Durian, the legendary tropical fruit, is considered by many to be the ultimate eating experience. Covered with a thick brown spiky husk, it resembles a bizarre medieval football. However, the treasure that lies within is out of this world!
Durians are mainly available in the U.S. and Europe from inner-city Asian food stores. If your Asian grocer does not recognize the name durian, ask for it by the name of its most popular variety grown in Thailand, "monthong." Durians typically arrive frozen from Thailand. They are also grown and, to a lesser extent, exported from Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, northern Australia, Central America and Hawaii. When frozen, they typically sell for around $1.50 to $3.00 per pound. Averaging seven pounds each, durian is an expensive meal but many people find them to be well worth any price!
A good durian has a light fruity aroma, but a durian which has a repulsively noxious aroma may still be good to eat. The husk may be decomposing and releasing sulfurous gases, giving it the characteristic rotten egg aroma. But don't give up ecstasy resides within! [And that sulfurous odor is due to it being a good source of sulfur, the body's natural disinfectant. The other dietary source of sulfur for most people are cruciferous vegetables, but they have some detrimental properties, which is why durian is the preferred source of sulfur. - Don]
Durians typically have five inner chambers (or "locules"), each with a soft creamy, yellowish piece of fruit, with one or two large seeds (to be discarded). Each chamber, or pod, has an invisible seam down the middle that can be located if you know what you're looking for (the spikes give you the hint). When naturally ripened on the tree, the seams split open, yielding fruit for fortunate primate or human connoisseurs. Since virtually no durians arrive at the market split open, you can try feeling for the seam and splitting the pods open with your fingertips. If that fails, a sharp knife will do the trick.
Durian can be eaten semi-frozen, providing a delight reminiscent of banana-nut ice cream, but as with all cold food, the taste is more prominent when at room temperature. Eaten at room temperature after thawing, durian fruit is amazingly silky and creamy, making it an incomparable, naturally sensual delight. Mildly to moderately sweet, with about eight percent fat content (weight-wise), durian is oh so satisfying. However, the secret to the durian's allure goes way beyond its sweetness. All tropical fruits contain natural plant steroids; hormonal proteins, precursors to neurotransmitters which affect our brain functions and promoting a sense of well-being. The durian apparently is the richest food source of these hormonal proteins, bringing most eaters to a wonderful state of euphoria and happiness, of loving and being loved! Indeed, durian is well known as an aphrodisiac. But if this makes you uneasy, fear not, for the effect is comfortable and natural.
In contrast to the dense, ice cream like texture imparted by freezing, fresh (unfrozen) durian is lighter, reminiscent of whipped cream. If you can shell out the $30 to $36 for a fresh durian, here's hoping that it is a perfectly ripe one! [But all durians imported into the U.S. must be frozen.] In tropical countries, durians are available in different varieties, each varying in flavor and texture.
Generally, a small percentage of the durians we buy will not be completely ripe. They can be hard, rubbery and unpalatable. The quality of the fruit inside is not easily discerned, making durian buying a bit of a gamble, however, a nice fruity aroma and a light brown husk are the best clues to go by. Avoid dark brown husks, these typically have been thawed out and refrozen one or more times, reducing their flavor and producing the characteristic rotten egg aroma. If you get one or more "bad" durians, don't give up! The next one might provide the eating experience of your life!
A good durian is, in my opinion, the ultimate mono meal. Share one with a friend and enjoy this gem of Nature.