All Hail the King of Tropical Fruits
When we head to the fruit market, we are sure to be greeted by the sight of a familiar variety of fruits like apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, watermelon, and many more locally grown produce. Thanks to the import and export industry, we can enjoy the fruits of labor from neighboring countries and even countries from across the globe.
There is quite a luxurious selection of fruits ranging from an assortment of berries, citrus, tropical to the more exotic types. Of all the types of fruits out there, one fruit reign supreme over the others, well primarily in Southeast Asia. Known as the ‘King of Tropical Fruits', the ‘Durio Zibethinus’ as it is scientifically named, is one fruit that is described to taste like heaven but smell like hell. Although it is acclaimed to have a rich heavenly taste, this fruit is very much an acquired taste. The late Anthony Bourdain, who tasted the fruit, said the experience is indescribable, and it would be something that you will either love or hate.
Introduction to Durian
The ‘Durio Zibethinus’ is also known generally by the public as durian. It is a highly prized fruit in some Southeast ASEAN countries and is best enjoyed in its season. Durian is a seasonal fruit, but its production periods are sometimes unstable, varying from year to year for the different varieties. The durian fruit is native produce in Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, and it is grown in other Southeast ASEAN countries like The Philippines. High-quality durian fruit can be found in Malaysia and Thailand.
Unlike other fruits, durian possesses an appearance that is intimidating with a thick stem and spiky thorns. The durian is called the ‘King of Tropical Fruits’ for a reason, due to its spiky thorns which make it seem like it’s wearing a crown around its mighty stem. In fact, the name of the fruit is derived from the Malay word ‘duri’ for thorns. The spiky thorns serve the evolutionary purpose of reducing the probability of the fruit being attacked and eaten by birds, rodents, or small creatures before it matures or ripens.
Its appearance is indeed scary for the uninitiated, but what is more menacing about the durian fruit is its pungent smell. The fruit emits an odor that is easily detectable yards away even before it appears within your field of vision. Quoting food writer Richard Sterling, the fruit smells like a combination of turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. Well, this description seems like a complex blend of mismatched aroma that will do a great assault on one’s olfactory receptors. Because of its pungent smell, the durian is the only fruit that has a ban against it in certain places, like airline cabins, hotels, and public transportation. Scientists have tried to unravel the reason behind the stench produced by the fruit. In a new study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, a group of scientists from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry studied a sample of Thai durians and found out that there were over 50 discrete compounds in the durian fruit that is responsible for the uncommon aroma.
If you successfully conquered the hurdle of its appearance and smell, it would bring you a step closer to savoring this one-of-a-kind fruit. The next challenge would be to reach the golden nuggets of flesh without hurting yourself in the process. Opening the fruit requires technique and some preparation. The basic preparation would be a cloth glove - to protect your hands when you hold the fruit, a small cleaver – to pry open the fruit, and courage as well as strength to tackle the task.
Once you successfully pry opens the fruit, it is time to put your taste bud to the test. Depending on the variety, you may come across golden-colored or slightly yellowish chunks of flesh. The texture of the flesh may come across as custardy and foamy, ‘dry’ and firm, or ‘wet’ and creamy. Durian lovers usually seek a silky smooth and creamy finish, which makes the fruit an addictive treat. As for the taste, different varieties of the fruit possess different flavor profiles.
The sweeter variety is surely a hit, but some durian lovers prefer if the fruit carries a bitter-sweet tasting flesh. One account made by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in his Malay Archipelago in 1869, described durian as “A rich butter-like custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it, come wafts of flavor that call to remind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities… To eat durians is a new sensation, worth a voyage to the east to experience.”
Demand and Supply
Despite its infamous characteristics, durian is gaining more worldwide acceptance. As a matter of fact, the Chinese fell head over heels with the taste of the fruit. Many Chinese tourists flock over to Thailand and Malaysia during the fruit’s peak season to savor it. Due to China’s appetite for stinky fruit, many countries that produce durian took the opportunity to export their top quality batch over to accommodate the demand for the fruit.
However, this doesn’t seem enough to satisfy the craving of the Chinese for this fruit that they are looking into buying in at the source by making investments into Malaysia’s durian orchards that produce the famous ‘Musang King’ variety. Apart from tapping into the sale of the fruit itself, some entrepreneurs also capitalize on the commercialization potential by using the flesh from the fruit in a variety of products marketed in various forms such as ice-cream, sweets, puff and pastry, and many more.
Here are some extra ‘tit-bits on the ‘King of Tropical Fruits’ for you to savor.
- Durian tree is a tropical fruit crop that grows in well-drained, deep sandy soil or clay soil with a high organic matter with a slightly acidic nature between PH5.5 -5.6.
- The optimum conditions to facilitate the growth of durian plantation are – temperatures between 25-35 degrees Celcius, relative humidity of 80%, and an annual rainfall of 1,500 -2,000mm, which is well distributed throughout the year.
- The flesh of the fruit represents 20-35% of the fruit weight.
- Durian flesh is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, and Vitamins A and C), and minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Iron).
- A durian tree can grow up to 40 meters tall. Trees that are planted from seed mature after seven to 12 years; clonal trees mature in four to five years.
- Durian flesh can be eaten fresh or processed into jams, marmalade, spread, pastilles, or flavoring in ice-cream, candies, cakes, and rolls.