PETALING JAYA: On June 20, the post office workers in the small German town of Schweinfurt were subjected to what they thought was a biological weapon attack.
Six unfortunate workers were rushed to the hospital and the police stormed the post office to dispose of the “weapon”. They found a suspicious package emanating a powerful stench — four Thai durians waiting to be delivered to a hungry resident of the town.
This is not the first time that the King of the Fruit has raised a stink in countries outside Asia.
In 2019, the University of Canberra was similarly evacuated when someone left a durian in a bin, leading people to mistake the smell for a gas leak.
But what is it about this fruit that gets as many people running away from it as towards it for a durian feast?
The durian is a member of the Malvaceae plant family, the same family that includes okra, cotton and cacao.
Durians are native to Borneo and Sumatra but are largely grown in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The name “durian” comes from the Malay word, “duri”, meaning thorn.
The exterior of the fruit is certainly thorny, protecting it from hungry animals. Not that it stops squirrels and bears from nibbling on it, as well as elephants and even tigers.
Durians can weigh up to 3 kg and can cause serious injury to any unlucky person passing under a tree when the fruit falls upon ripening. Isaac Newton ought to be thankful he was sitting under an apple tree rather than a durian tree.
Durian trees only start fruiting five years after they are first planted and the durian season is typically from June to August.
It is said that as the tree ages, the flavour of its fruit improves.
The first European to write about the durian was a 15th-century Italian merchant named Niccolo de Conti.
He wrote, “The people of Sumatra have a green fruit which they call durian, as big as a watermelon. Inside there are five things like elongated oranges, and resembling thick butter, with a combination of flavours.”
The notoriety of the strong smell of the durian is well known, and the funny thing is, people cannot agree whether it is a heavenly aroma or a hellish stench.
The detractors themselves cannot agree on what the putridness most resembles. Some say it is like rotten onions, others a chemical concoction and for a few, sewage. As the old saying goes, “Eating durian is like having custard in an outhouse.”
In many countries, durians are banned in hotels and on public transport due to the strong smell.
A German study on the durian’s smell discovered several compounds that can also be found in skunk spray, caramel, rotten egg and fruit.
But there is no denying that once one gets past the smell, the fruit inside the thorny husk is nothing short of a delicacy.
Durian flesh is used as an ingredient in a large variety of Southeast Asian desserts and main dishes and even the seeds are edible when cooked.
The sweet flesh of the durian is normally a bright yellow, but some variations have different colours including red and white.
Durians are highly nutritious, filled with fibre, vitamins B, C and E as well as minerals such as iron and potassium.
Some studies suggest that durians may reduce the risk of cancer and prevent heart disease.
However, before anyone decides to tout the fruit as the latest health craze, durians are filled with sugar and carbohydrates, so they should be eaten in moderation.
In Malaysia, the Musang King reigns supreme in terms of popularity and, often, price; beloved for its rich taste.
Other popular local durian varieties include the “XO”, which has an alcoholic taste, the “D24”, a bittersweet variant and the “udang merah”, with creamy flesh.
Traditionally, durians are eaten alongside mangosteen, called the Queen of Fruit by some.
The two are often paired as people believe mangosteens are a “cooling” fruit that counters the “heatiness” of the durian.
There is no scientific proof for this, but mangosteens and durians share a harvesting season, which explains why they are often sold together.
Some people eat durian for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, but there is no scientific backing to this notion either.
Many people believe that eating durian and drinking alcohol at the same time can have fatal consequences. This is largely an urban myth, but anyone doing so will indeed suffer from indigestion as the liver overworks to process sugar and fats from the concoction of durian and alcohol.
Ultimately, for a good durian feast, eat them in moderation and enjoy every bite.