It’s taken me long enough, but I finally decided to give durian a try. Not the easiest fruit to find, but for those of you in Canada I found it easily enough in Superstore aka Loblaws grocery stores. You can also buy the freeze dried fruit online.
Firstly, what the hell is durian anyway
If you don’t already know and there’s no shame in that, the durian is a fruit. If you’ve ever seen a lychee, those small khaki coloured fruits with the white interior then you’ll have a reasonable idea of what the durian looks like.
The inside should be a yellow cream colour to a nice sunny yellow to red even – depending on the durian. Though in North America most of the durian we’ll get will be of the yellow fleshed variety.
The durian flesh looks like roughly kneaded or mixed dough.
If you take a lychee and grow it about 100x bigger and you make it’s shell harder and put spikes on it then that’s a durian. Here are some pics if you’re interested. The durian I got was about the size of a baseball mitt and weighed around 5 pounds and cost me around $7.
Durian is a fruit well known and native to Southeast Asia. In fact it is called the king of fruits over there and I’m not sure if that is because it is so big or because they love it so much. Maybe it’s because its weight and thorns demand respect. And you need to respect the fruit when handling it because its thorns are prickly and can penetrate human flesh.
It seems that with the durian you have 2 camps of people. Those who love it and those who hate it. In the former camp durian first came to my attention through the raw vegans or 811 diet embracers.
I think what puts you firmly in either the lovers or haters of durian camp is the fruits unusual and unique smell.
Before we carry on I’ll say that I am in neither camp. And I’ll explain that a little more as we go.
How do you open a durian?
That was the first thing on my mind when presented with this thorny fellow. There is a right way to open the durian but you can pretty much open it however you want. Like an apple you can cut it in quarters, but to make it easier on yourself, open the durian correctly.
Holding the durian with a towel so as not to get pricked, turn it upside down. If you look carefully you’ll see a 5 pointed star emanating from the middle of the bottom of the durian. Rather, these are 5 lines that stretch out from the centre in a star like pattern. Take a sharp knife and stab into the centre of the star pattern a couple of inches. Then cut outwards along each of the 5 seams for a couple or three inches.
At this point you should be able to get into the durian with your hands and open it up by pulling the segments apart.
How to choose a durian
Most of the durian in North America comes to us frozen so it is a bit of a gamble in choosing the right one. Choosing a fresh one is easier as you can shake them and if you hear soft, dull thuds and the durian smells good – not yucky like some durian will smell – then it’s good to go.
Some other things to look for in either frozen or fresh durian are the following: Look for straightish lines between the spikes from the stem. Also, is the durian split in part. Not split open but does it have a kink or is it somewhat bulbous in portions so that the segments can be ascertained from the outside. These are things that can help.
How does a durian smell
The smell of durian is pretty unusual and unique. A lot of people don’t like it, but I found it marginally pleasing but definitely not horrible.
The smell has been likened to rotten onions, turpentine and old sweaty gym socks. I think those are unkind descriptions.
The smell of the durian comes from its flesh and I found the smell to be reminiscent of mangos, petrichor (the smell of rain on dry dirt) and the smell of dirt. There were also subtle hints of grilled onions, apples and pears. Not unpleasant at all.
Once you open up the durian, the flesh is the same smell as the whole durian. I did not find the durian to be overpowering in smell. It did not for example fill the house with the smell. It was subtle, leaning on pleasant but definitely not overpowering like some have said. I think if that is the case, then you have an overripe or bad durian.
What does the durian taste like
Well, the durian tastes very much like it smells. I definitely got some grilled onions, subtle though. More prevalent was mango with subtle hints of apples and pears and bananas.
My wife found the durian to taste like “alien mango” and I think that is a terrific description. If you are a Trekkie or sic-fi fan, I think you’ll get that description. Spot on really.
Many people talk about the banana flavour of durian, I found the banana to be just a tease, a very minor element to the flavour profile. In my opinion the flavours from the strongest to the weakest were mango, grilled onions, apples, pears and then bananas. There was no hint of dirt in the flavour unlike the smell, though in the interest of total transparency, I don’t know what dirt tastes like 🙂 You might want to ask any 2 year old though!
The texture of durian is a mix of thick custard with the somewhat fibrousness of mango. I found the texture very pleasant.
What about the nutrition profile of durian
Durian as a fruit is calorically dense and high in fat. Each cup offers about 350 calories with around 100 of those coming from fat. In that serving you will get 13 grams of fat, 66 grams of carbohydrate, 9 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. It will also give you the following RDA %: 2% vitamin A, 1% calcium, 80% vitamin C and 6% iron.
These are pretty good stats, but about 5 times more calories than the same serving of apples and about 60% more calories than bananas for the same serving and about 3 times the calories of mangos.
My durian experience in a thorny nutshell
On a scale of liking where 0 is a strong dislike and 10 is a strong like and 5 is indifference, I’d say I put the durian at a 6 or 7. It is just lightly on the liking side of this like-unlike scale.
I don’t think I’ll buy it again, though if offered I will partake. Here’s why. The effort to access the durian fruit is more than the reward I got from enjoying the fruit. To use a financial analogy, the cost both in monetary terms and in effort of accessing the fruit created a debt larger than the credits I received from enjoying the fruit.
I think it is a great fruit that all vegetarians and vegans should be encouraged to try. However, if your tastes are more mundane or picky then don’t bother with it. You aren’t missing out.
A nice fruit yes, but there are literally a dozen I prefer more. These include, bananas, apples, pears, peaches, mangos, pineapples, berries, oranges, plums, grapes, watermelon, kiwis and on and on. If pressed I’d have say that the durian is amongst my least favourite fruit. I liked it, but given plenty of choices I’d choose it as one of my last.
Not the king of fruits in my humble opinion, perhaps just a humble servant in the kingdom of fruits.