not cultivate it. The title, The King of Fruit, has your passionate approval.


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