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It’s Stinky. It’s Spiny. It’s Like Manna From Heaven … For Some Of Us

April 29, 2022   Return


Hello, folks!

It’s your friendly neighbour- hood durian fanatic. You may recall from the Note from the Team in the August issue that there was a picture of yours truly in a truck filled with durian.

I recall in my (much) younger days, when my father used to bring back a car boot full of durians every week when the fruit was in season. We’d have durian for breakfast, dinner and lunch. It is always a good time for durian. In my family, there’s not a single soul who would say no to durian. Unfortunately, this fruit happens to be quite divisive. You’ll have people at both ends of the spec- trum—people who love (we need a stronger word than this) and those who abhor it (like some colleagues, who can’t even tolerate a whiff of this fruit from heaven). Of course, there are others who can tolerate the smell but will not eat it. Whichever one you are, there’s no harm in learning more about the amazing fruit.


The scientific name for the regular durian is Durio zibethinus. As one can guess, the genus gets its name from the Malay word for thorn—duri. The entire genus Durio has about 30 members but only nine produce edible fruits.1 The other species are usually sold as wild durian or forest durian. Some of the more well-known ones are Durio oxleyanus (the dalit and sukang of Borneo which also exist in Peninsular Malaysia), Durio lowianus (durian daun), Durio testudinarum (durian kura-kura), Durio grandiflorus (durian hantu) and Durio kutejensis (lukak).

The genus is thought to have originated from Borneo (Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan).2 Cultivation and domestication of the plant is assumed to have begun in Southeast Asia, and is currently spread throughout most regions with tropical or sub-tropical weather. With domestication and cultivation came the selection and refinement of cultivars. In the 1990s, countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia and Thailand started to document their varieties. Malaysia now has over 200 varieties of durian but only a few are widely grown.

We probably know durian is a nutrient-dense fruit. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) registers durian’s calorie content at 147 kcal (kilocalorie) per 100 g.3 In comparison, pineapple only has 61 kcal while apples have 54 kcal per 100 g. Among fruits, durian has a decent amount of fats at 5.33 g per 100 g of fruit. The fats found in durian are considered good fats as they are monounsaturated healthy fats. Additionally, durian does not contain any cholesterol. Whatever rumours you’ve heard about durian being high in cholesterol is just the figment of someone’s imagination.4

Durian has relatively high potassium content, thus making it great at replenishing lost electrolytes. I guess if you get lost in the jungle and are tired and hungry, and chance upon wild durians, make sure to eat it as it will probably keep you alive while waiting for help to arrive. Apart from potassium, durian has a healthy dose of vitamin C and various other B vitamins. For those with diabetes, a small portion of durian will not mess with your sugar levels much. According to a study which compared four common fruits— papaya, pineapple, watermelon, and durian—durian had the lowest glycaemic index (GI). GI is a measure of how fast the food item is converted into basic sugar in the body. In fact, durian has a GI similar to rolled oats, and thus does not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.5,6 However, the total calorie content of durian is still high, therefore, persons with diabetes should only take small portions at any one time. According to the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association, the recommended intake of fruits for adults is 2-3 servings daily and 1 serving of durian is 2 medium seeds.7


Heatiness, which is a uniquely Asian concept, refers to any food that causes a sensation of heat. These usually encompass energy dense and spicy foods. While it is difficult to explain this sensation in scientific terms, scientists in Japan tried to explain the term ‘heaty food’ by terming them as ‘thermogenesis- inducing’ or heat- producing foods.8

Indeed, when tested on mice, durian did elicit an increase in body temperature. The scientists attribute the increase in body temperature to sulphur- containing compounds found in the pulp of durian which activate sensors in the body to produce more heat.8


Our traditional foods incorporate durian in a variety of ways. First is the tempoyak durian, which is fermented durian. Tempoyak is surprisingly easy to process and just requires scraping the pulp of durian and mixing it with some salt, and then keeping it in a container at room temperature. The pulp is considered fermented when it starts to smell rancid. In the days before refrigeration, fermentation was one way to store excess food. Another traditional durian product is the dodol durian, which actually consists of caramelized sugar, durian, glutinous rice flour, and coconut milk. In recent years, durian has been incorporated in more food products. We can now get durian in almost everything—biscuits, pastries, ice cream, cendol, fritters, and lempok.

In 2018, a local makeup company introduced durian-scented cosmetics range including eyeliner and lipstick. We’re not sure how well received it was but HealthToday did get a sample to test out and it was rather mild.

The old wives’ tale about durian and alcohol being a lethal combination may actually hold water. Our bodies use an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase to break down alcohol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic and needs another enzyme known as acetaldehyde dehydrogenase to convert into acetic acid. This enzyme is blocked by a sulphurous compound found in durians called diethyl disulfide. Therefore, the more durian you consume along with alcohol, the higher the degree of enzyme blockage and the higher the toxicity of acetaldehyde in the body.9 Symptoms of acetaldehyde toxicity include facial flushing, nausea, and a rapid heart beat.10


Considering we should only eat durians in moderation, I’m guessing we all want to have only the best. There are three very simple ways to check from the outside of the fruit. First is to hold the durian in both hands and give it a firm shake. There should be some hollow shaking inside. This means the fruit is fully ripe and the flesh is dry, allowing the fruit pods to dislodge from the carapace. The second is to run your fingernails across the thorns lightly and to ‘feel’ the vibrations coming from the fruit. It should sound hollow, which again reflects the ripeness of the fruit. Finally, look at the fruit stalk. It should be green and firm on the first day. If the fruit is already more than a day old, the stalk will shrink and turn brown.

The ‘quality’ of fruits produced by a plant depends on many factors. First is the amount of nutrients the plant receives. Adequate fertilizer is necessary for fruit formation. Similarly, adequate water is important as any stress faced by the plant will affect its flowering phase. Next is the soil, which is very much dependent on the location. Not all soils are suitable for durian farming but in general, most durians are planted on freshly cleared forests, which tend to be very fertile. HT

Durian can be an acquired taste for people not raised in Southeast Asia. Here’s a link to a comprehensive review by Jared Rydelek of

The varieties of durian we consume eg, black thorn, mas muar, red prawn and many more are all from one single species ie, Durio zibethinus. Each type is known as a variety or cultivar, and they are propagated by taking a branch of the desired cultivar (scion) and grafting it onto a rootstock (any other durian plant which the planter doesn’t want). Once the scion bonds with the rootstock, it will only take a few years for the desired cultivar to start fruiting.


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