The Durian - fruit of the extremes



Southeast Asia knows a fruit that is characterized as "queen of fruits". In honour of this fruit a monument has been erected at Davao. Once a professor wrote, alone the pleasure of this fruit is worth a trip to southeast Asia. Much effort has been invested in order to describe the exceptional taste of the fruit. An authoress tries to cover the delicious taste with following facet-rich description:

"The pulp tastes good like a butter-similar vanilla pudding, going hand in hand with the taste of almonds, a breath of cream cheese, onion sauce and brown sherry".

However the fruit does not find only enthusiasts. It polarizes, because it is also notorious.

The objection

The strong smell – if not stench – of the pulp represents the negative-side of the divine fruit and is a challenge is for the nose. A Durian has not only a pungent smell like rotten eggs or old Limburger cheese. No, the smell comparisons are much stronger. A Durian smells like:

  "foul onions" / "like a overripe Harzer cheese"

  "a congested waste pipe" / " a dirty toilet"

  "a not emptied garbage bin"

  "French custard conducted through a waste pipe"

  "crushed garlic, mixed with Mediterranean cheese and seasoned with army socks"

  "a fruit in a plastic bag that has been forgotten three weeks in the sauna"

  "the diapers of a baby, that had diarrhoea two weeks ago and was not looked after".

That’s the reason why transport and consumption of the fruit is very often prohibited in southeast Asia especially in public buildings, hotels and airplanes.

The tree

The area of the Durian-tree (Durio zibethinus) is Southeast Asia. It needs a moist and warm climate and a deep, rather loamy, nutrient-rich ground. Longer dry seasons or standing water are not conducive for the growth of the plant. The figure of the long-lived, species-rich tree reminds a Christmas-tree. Thailand knows 15 clones, differing in colour, shape ( more round or more oval), weight (1 - 6 kg) and taste.

The layers are planted into 60 cm deep and broad holes with a distance of round about eleven meters. An adequate irrigation and cutting of branches is necessary. Approximately, from the fifth year of planting the trees are carrying long-stalked fruits. First the number of the fruits is rather small (10 – 40), but the number goes up with higher age. A ten-year tree produces up to 200 fruits a year. Mostly there is only one harvest in the months of April and May. Cultivated trees reach a height of 15 to - 20 meters, wild plants grow up to 40 meters. The height of fall of the fruits can cause heavy injuries.

In traditional agriculture farmers are waiting until the ripe fruits are falling. But nowadays there is a preference for the harvesting of the fruits. By harvesting the taste of fruits can be better controlled and the shelf life extends from 3-4 days to 9-11 days, an important aspect for the distribution of the fruits.

No plant without pests. The Durian tree can suffer from the fruit borer, the leaf cutter and mildew. The most serious disease is the patch canker, which can cause dieback of branches and roots and infects also other trees.

The fruit

The fruit can be compared with a giant-chestnut. It has an oval-oblong shape - comparable to a bowling ball. The standard fruit is about 20-25 cm long and has a weight of round about two kilogram. The color of the thick bowl is changing from olive-green to dark-yellow and brown, depending on degree of ripening. It is covered with thick, thorny humps all over. Inexperienced people can have difficulties in opening the fruit. If it is opened five segments can be seen, including the fruit pulp and up to five seeds. The yellow, fat, creamy pulp constitutes only 15-20 percent of the total weight of the fruit. So there is a lot of not consumable material and with regard to the high costs of transportation it is better to export the fruit as frozen pulp.

The fruit pulp has only a moisture content of 64 percent. A normal cucumber has more than ninety percent. With 153 calories per 100 g and a percentage of 25 - 30 fat and starch it has a high nutritional value. The mineral and vitamin C content is very high.


Not every Durian is a good one with pleasant taste. Experts recommend the examination of the fruit before buying. First the appearance should be examined. More roundish Durians are supposed to have more fruit pulp. More oval-oblong Durians can have a lack of segments, but they could have a more intense taste.

Durians with holes - caused from squirrels, worms or man - should be refused. A fruit, broached already by the salesman, should also be sifted out because it was apparently refused by a prospective buyer and rots quickly. The structure of the blunt thorns admits according to expert opinion no quality-conclusion.

Shaking of the fruit next to the ear - be cautious that the fruit is not falling on your feet - is giving further quality hints. If nothing could be heard, it is unripe or full of water. If there is a stronger clattering, it is a sign for only little fruit pulp but many seeds. Our durian is a candidate for the following smell test, if the shaking evokes weak movements and the fruit appears light in comparison to the size.

A too stinking odor indicates an overripe Durian. If there is no smell, the fruit is still unripe. "But if you detect a faint aroma of bitter sweet butter scotch and almonds with a bouquet of wild honey and a hint of smoked oak then you have hit the jackpot" (Alfred Tann). The Durian fruit should be eaten as soon as possible because it can become quickly rancid or rots.


The meat can be eaten without ingredients. Sometimes the fruit is combined with sticky rice and sugar is added. But there is also a more seasoned variant with salt, pepper and onions. Half-ripened fruits are often used for soups. The seeds can be roasted or baked in oil.

A further processing step can be the deepfreeze for export. Deep-frozen Durian is occasionally offered in foreign Asia-shops for a lot of money. Another kind of further processing is the fermentation of the pulp, which is later wrapped in palm leaves ("Lempog"). The fruit is suitable for milk products. It can be used - also in powder form – for milk-shakes, ice creams, custard or pudding. In Malaysia "Barbur Durian" is prepared. Green peas are soaked overnight in salty water and cooked tenderly. Later the pulp of Durian is cooked with the water of sugar cane. Finally the mash gets thickened by adding sago. Durian cakes, Durian pastries and Durian pan cakes are well known. They are prepared based on eggs, butter and flour.

There is a urgent warning, not eat the Durian together with alcohol. Strong gastro spasms and explosive flatulence are unwelcome side-effects.

The fairy tale

Once there lived an old and ugly king in his palace on Visaya. He was powerful, but could not find the love with his young bride, who refused him. One of his consultants recommended him to get advice from a hermit, living on the mountain Apo. The hermit asked the king for three things:

  the egg of the black Tabon-bird, in order to soften the heart of the bride

  twelve ladles with the milk of a white water buffalo, to make the bride more friendly

  and the nectar of the three-wish plant, to make the king in the eyes of the bride younger and more beautiful.

The king arranged all these things. The turtle-king was helpful with the finding of the eggs. The cook brought the milk and the air nymph Hangin-Bai took him to her sister who had the magic flower in her hair.

In case of success – so the order of the hermit – the king should organize a big party and he should also be invited. Then he mixed the three magic ingredients and the king buried them in the ground of his royal garden.

The next morning a tree grew in the garden. The tree had sweetly smelling fruits with a wonderful taste. As the bride had eaten one fruit, she fell spontaneously in love with the king. The party was given.

However, the king forgot to invite the hermit. As a vengeance the hermit cursed the fruits of the tree. He replaced the sweet odour by a rotten door and the smooth surface of the fruit by thorny humps. And so the Durian fruit got their negative attributes.

© Wolfgang Bethge, 2002