The Controversial King of (Tropical)
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
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.
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
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.