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Ingredient Guide

A Guide to Durian

18 January 2022

The ‘King of Fruit’ could be the most surprising thing you’ve ever tasted.

What is durian fruit?

Durian is a fruit covered with a thick shell and greenish-brown spikes, and is the shape and size of a football. Its white flesh is very popular in Asia, though it has highly-distinctive smell that is sometimes compared to cheese. 

Durians are one of the most nutritious fruits in the world, full of iron, vitamin C, potassium, fibre and a whole lot more. But all that goodness comes in an extremely potent bundle. In fact, the pungent smell of the durian packs such a punch that they’ve been banned from many hotels and some public transport. 

Durians are formidable-looking fruits, incredibly healthy, and very popular in their native Southeast Asia. Devotees can’t get enough of them. However, they have a complex taste and unique smell that mean it can take a while for newcomers to feel the same. 

Where does durian come from?

The durian is a tree that grows in tropical regions at a minimum temperature of 22°C, and it’s fruits have been harvested and prized across south-east Asia for centuries. While it originates from Malaysia, they are now cultivated in many warm countries such as Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia.

What does durian taste like?

It’s a party for your palate; a mix of savoury, sweet and creamy. Every durian tells the story of where and how it’s been grown, with a medley of different flavours. 

In 1856, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace said: “A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes.” 

Some love it, others loath it, but most believe it’s a taste you can acquire if you’re open to its complexity. Once you do, it can become a beloved delicacy. As Wallace put it: “The more you eat of it, the less you feel inclined to stop.”

What cuisine can durian be used in?

All sorts of Southeast Asian dishes: Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have historically eaten the most durian. That said, you can use it in anything from crepes to pizza.

Where to buy durian

Outside Southeast Asia, you’ll find fresh, frozen or canned durian in Asian markets or online. It’s readily available from May to August when it’s in season. 

How do you know if a fresh durian is ripe?

Pick it up carefully and hold it near your ear. Give it a gentle shake. If you hear dull thuds, it’s ripe. If the seams of the fruit have started to split, it may be over-ripe. 

How long does durian last?

Durians ripen quickly, and if you keep them on your kitchen counter it’s best to eat them within a couple of days. 

If you’d like to keep yours for a little longer, wrap the entire fruit in paper or plastic and pop it in the fridge. But be warned: it’s likely to pass its distinctive smell onto everything else. If you’ve extracted the flesh (see below), it will keep in your fridge for a day or two; store in a single layer in an airtight container.

Can you freeze durian?

While fresh durians should be consumed within two days once cut, and flesh is removed from the husk, frozen durians can be kept for up to 3 months in the freezer. The best way to store leftover durian is to wrap the cut fruit in cling wrap, then seal them in a zipper bag before transferring to the freezer.

When not to use durian

Mixing durian with alcohol is a bad idea. Studies suggest durians contain compounds that stop your body breaking down alcohol as it should. This potentially leads to nausea, vomiting and heart palpitations – like having the world’s worst hangover.

How to use durian

Enjoy it raw or cooked, in sweet or savoury dishes. The creamy consistency of ripe durian works well in cakes, smoothies and ice cream; it’s also very popular with sticky rice and coconut milk.

When fruits are slightly under-ripe, they’ll have firmer flesh and a more vegetable-like texture – ideal for soups, curries or fried with onions and chilli as a side dish.

Mash it, blend it, roast it, puree it or fry it. You can also eat the seeds if you’ve boiled, roasted or fried them, but be warned: they’re toxic when they’re raw. 

Protect your hands from the spiky exterior with gloves or a clean towel while you’re preparing your durian. This can also stop the smell from lingering on your hands.

If you prefer, you can cut the stem off, along with a small slice from the top. This will give you a flat edge to rest your durian on while you open it.

Look for the seams at the base of the fruit; faint outlines in a five-pointed star that mark the segments inside. Score along these seams with a strong sharp knife, prise the fruit apart with the knife, then your hands, then gently pull out the seeds. Eat as it is or add to your recipe.

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