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Like any good outlaw, durian is tough on the outside with a heart of gold. At least, that's how the fruit's devotees describe it. Its critics don't pull any punches when it comes to the rotten smell: "Ungodly". "Like a three-week-old dead cow in custard." And from an international food critic: "Its odor is best described as pig sh * t, turpentine and onions garnished with a dirty gym sock."

It's fair to say that the durian humble has a bad rap - the status of the Singaporean subway, Thailand's trains, Asia's airlines and every hotel from Medan to Kupang.

How Does a Durian Taste?

"On the third bite," says one hater, "it was as though I just eaten a diseased, parasitic animal with a bad case of rabies. I prayed I didn't want to be sick because I didn't want to taste it. "To a durian lover:" The taste is light melon with a creamy, almost eggy texture - a bit pineappley, with a tome of yogurt and buttermilk sourness. "Getting better. So what does the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace say about the durian's flavor?

"A rich custard highly flavored with the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor to cheese cream, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. "

First-Time Reactions to Durian Fruit.
Durian - The World's Smelliest Fruit - from The New York Times.

The World of Durian

OK, so it's edible. And it has its lovers. Despite the fruit's aggressive appearance - up to 30cms long, two or three kilos in weight, football-sized with thorns sharp enough to slice your skin - durian is really just a big softy at heart. Cut one open and you'll find the soft, creamy yellow or red flesh surrounding a large seed - the color of the pulp depending on the species.

Love them or loathe them, you're never too far from a durian tree in Indonesia - Bali and Java also cultivate their own - while you'll only find the unique red durian in East Java's Banyuwangi province. Indonesian lovers of this fruit are part of a double durian growing season: the first from October to February, and the bonus in Sumatra from June to September. Lucky them.

Durian trees are tall - up to 50 meters - and grow buttery-smelling, feathery flowers that tempt bats and honeybees to pollinate them. But it's not just humans and can smell a durian tree mile off. The fruit pulls in hungry Sumatran elephants, wild rainforest pigs, orangutans and even carnivorous tigers from up to a kilometer away - ensuring that the trees are spread far and wide, and guaranteeing the durian's questionable place in evolution.

And that, in a nutshell, is why durians smell so bad.

Durian is high in tryptophan, an amino acid converted by the body into serotonin - which in turn promotes a feeling of happiness and relaxation.

What's the Difference Between Jackfruit and Durian?

Like durian, jackfruit also shares the abundance of minerals and vitamins. And like durian, it's pretty smelly too. They both have greeny-brown outer shells. But that's where the similarities end. Your average jackfruit can be dwarf a durian: whereas a large durian might reach 3kg, a big jackfruit can tip the scales at 30kg. Jackfruits don't have thorns or spikes, either - they're knobbly with bumps.

And while durian flesh is creamy, jackfruit pulp is more rubbery and stringy - more soft bubble gum than custard slurp. Jackfruit taste? According to one lover, it's "... indescribable. A sweet, almondine, onion-sherry chocolate mousse with hints of garlic and farts ". Hm. So not that different, then. And just as you'll see a 'No Durian' sign in Denpasar's airport, you'll also see a 'No Jackfruit' sign next to it. They're both on the banned-from-flying list.

Jackfruit vs Durian: A jackfruit is bumpy, not spiky
Not to be confused. The jackfruit can weigh times heavier than it smells cousin, is greener, and has knobbly bumps instead of sharp spikes.
A farmer checks his durian orchard in Sumatra, Indonesia
A farmer checks his durian orchard in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Nutritional Facts About Durian

But if the carnivorous tigers love them, surely they can't be that bad for your health? Get over the stench, and they're a wonder food. Iron, potassium, Vitamin C, riboflavin, folic acid, thiamine, calcium, copper, zinc, phosphorous, Vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, sodium, protein, fiber, phytonutrients, water and beneficial dietary fats. That isn't bad for a big fruit.

Health Benefits

With a nutritional list as impressive as this, it's no surprise that durians are very, very good for your health.

  • Feeling old? A good portion can help turn back the clock. Because of the fruit's high levels of vitamins and their organic chemical make-up, durians have a high level of antioxidants that helps reduce free radicals in your body. This means less age-related tooth-loosening, less hair loss, less wrinkles - and less arthritis, heart disease, macular degeneration and fewer age spots. Who said the fountain of youth was a myth?
  • If you find it hard to sleep, the durian is the cure. This fruit is high in tryptophan, an amino acid converted into serotonin - which in turn promotes feeling of happiness and relaxation. The serotonin is then converted into melatonin, which makes the body feel tired. No need to count sheep after a portion of Big D.
  • The Indonesian people have a saying: "Durian falls, gloves go up". Which roughly translates as: "When a durian falls, up comes the sarong." The jury is out on whether the durian makes you tiger in the bedroom - but it has been proven to reduce the chances of infertility in men and women. Which can't be a bad thing.
  • Prevention is better than cure. If you want to cut your prospects of getting cancer, the durian is half the battle. Crammed with antioxidants, these are the sworn enemies of free radicals that can become cancerous. If you already have cancer, the phytonutrients in durian will battle cancerous cells - as well as giving your depleted immune system a turbo-boost.
  • The anemia is a thing of the past on a durian diet. High levels of folic acid, iron and copper will bring your blood cell count swinging back into the positive.
  • Durian keeps you regular. Its high levels of dietary fiber stimulates peristaltic motion and secretion of gastric and digestive juices, which help reduce bloating, constipation, heartburn and cramps. And surprisingly for a fruit, eating durian also lowers the frequency of diarrhea - as its dietary fiber is of the insoluble, not the soluble, type.
  • Say goodbye to high blood pressure, an excellent source of potassium. With plenty of potassium in your bloodstream, your blood vessels will relax - not only reducing the stress on your cardiovascular system, but also helping to reduce your chances of a heart attack, a stroke or atherosclerosis. And with plenty of blood pumping through your brain, you're lowering your chances of dementia and Alzheimer's disease too. They say a Sumatran elephant never forgets ...

The Downside of Durians

A word of warning.

Although a Sumatran tiger may not count calories, you might want to get your calculator out if you're on a diet. An average durian contains anywhere from 885 calories to 1,500 calories - or up to 75 percent of adult's daily recommended 2,000 calories. The fruit durian is also very high in carbohydrates. If you're watching your waistline, a durian dinner is probably not for you.

And don't drink alcohol with them - You're turning into a hot-air balloon.

Do not stand under a durian tree
Health warning: never stand under a durian tree. Hundreds of people across Asia are hurt or killed every year when they are heavy, spiky fruit falls on their heads.

How and Where to Buy Durian

So you've decided that the enormous health benefits outweigh the stink. How do you buy one?

Indonesia is the home of durians, and you're never far away from one. If you are in a big city like Jakarta or Surabaya - or in a tourist center like Bali - many of the larger supermarkets will stock them. The disadvantage is not being able to chat with the person who is selling it to you. If you are in Europe, Australia or the States, you can track down some frozen durian - not ideal, but better than nothing. Rule Number One: fly to Indonesia, and take a walk around your local morning market.

How to Choose a Ripe Durian

It depends on your taste. If you're Thai, you'll eat them slightly under-ripe. But your average Indonesian likes a durian so that it will have an alcoholic bite. For something in between, try this. Walk along to your local market, make sure you're at a durian and not a jackfruit, and put your nose close to the skin. If it has no smell, chances are it isn't ripe. If the odor is already strong, it's probably over-ripe. A durian at its peak should have a low-level, slightly earthy, slightly sulphurous smell with a hint of fresh-cut grass and scrambled eggs.

If you don't fancy the sniff-test, there's another way. Have a chat with your friendly fruit seller. Durians fall off the tree when they're ripe - which explains why so many people are injured or killed under durian trees every year. If your durian is, chances are that it's perfect. If it has been sitting around the fruit stall for several days, it isn't.

If you only speak Beginner's Indonesian, there is a third way. Wiggle the stem. If it's loose, it's close to ripe. If the stem has been broken off or comes off in your hand, it's over-ripe. A durian expert will dig a fingernail into the stem - it should be grass-green. If the stem is dark brown and shriveled, your durian may be old - and has probably been ripening under a tarpaulin.

Some say, the way to pick up is durian and give it a shake. If the seed rattles around like a maraca, it's very over-ripe. If there is no rattle, the flesh will be hard - which is how some people like it. If all else fails, find the spot between the sharp thorn, and press down into the skin with your thumb. If it gives a bit, it's ready. If it's as hard as a rock, it isn't.

Or just try the human touch. Smile at your friendly durian seller and say: "I was looking for ('cha-ree') the durian already ('soo-dah') mature. Can you please ('bee-sah') choose ('pee-lee') what's good for me? " Which means: "I'm looking for a durian ripe. Please could you pick a nice one for me? "And the lovely lady behind the counter will present you with a beauty.

Durian for sale in a local Indonesian market
Your local Indonesian market is the best and friendliest place to buy the King of Fruits.
How to pick a durian fruit
Choices, choices. Sniff it, poke it, shake it, scrape it ... or just ask.
A fruit durian open to show its custardy flesh
Packed with goodness, the King of Fruit throws a stinky punch.
How to choose a good durian.

How to Open and Eat a Durian

If you're a newbie, the simplest thing in Indonesia is to find your local seller and ask them to open one up in front of you. Watch and learn. After several expert chops and thumps, they will be discarded and the seed and present with a plastic bag full of durian flesh. Just make sure you don't bring it back on the bus or in someone else's car. It may be wise to bring an airtight container with you.

Once you've watched an expert, eaten your first durian and find yourself coming back for more, you're probably a durian addict. Pick your next durian yourself and bring it home. This could get messy, so it was on plenty of newspaper - possibly outside.

There are two methods: the knife or the stamp. If you're handy with a sharp knife, chop off the stem, find a natural seam in durian and carefully cut down and away from the stem. (Some people wear a baseball mitt on their other hand so they don't spike themselves.) Bury your fingers under the thick - being careful of the sharp thorns - and slowly prize apart. You should have two halves now. Scoop out the pulp from one section and you're good to go.

A safer way to put on some old, thick-soled shoes - and while you're holding onto something for balance, the stand is hard on the durian until it naturally breaks along its seams. The durian prize apart with your fingers, and eat.

How do you eat a durian? The best way to get sticky with your fingers ...

How to open a durian fruit
A local expert demonstrates how to open the world's smelliest fruit.
How to Cut and Prepare Durian Fruit.

Some Favorite Durian Recipes

You've got over the smell. You've picked and opened your first fresh durian. And you've been brave enough to taste it. So what's next?

You have to know that Indonesians have been perfecting ways to enjoy the King of Fruits for the past couple of thousand years - and one of the most popular durian recipes is called Durian Thorns - also known as Makassar Durian Tarts. A toffee-like delicacy from Sulawesi, Durian Thorns is popular during the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Another Indonesian favorite for the sweet-tooths is Durian Pudding with Pandan Vla - a durian-vanilla pudding not dissimilar to crème anglaise.

While it's possible to make savory dishes with durian - Pizza Hut is thinking about introducing a durian pizza - the fruit is usually associated with desserts ... with a difference. If you want to get alternative during your next party, why not try a Durian Panna Cotta?

Sloppy durian pudding
Stick to tried-and-trusted recipes, or get creative with this royal fruit.
Durian chips
Fried durian chips make a tasty, alternative snack.
Baked durian cakes
Durian lined up for some lucky customers.
Recipe: Durian Kue Ambon.

Durian Raw Vegan Smoothie Recipes

Durian's consistency makes it an excellent base for a smoothie, and the perfect alternative for an ultra-creamy, non-dairy milkshake. But you might want to mask that strong taste first.

Durian smoothie enthusiasts don't recommend mixing in a lot of sweet citrus fruits like oranges, mangos or pineapples. A little dash of lemon juice might work. Banana blends well with durian's base vanilla-almond flavor, and some home-grown Indonesian cinnamon spices, clove or ginger help take away durian's infamous funky taste.

For chocolate lovers, cacao complements a durian smoothie - and for that little kick, add a dash of cayenne pepper or nutmeg ...

A last, hot smoothie tip. If you're already in Indonesia, why not pick up some young coconut juice while you're at the fruit market? It's cheap, extremely healthy, gives the smoothie a nice sweet finish and rehydrates you as you drink. A perfect pick-me-up on a hot day ...

How to Make a Durian Shake - Healthy Drink Ideas.
Durian Smoothie Recipe.

Durian Ice Cream Recipes

Durian ice cream? It couldn't be easier. Stick your smoothies in the freezer and wait ... Or try at one of these easy recipes:

Raw Vegan Banana Durian Ice Cream Bowl Recipe.
Durian Ice Cream Bliss + Fruit Picking.

The Verdict

With such wild contrasting opinions surrounding this funky fruit, the jury's out. For those with a delicate nose, you might want to stay clear. This, it would be silly not to give the King of Stink a try - the health benefits are simply too great to ignore. Go on - take your life in your hands - and take it into the sea of youth. You might find yourself looking twenty years younger.