Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

Durian - The king of fruits.

P12Distinctive due to its large size, greenish-brown thorn covered husk, and alarming smell, the durian is a well-known fruit to those living in Southeast Asia. To some, the fruit gives off a sweet inviting fragrance, but to others the smell is repulsive. One thing’s for sure whatever the smell is, it’s strong! So strong in fact, it’s been banned from a number of hotels, subways, airports and other public transportation systems throughout the region.

Coming from large durian trees, which reach upwards of 25-30 meters, the fruit is harvested about twice a year - the main season being from June to August. Taking about three months to mature after pollination (which is done mostly by cave fruit bats!), the fruit weighs roughly one to three kilograms when cultivated. For most consumers in Thailand, the difference between cultivators is unclear, but is distinguishable by fruit shape. For those first-timers this is hardly a concern, it’s getting past the smell that’s the hard part!

The difference in opinions when it comes to durians isn’t a blurry divide, and doesn’t range from good to bad. Instead the divide is passionate, pinning people either in deep love for the fruit, or complete and utter disgust. This is due partly because of the taste, but mostly because of the smell.

When it comes to taste, after penetrating the husk, you’ll be met with five white slices. Filled with seeds and pulp, some describe the taste as almond custard, others onion sauce, or cream cheese. Yet others describe the taste as rotten. As you bite, it’s juice you expect, yet it’s not quite juicy, and before you know it it’s over and you’re left needing another. Or you find yourself at the shop down the street ordering your favourite dish, extra spicy, because you would rather sweat and cry than have the taste of durian in your mouth for even one more moment.

But even getting to the taste is the real task, for what comes before, the daunting smell, sends many screaming in the other direction. Raw sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray - these are just a few of the descriptions of the durian smell. Yet, others refer to the odour as sweet, possibly roasted nuts of some sort. One thing’s for sure, it is distinctive and can detected from quite a distance, so fear not but keep an eye out (or, I suppose…a nose!)

Enough with smell and flavour, let’s talk about how you choose the perfect durian for your taste trial. The truth is you can’t. Since there are an abundant number of species, it’s hard to have one general standard. Also, preference of durians differs among customers. Some prefer the fruit to be soft and aromatic, while others prefer their fruit crisp in texture and mild in flavour. Some prefer their durian to continue to ripen even after the husk has racked (the universal sign a durian is ready to eat) creating a slightly alcoholic taste and extremely distinct smell. So how do you pick? The best way to know you’re at least getting fresh fruit is to look at the stem, which should be both big and solid. Or, shake the fruit and listen for the rattling sound of seeds inside - an indication the fruit is ripe.

Once you’ve picked your durian there are a variety of ways apart from the tourist taste test to eat them. They are often consumed alongside sticky rice and can be seen cooked with vegetables. The seeds can be boiled and eaten as a nut or used as a zest in other dishes. Many products are also sold with a durian flavour from cooking paste to even ice cream.

Culturally, the durian is considered to have warming properties, a causation of sweating, which is seen as cleansing. It is also advised to not consume durians with coffee or any alcoholic beverages due to the risk of indigestion.

Although opinions largely differ on flavour and taste, one thing can’t be overlooked when it comes to durians: the health benefits. The fruit contains vitamin C, potassium and amino acids. They are a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, but do contain high amounts of sugar.

decide your fate. The aggressive appearance of the large fruit can be frightening, and the smell daunting. Yet, there is a chance the smell may lure you in. Who knows, it could be a moment of love, and you just might find your favourite fruit.

          

Alison Stephens


 


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