• Peter Alton

Hong Kong: Durian - The King of Fruits

Durian (Durio zibethinus), is one of the most divisive foods in the world. People either love it or hate it there really does seem to be no middle ground. It is regarded as the "king of fruits" in South East Asia and is grown commercially in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The Durian is seldom exported as it has an extremely unpleasant and pungent smell that has been compared to rotting flesh. The fruit is banned from most airlines, public transport and even some public places because of the smell. Durians when ripe often crack open making the risk of the odour leaking out on a long journey quite high.

The fruit is relatively large growing up to 20cm in diameter. It is spherical in shape with a tough greenish-brown spiky exterior. The exposed fruit contains five oval compartments, each filled with a creamy custard like pulp covering up to five chestnut like seeds.

Traditionally, durians are eaten after they have fallen from the trees however commercial durian farms harvest the fruit much earlier in order to ship maximise the shelf life.

People have compared the smell of Durian to rotting flesh, smelly socks, rotten eggs, cream cheese or fermented onions. It can be extremely unpleasant even nauseating. The riper the Durian the more the fruit ferments and the flavour and odour intensifies. When fully ripe, the flesh is extremely soft and creamy. It is not acidic as you might expect but actually quite sweet like an almond and citrus flavoured custard. It can be used in sweet desserts, drinks and pastries or even in savoury sauces and curries.

Durians ripen extremely quickly when stored at ambient temperatures often ripening in just a couple of days. You can slow this process down by storing them in a fridge but the smell unfortunately will rapidly contaminate any foodstuff in the vicinity. It can be frozen in an air-tight sealed bag or container for up to three months. Some people like to eat slightly unripe Durian while it is still firm as the odour is less pungent. It can be bitter at this stage so it is more suited to savoury dishes. However many fans of the fruit claim the sweetness and flavour intensifies as the fruit ripens with the flesh texture changing to a rich custard like consistency.

Despite its unpleasant aroma Durian is actually an extremely healthy fruit. It is naturally rich in iron and potassium. Although high in calories and fat, it is a good source of vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. It's also a good source of manganese and riboflavin helping improve muscle strength, skin health and even lowering blood pressure.

Whether you like it or hate it the humble Durian is a super fruit. There is no denying it has a great appeal to many but equally there are people who find it simply disgusting. According to the yin-yang principle in Chinese medicine eating yang foods like durian will warm the body into an unhealthy imbalance. To counteract this internal conflict yin foods like mangosteen should be eaten to cool the body. Food and diet is about balance so perhaps this is the answer.

Durian is considered the "King” while Mangosteen is considered to be "Queen of fruits”. Maybe you need to eat these fruits together to fully appreciate the subtle flavours of the Durian and create the perfect balance for your body.

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