Friday, November 8, 2013

All Hail Durian, King of the Fruits!

As promised, I bring you, the durian. The King of Fruits. One of the world’s largest fruits, and certainly the world’s smelliest. A tropical fruit that is loved and hated, celebrated and banned. A healthy food that is a deadly killer. The durian.
Webster defines durian as “A large oval tasty but foul-smelling fruit with a prickly rind.” Yes, it is all those things, but it is so much more. First of all, this thing is pretty friggin’ huge. Not as big as the jackfruit, but still pretty big. And it’s so prickly that handlers need to wear gloves when touching that rind. And that smell. Let’s put it this way. A popular phrase used to describe the durian is “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell.”
So where can we find the mighty durian? The durian tree is native to Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Some argue it could also be native to the Philippines, but others say it was introduced there. Durians are strictly tropical, and can’t just be grown anywhere. They’re grown in Thailand, which is a major exporter, and various other places in Southeast and South Asia. They’re also grown in limited amounts in other regions. They are grown in Hawaii, but some find the quality of Hawaiian durian dubious. There have been attempts to grow durian in Florida, but as the tree is strictly tropical and Florida is very much subtropical, getting the trees to bear fruit is incredibly challenging.

Like the fruit, durian trees are very large. They are evergreen trees. The flowers of the durian tree are typically closed during daylight hours. Oh! And those flowers are usually pollinated by bats. So if you ever wondered what Batman’s favorite fruit is, now you know.

Although this is a close contender.
Batman can’t bring durian with him everywhere he goes though, because the smell would give him away. Well, I suppose he could keep it in a special container in his utility belt, like he does for kryptonite. See, he carries around a little bit of kryptonite with him wherever he goes, just in case he ever needs to give Superman what-for. But it’s in a special, lead-based container, because kryptonite is radioactive, and can give a person cancer. It happened to Lex Luthor.
So what I’m getting at here is the durian smells really bad. Well, some people actually really like that smell, but many don’t, especially those that aren’t used to the smell. According to Wikipedia, the smell has been compared to “civet, stale vomit, skunk sprary, and used surgical swabs.” There are actually many different durian odors, because there are many different kinds of durian.
Because of the effluvium, it is often banned in closed areas. So that means it’s not allowed on public transportation, like buses and trains, and it’s not allowed in hotel rooms. There are signs in places where durian is not allowed, often along signs such as “no smoking”, etc. The smell is very difficult to get out of a room once it’s there, hence the bans.
But the taste is really good to a lot people. Wikipedia says that Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods compared the taste to rotten, mushy onions. I disagree, but I generally avoid eating rotten, mushy onions, so I don’t really know. The flavor has been described as “rich”, and almost like custard. When I tried it, admittedly only once and in a very small amount, the word that came to my mind was “meaty”. It didn’t really taste like meat, but it was such a different taste compared to other fruits that I simply didn’t know what to call it.
Durian is most famous for being eaten raw, but it is used in many dishes as well. It’s often cooked, baked into cakes, made into candies, even mixed into shakes and ice cream!

I'm Lovin' It!
Of course, as Kelly Clarkson says, everybody has a dark side. Even our friend Mr. Durian. And our friend the Durian is actually a killer. He finds many ways to strike. The most common cause of death from durian is from falling durians. Let’s put it this way: If a durian had fallen on Sir Isaac Newton’s head as opposed to an apple, we wouldn’t have physics. Well, okay, we’d still have physics, we just wouldn’t really have the scientific knowledge to talk about it. It’s not like the fruit would fall and gravity, magnetism, and nuclear interactions would stop happening.
Anyway, I guess I was exaggerating. Both falling durians don’t actually cause death, but many do. In the case of those that don’t kill, the victim survived because the inflammation that would normally occur due to that kind of head trauma is prevented as a result of the copious blood-loss, itself a result from being struck by a giant, spiky ball.
There are other methods the durian takes to claim its victims. Year of the Durian has a page of deaths resulting from durian in 2012. Highlights include being crushed by a durian tree (they have shallow roots), having one’s head smashed by a bag of spilled durians, having a heart attack from consuming to much durian and Coca-cola (are durians the new Pop Rocks?), and over-dosing on the fruit whilst having diabetes and hypertension. I have heard rumors of some wives in Southeast Asia brandishing a durian as a weapon against cheating spouses, but those are unconfirmed.
In recent news for the world of durian, a durian-eatingcontest was the highlight of the “Melbourne Malaysia Festival.” The festival was meant to celebrate historical ties between Australia and Malaysia, and what better way to do so than through the magic of durian? Just so long as they avoid too much over-dosing on Coke around competition time. In other news, somebody one first place in a science fair competition by using durian rind to make paper. That reminds me of those old scratch-and-sniff stickers, only you don’t need to scratch. Finally, someone in the Philippines attempted to set offa bomb that was hidden inside a durian fruit. I of course do not condone such heinous acts, but I acknowledge that the shrapnel from a durian rind could definitely do some serious damage.

So when you’re out studying abroad in the Asia-Pacific region or even just in an Asian market, keep an eye out for the King of Fruits. Love it or hate it, it’s going to be one unforgettable experience. 

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