If you've never traveled to Southeast Asia, its entirely possible that you've never encountered fresh Durian fruit the infamous and healthy, but divisive Southeast Asian snack so popular in the region.
However, once you've tasted this really stinky fruit, its an experience unlikely to be forgotten
The Durian fruit is generally slightly oval, about 25cm wide, is covered in formidable-looking spikes, weighing anywhere between 1 to 3.5 kgs and this is heavy enough that if not holding it by the stem but rather cupped within the hands, it has the potential to actually pierce the skin.
However, its out-of-this-world look is as nothing compared to its odour
Durian fruits have a strong, rather rank smell that permeates the outer shell and lingers long after the fruit has been removed.
So much so that as a result of its smell, the Durian has been banned on many types of public transport in Thailand, Japan as well as Hong Kong and within Singapore, its anti-social effluvium is so unpopular that the fruit is disallowed in all types of public transportation with taxis even bearing signs stating that they will refuse to carry passengers transporting this malodorous fruit.
Nevertheless, despite its stench, the Durian is an extremely healthy fruit even more so than many other others being naturally rich in iron, vitamin C, and potassium.
The Durian supposedly improves muscle strength, skin health and is even said to lower blood pressure.
Furthermore, one small durian contains 23g of dietary fiber which corresponds to nearly all of the nutritional daily requirement.
That said, it is important to not eat them in excess, as for example Ahmad Lai Bujang, a Malaysian politician, in 2010 was rushed to hospital complaining of breathlessness and dizziness after having gorged himself on Durian.
The fruit changes significantly over a very short period of time.
When harvested early, it is almost considered a vegetable as the flesh is hard, easy to handle and bitter as opposed to sweet.
People who enjoy eating Durian usually prefer the fruit to be over-ripe when the citrus and sweet flavors become far more prominent even though, at this time, the fruit becomes messier owning a consistency comparable to that of sour cream.
Traditionally, Durians are eaten once they have fallen to the ground of their own accord but the fruits are often harvested on the farms a little earlier so as to be able to export them overseas.
There are around thirty different variants of the fruit and though native to Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo, there are nowadays Durian farms to be found in Sri Lanka, Southern India, Vietnam. Cambodia and Thailand as well as even in the Hainan province of Southern China.
In fact, Thailand is the greatest exporter of the fruit where many Durian farms have been established and which produce more varieties of the fruit than any of their original locations.
For over a hundred years, travel writers have tried to describe the taste and smell of this fruit and even now we are still nowhere close to being able to describe its most particular taste and odour.
Alfred Russel Wallace had sent a letter to Sir William Jackson Hooker in 1856 describing the fruit as:"A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes."
More recently, Anthony Bourdain who says that he actually enjoys eating the smelly things colorfully described the aftermath of eating the fruit as making... ...your breath smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother..."
The fruit is Singapore' official fruit and when the Esplanade building next to Marina Bay was completed, the original design for two glass domes was eventually altered to include covering the buildings with pointed aluminum shades giving then the appearance of Durian that had been cut in half.
Known locally as the King of Fruits, when the season for the fruit is scheduled, its price suddenly starts to soar.
This is because the Chinese really seem to love the Durian and even take trips down to Singapore or elsewhere that it is grown specifically in order to buy, eat and savour the fruit which for many of thee aficionados is considered an absolute delicacy.
So right now, a 3 kg Durian in Singapore is going for around US20.00 / 17.00 or so and even though the fruit might actually LOOK rather large, when the skin has been removed. at least 2/3rd of the bulk will be thrown away leaving only around a kilo of the actual fruit.
Some people who eat Durian complain that the smell actually even stays on the skin for a few days after it has been consumed and that this is particularly true of the scent emitted when perspiring which, unfortunately, in the countries where the Durian is mostly found, seems to be a permanent state of affairs.
The Chinese consider the Durian and the Mangosteen to be the King and Queen of fruits due to their opposing flavours the Durian being warming, due to its pungent smell and rich consistency whilst the mangosteen is seen as cooling, because of its juicy flesh and slightly acidic taste.
Certainly, due to its size and therefore weight when shipping, the Durian tends to remain mostly a local fruit and this is why we so very rarely see them outside of Southeast Asia.