Header image courtesy of Jeng Sheng (via Flickr)
Durians are often crowned as the “king of fruit,” but they are the most controversial and polarising one as well. Often found in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, or Thailand, those who cannot appreciate durians say they have a pungent smell—even comparing them to raw sewage. Otherwise, their sweet or bitter taste is highly commended by durian lovers.
In Southeast Asia, durian eating can become a fun social activity by eating with friends right by a vendor stall or taking a bunch of them home for families, during the middle of the year. We encourage all travellers to try the famed fruit at least once and understand where durian lovers are coming from. If you’re a beginner, you’re strongly encouraged to bring a local friend who knows how to pick the freshest durians. Some durian sellers may rip tourists off and offer low-quality and overpriced fruit without them even realising. Here is a handy guide on what to expect when it comes to anything durian related.
When you pick up the fruit, give them a shake. If you hear the fruits knocking against the shell, chances are the fruit is dry and has a good consistency. When the knocking sound isn’t there, the fruit is likely more wet and soggy. Another thing to look for is thick thorns and avoid any that are cracked on the bottom. This is a sign the fruit is overripe. Try to shake the durians to determine their freshness. When you can feel and hear the fruits inside knocking against the shells, it means the durians are of decent quality.
Smelling the durians near their stems can also help you pick the freshest durians. Remember to put your hand in-between your nose and shell so you don’t get poked by their spiny thorns. If there’s no smell, it means the fruit is still unripe. It the smell is overpowering, the fruit is overripe. The smell should ideally be sweet to slightly strong, depending on whether you prefer sweet or bitter durians. The shape of the durian matters as well. While most people would shy away from misshaped vegetables or fruits, a misshaped durian may be fleshier and creamier with more intense flavours.
Most durian sellers can cut the durians for you if needed. But if you’re trying to do it yourself, always wear gloves or use a towel for safety. Flip the durian upside down and hold it with one hand. Use a sharp knife to hit the bottom centre of the durian hard. Once the knife is in, wiggle it left and right several times as the shells open up more. Once you see the yellow fleshy fruits arranged in segments inside, use your hands and split the shells into two haves with as much strength as you can muster.
The easiest way to enjoy durian is eating the flesh with your hands and sucking the seeds to make sure all the yellow bits are eaten. Depending on the type of durian, they can taste either sweet or bitter and can have a dry or creamy texture.
Since durians have a strong taste and smell, its no surprise your breath and fingers can reek of durians long after you’ve finished eating them. But did you know using the leftover durian shells can help you get rid of them? Rub your hands with the durian shells and running water to remove the stench on your fingers. A tip to get rid of that aftertaste is to drink some coconut water.
Durians are also considered “heaty” in Asian culture, and heaty foods are likely to cause sore throats or fever if eaten in excess. You can directly drink water from the durian shell to “cool” your body down after a round of durian eating. Mangosteens, also known as the queen of fruit, are considered to have cooling properties and they are often eaten together with durians to balance out the heat.