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Thai Fruits : The Durian

The Durian The Controversial King of (Tropical) Fruits

Thai Fruits : Durian
The durian is a highly unusual fruit produced in tropical countries in Southeast Asia. It is extraordinary in several aspects: In size, it is among the largest fruits in the world, second only to the breadfruit and the jackfruit. In appearance, the hundreds of hard spikes on its skin are unique. In price, it is the most expensive even in a producing country. In taste, its rich, exotic flavour is incomparable. Yet, in smell, it is considered fetid and offensive by some, especially foreigners who have not tasted the fruit before.

It is this contradiction between its taste and smell that caused people to form opposite opinions about the fruit. Some ranks it as the king of all fruits and not a few foreigners are known to have made a trip to Thailand in May or June with the sole or principal purpose of eating the fruit to their heart’s content. In contrast, some people, especially Westerners, dislike it so strongly that most hotels in Thailand ban the consumption or storage of durians on the hotel premises, though it seems paradoxical that the king of fruits should be treated like narcotics or prostitutes.

For those who like the durian, they would consider it a matter of regret if they hadn’t had a chance to taste the fruit before. In that case, they would never have known that there is such a wonderful flavour in the world. For this reason, they would strongly recommend the newcomers to try to overcome their initial feeling of revulsion and give the fruit a fair chance. It is a mere psychological obstacle and should not be difficult to surmount. Once this is done, you will find that the experience is worthwhile and will be glad to obtain an exotic addition to your taste spectrum.

To help make your task easier, you should realize that not all durians have the same strong odour. There are more than a score of different strains with different degrees of sweetness and smell. Beginners are advised to try kan yao, which means “long stem” it is weaker in smell and taste than some other species like chani, kop or kampan. They may also try monthong, which means “golden pillow”. It is almost odourless but has thick, and tender pulp that is very agreeable to the taste.

Thai Fruits : DurianFormerly, durians were sold as whole fruit and it was difficult for ordinary people to tell the taste of the contents. Most buyers had to depend on the recommendation of the vendor and sometimes found that they had been cheated. But now, most vendors sell their durians by weight. They will remove the husk and give you only the seeds with pulp. If the pulp is in light yellow, that means that it is just right to eat. If it looks wet and soft, it is over-ripen and tastes bitter and is unfit to eat.

The numerous hard spikes on the skin of the durian make one wonder whether the fruit is specially created for man to enjoy, for no other animals are clever enough to break it open. It is said that monkeys are sometimes seen in a wood sitting besides a fallen durian and crying, because they have no means to open it. If the fruit is indeed meant for man, there is more reason for man to eat it.

But the durian is not as difficult to break open as it may seem. The husk is not as solid as it looks. It is divided into a few segments, each containing a few seeds which are covered with edible pulp. There is a seam between segments. It is easy for a vendor or an experienced housewife to find the seams and cut along them with a knife. Of course, this is still too difficult for a monkey to do.

The durian grows in a loose moist soil in a tropical climate with an average humidity of no lower that 75%. In Thailand, durian trees mostly grow in the southern provinces, and in some provinces in other regions. Until a few decades ago, only those grown in Nonthaburi province just to the north of Bangkok were the most famous. But the area of durian orchards in that province has been much reduced as a result of economic development. And Rayong on the Eastern coast has replaced Nonthaburi as the No.1 durian producer both in quality and quantity.

It takes about four to over six years for a newly planted durian tree to begin to bear fruit. The time depends on the species of the tree. The larger the size of the fruit, the longer the time needed. The tree begins to blossom in early or mid-December and the fruits will be ready for gathering from mid-May to mid-July, again depending on species. The price varies from 25 baht to over 100 baht a kilogram according to the species and the season as well.

Thailand began to export durians in 1978 with Hongkong as its most important market. Other markets include Singapore and other neighbouring countries, Europe and the United States.

About the name of the fruit, it is called durian in English, thurian in Thai and liulian in Chinese, all derived from the Malay word, duri, which means a thorn. By the way, its scientific name is Durio Zibethinus.

In addition to eating durians as fruit, Thai people also use the fruit, sticky rice and coconut cream in making a popular dessert. The fruit is also made into a preserved confection called thurian kuan, which is on sale in supermarkets throughout the year. But much of the good taste of the fruit is lost in the preparation.

The Thais enjoy eating durians not only because the fruit is delicious, but also because they widely believe that it is highly nutritious. Not a few are even convinced that it is efficacious aphrodisiac, too. But they never mix the fruit with an alcoholic drink because in their traditional belief, both are considered of hot nature, and a combination of the two would become explosive inside the human body.

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