Sweet and creamy with hints of vanilla and almond, the inside of a durian fruit is like custard.
Today’s flavor comes from the Asian market where end of season Durian fruit were on sale. Durian is a very interesting fruit and while there are actually many varieties native to various tropical habitats, there is typically only one variety that is exported to the U.S. That variety tends to be similar in size to a pineapple sometimes larger, with very spiny skin, and a moderate to mild odor. Which brings me to one of the main points that makes the Durian so very interesting. It stinks. Literally.
My first encounter with a Durian fruit was while hiking through the Thai countryside. As I made my way down a small dirt road, I was hit by the most nauseating smell of rotting meat. I was just sure something was lying dead on the roadside. One local noticed the look on my face and started laughing (not unkindly), he gestured to the trees and the giant hanging fruit, which too me looked like little sleeping porcupines.
After cutting one from the tree he brought it over and invited me to smell. Oh my, oh my...it was the fruit that smelled so bad. He proceeded to break it open and scoop out the custardy inside, taking a taste and then offering it to me. No way!!! After some friendly coercion, I gave it a try and it was absolutely one of the most delicious fruits I have ever tasted. It was like flan or custard, all creamy and deliciously sweet. Lesson learned? Never judge a book by its cover...or rather never judge a fruit by its stink.
I have since learned that not everyone smells the Durian fruit the same. Much like cilantro, it appears there is a particular chemical compound that some people smell and some do not. So to some individuals the Durian smells very similar to the inside fruit, while to others it smells, well... a little revolting. In one report by World AgroForestry Centre the smell is one way the tree ensures that it will propagate. It needs to have the seeds disseminated and they are much too big for birds or bees to carry, so it has created the ability to smell like something a foraging animal would want to eat. The seeds are then carried in the digestive tract until later “release” at some other location in the forest. Nature is amazing!
From a culinary perspective, obviously the durian is an amazing sweet dish all by itself, either raw or steamed. In some ethnic cuisines, it is fermented and used as an accompanying condiment to savory dishes as well. The seeds can also be dried and eaten as a sweet treat (whether you then release them back into the tropical forest is entirely up to you). (:
From a health perspective, Durian is interesting because it is a good source of starch without having a huge impact on your system. In fact, research has demonstrated that the Durian fruit has the potential to balance blood glucose and decrease plasma lipids (involved in things like high cholesterol and other fatty related diseases).
It is also a great source of protein and Vitamins B and C as well as a wide variety of antioxidants. The Durian has high levels of quercetin, caffeic acid, and p-coumaric and cinnamic acids. What does all of that mean to you? Reduced oxidative stress and systemic inflammation! It also means the durian is one more food that eliminates mutating cells at the mitochondrial level while encouraging healthy cells to grow and shine. I say if you are ever in an Asian market and see a pile of giant porcupine looking fruits, get one and give it a try...even if its stinky.