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Durian

Well deserving of its local Asian reputation as the ‘King of Fruits’, the durian is greenish-brown in colour, with a large thorn-covered exterior. Probably native to Borneo and now grown widely in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand, this oblong-shaped fruit can grow up to 30 cm in length and typically weighs one to three kilograms. The husk of the durian must firstly be sliced open, exposing its pale-yellow coloured flesh, which is usually eaten fresh in the hand.

The durian is most famously known for its distinctive odour. Enthusiasts will describe this as ‘fragrant’, but the majority of people who have never encountered the fruit before are disgusted by the pungent and overpowering smell. In Southeast Asia, the fruit is usually banned in hotels and even on public transport. Thus it is said to ‘taste like heaven but smell like hell!’. Silky smooth and creamy in texture, those brave enough to taste durian flesh have discovered how addictive this fruit can be. It is often described as being both ‘bitter and sweet’ at the same time. 

Durian-flavoured sweets

Durian-flavoured sweets
Photo by Taufiq Wan

In Southeast Asia a large variety of traditional sweets are flavoured with durian, such as candies, ais kacang – a pudding made of shaved ice and fruit syrups – and dodol, a toffee-like delicacy popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Durian flesh can also be prepared as a sauce and eaten with rice, or fermented in special earthen pots and eaten as a side dish known as tempoyak in Java and Palembang in Sumatra. Modern Western-style dishes have also been introduced: in Malaysia you can now buy durian cheesecakes and pancakes, and durian-flavoured chocolate, ice cream and milk shakes. The seeds of the durian fruit can also be consumed after boiling, drying, frying or roasting and the young leaves and shoots can be cooked as green vegetables.

The durian is a richly nutritious fruit, high in vitamins B, C and E, and also in iron content. In Malaysia the leaves are believed to be of medicinal value, with their juice being applied to the foreheads of fever patients, and used in healing baths for people with jaundice. After eating the durian flesh, Chinese people often drink water directly from the durian husks, the ‘cooling’ qualities of the drink regarded as balancing the ‘heating’ nature of the fruit itself. 

The thorny husks of the durian, when dried, can be used as fuel for cooking, and nowadays the fibres of the durian plant are used to make woven souvenirs such as beautiful photograph album covers.

Durian fruit on sale in London

Durian fruit on sale in London
Photo by Taufiq Wan

Despite its heavy weight, prickly shape and pervasive smell, and although it is banned from passenger cabins on commercial airlines, the insatiable passion of durian-lovers has meant that durians are now a common sight in Asian supermarkets in European cities like London and Amsterdam.

Text by Nur Hannah Wan
Interview with Haji Zainuddin Yahya or ‘Tuk Din’, of Tuk Din’s Flavours of Malaysia restaurant, Craven Road, London, 4 December 2010

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