Latin Name: Durio zibethinus
Other Names: "The king of fruits," monthong (Thai)
This infamously fragrant fruit is in the mallow family, of which it is undoubtedly the black sheep. Look for the large, spiny fruit in the produce or freezer aisle of Asian markets (some stores only offer frozen ones to keep odors down, but bigger/better-stocked markets sometimes have fresh ones). A good-quality fresh durian will feel light for its size, with no holes and a strong (but not vinegary/garbage-y) aroma. Keep fresh specimens at room temperature but store them in the freezer if you won’t eat them within a couple days.
Why is durian healthy?
Durian is exceptionally nutrient-dense for a fruit, containing significant protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Additionally, it’s rich in compounds that may convey numerous benefits: reducing the risk of heart disease, fighting infections, and possibly even preventing some cancers. Durian is used in several traditional Asian medicines to treat fever, high blood pressure, jaundice, and more.
What does durian taste like?
Ripe durians have a creamy-custardy texture and are pungent, savory, sweet, and heady-fragrant all at once, not unlike tropical flowers and vanilla mixed with caramelized onions; they’re also described as smelling like turpentine and vomit — it all depends on which specific durian cultivar you’re talking about.
Where does durian grow?
Durians are native to Borneo, and wild trees still grow in the Malay peninsula. Durians are now grown commercially throughout Southeast Asia; the most commonly available cultivars are grown in Thailand (which dominates global exports), Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where they’ve been grown and traded for centuries.
How do I prepare durian and what do I pair it with?
To access the fruit within a durian’s thorny shell, look for the faint brown lines that come to an asterisk shape. Plunge a sharp knife a few inches into the center of the star to split the seams, then pull the shell apart with your hands (you can wear thick gloves or use a kitchen towel to cushion the spines). Scoop out the flesh with a spoon or your fingers.
Durian is traditionally paired with other tropical ingredients like sweet sticky rice, coconut milk, and palm sugar, but you can use the fruit as a natural, nutrient-dense sweetener in smoothies, and healthy versions of cakes, puddings, and ice cream. Savory applications (and fermented durian) include adding it as a source of protein and fiber to curries and fish soups.
In Southeast Asia, it’s commonly believed that one shouldn’t consume durian with alcohol; between the 18th and 20th centuries botanists reported that it caused everything from indigestion and bad breath to “a feeling of morbidity.” In 2009 a Japanese study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that an enzyme in durian actually inhibits the body’s removal of alcohol’s toxins.