The Ubud Handbook « Durian ~ The King of Stink
SOFT, SUCCULENT, SPIKY and stinky, the durian fruit is canonised by some and demonised by many, many more. Known to its fans as the 'King of Fruits', it's heavily rich in minerals and vitamins and a sworn enemy of free radicals.
The thing is, not everyone's on the same page – and its critics don't pull any punches when it comes to the pong.
"Like a three-week-old dead cow in custard."
"On the third bite," says one hater, "it was as though I'd just eaten a diseased, parasite-infested animal with a bad case of rabies. I prayed I wouldn't be sick because I really didn't want to taste it again on the way back up." And from an international food critic: "Its odour is best described as pig-sh1t, turpentine and onions garnished with a dirty gym sock."
But for a durian dilettante?
The late chef Anthony Bourdain was a secret lover. Even the wandering 19th century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace went full food-writer on it in 'The Malay Archipelago', describing it as '... a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds combined with occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.'
So at least we're agreed it's edible.
Despite the durian's aggressive appearance – up to 30 centimetres long, one-to-four kilos in weight, football-sized and with thorns sharp enough to slice your skin – this royal gangster is really just a big softy at heart. Cut one open and you'll find the soft, creamy-yellow or red flesh surrounding a large seed – the colour of the pulp dependant on the species.
There are 30 recognised durian tree sub-types, nine of which produce our edible fruit. The mother tree is tall, ranging anywhere from 25 to 50 metres – and drips nectar from buttery-smelling, feathery flowers that tempts fruit bats, giant honeybees and birds into pollinating them.
However, it's not just the birds and the bees that can sniff a durian a mile off. The pungent fruit pulls in squirrels, wild pigs, hungry Sumatran elephants, orangutans and even carnivorous tigers from up to a kilometre away – the larger mammals ensuring that the trees' seeds are spread far and wide to guarantee the durian's seat at Wallace's evolutionary table.
So if they're good enough for a roving tiger, they can't be all that bad for a human... right? Get over the stench, and they're a wonder food – jam-packed with iron, potassium, Vitamin C, riboflavin, folic acid, thiamine, calcium, copper, zinc, phosphorous, Vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, sodium, protein, fibre, phytonutrients, water and beneficial dietary fats.
Not bad for an old fruit.
Feeling your age? A portion of zero-cholesterol durian a day will help you turn back the clock. The fruit is busting with antioxidants – actively reducing free radicals that are intent on damaging the growth, development and survival of your body's cells. Which means less age-related tooth-loosening, less hair-loss, wrinkles, arthritis, heart disease, macular degeneration and fewer age spots.
Anaemic? Forget it. High levels of folic acid, iron and copper will swing your red blood-cell count back into the green zone. Say goodbye to high blood pressure, and give your cardiovascular system a break. By indulging in the fruit, you're lowering your risk of heart attacks, strokes and hardening of the arteries – as durian comes packed with potassium. And with plenty of blood pumping through your brain, you're also lowering your chances of developing Alzheimer's and dementia later in life.
Insomniac? You don't need to count the sheep after a dose of durian. This super-fruit is high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted by the body into serotonin and promotes feelings of happiness and relaxation. The serotonin's then converted into the hormone melatonin – which makes your body feel tired. Gastric-induced nightmares? The dietary fibre in durian stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes that help reduce heartburn, constipation and cramps.
And, surprisingly for a fruit, eating durian also lowers the frequency of diarrhoea – as its dietary fibre is insoluble.
Some words of warning though.
While a Sumatran tiger may not be watching its waistline, you might want to get your calorie-calculator out if you're dieting.
A carbohydrate-rich 100-gram portion of the fruit carries around 150 calories, and an average durian contains anywhere between 885 to 1,500 calories – or up to 75 percent of an adult's recommended daily intake. Durians are also filled with simple sugars like sucrose, fructose and glucose that will give the average person an energy boost, but won't do much for a diabetic.
Don't sit or linger under a durian tree, as a falling fruit can kill if karmic gravity comes to collect. Don't mix alcohol with durian, because you'll turn into an unexploded bomb. And be careful where you open-carry or eat one – our new best friend has earned itself outlaw-status on Singapore's subway, Asia's airlines and every Balinese hotel from Amed to Nusa Dua.
And last but not least: there may be another very good reason not to eat a portion in public.
In Indonesia, there's a not-so-old wives' tale of tigers in the bedroom that goes: 'Saat durian mulai jatuh, sarung malah naik' – or 'When a durian falls, up comes the sarong.'
Put simply, some things in life are best enjoyed behind closed doors.
The next time you're sauntering through the market and are violated by the funk of a rabid gym sock, why not follow your nose and see where it leads?
Who knows? You may have just discovered the animal in you.
Recipe for a non-stinky, heavenly, raw-vegan Durian Smoothie:
If, like me, you still won't touch durian with a ten-foot pole but are full-on convinced of its extraordinary health benefits, then you might want to mask the taste and smell in a smoothie that your gran would drink.
Note that durian's consistency makes it the perfect lactose-free alternative to a non-dairy, ultra-creamy milkshake.
- Find a local market-seller who will open one in front of you and bag it, saving on frustration and cut fingers. Or buy some ready-packed from your supermarket.
- Bang around 200g into a blender along with a large (peeled) banana or two.
- Add a teaspoonful of fresh, grated ginger with a teaspoonful of cinnamon to mask the taste.
- Squeeze in a small squirt of lemon juice.
- Get slightly funky and add a dash of nutmeg.
- Pour in a quarter-litre of (potable) water – or for that full rehydration package, use young coconut water.
- Take the sniff-test.
- Try a spoonful near your sink.
And there you have it.
As Gordon Ramsay would say: "F______g gorgeous".
Durian smoothie purists don't recommend mixing in a lot of sweet citrus fruits like oranges, mangoes or pineapples.
For chocolate lovers, substitute the ginger and cinnamon with 30g of cacao, leave in the bananas and nutmeg, and add a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper for the kick.
Durian ice-cream? Stick your smoothie in the freezer and wait.
Copyright © 2021 John Storey.
All Rights Reserved.
Video ~ 'The Durian Song' performed in Ubud, Bali, by the infamous rapper Johnny Freesh...
The distinctive Johnny Freesh rapping on the joys and dangers of durian in 'The Durian Song' – filmed in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2021 John Storey. All Rights Reserved.
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