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Durian: Fruit Banned From Public Places Because It Smells Like Dirty Socks

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A durian cut open to reveal its soft, ripe, stinky flesh.

A durian cut open to reveal its soft, ripe, stinky flesh.

In Malaysia, it is illegal to eat Durian fruit in public because its smell is so repulsive, it could easily upset the stomach of other people.

Durian fruits grow on trees in Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Sometimes these spike-covered fruits can grow as big as the size of footballs and on the inside there are large seeds engulfed in creamy, custardy flesh.

The Durian's smell can resemble many things such as smelly cheese, dirty socks, vomit, rotten onions, antiseptic, cat pee, pig poo, and toilets! Although repulsive to most, some people adore the taste and smell of Durians and are willing to pay a wealth of money for this most expensive fruit. The taste is reported to be buttery, custardy, fruity, and nutty.

Durian trees can be up to 36 m (120 ft) tall and are are native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Do not hang out under these trees - the heavy ripe fruits have killed many people when they fell on them.

Durian Tree

Durian Tree

Durian Facts

Durian is the fruit of the durian tree, Durio zibethinus. It originated in Borneo and is now cultivated in most Southeast Asian countries from Malaysia to the Philippines. Duri is a Malay word meaning “spike,” which is a prominent feature of the Durian fruit. The word zibethinus comes from the Italian zibetto suggesting a similarity between the smell of the fruit and that of a cat.

Although there exist hundreds of Durian varieties (over 300 in Thailand alone), only a few species of the Durio genus produce edible fruit, of which only Durio zibethinus is cultivated commercially. Most Durian fruits grow wild around villages and settlements. Durian enjoys jungle conditions the most providing plenty of water and consistent warmth for the plants. The trees don't provide any fruit for 5 to 10 years after being planted.

Researchers of durian cultivars has been focusing on eliminating some of the features that some people find off-putting about the fruit such as the smell. The purpose is to extend the appeal of the fruit to new markets including Europe and the Americas.

Frugivorus animals are reported to love Durians. According to the Thai maxim:

“First, the elephant shakes the tree to bring down the fruit. After the elephant noses open the fruit with its tusks, the tiger fights him for the fruit. Rhinoceros, wild pig, tapir, deer, monkey, ant, and beetle follow the tiger. Humans must be very quick to get the Durian”.

It is due to this popularity with animals, that villagers are reported to have been camped in the proximity of Durian trees with ripe fruit, always watchful to gather the harvest. In some instances, villagers are smart enough to place traps around Durian trees to add meat to their diet.

Some researchers believe that the earliest fruiting trees used endozoochory - animals carrying seeds to new locations in their stomachs. The animals got to eat the rich, delicious fruit and the trees got to spread their seeds around the land. If this is true, Durian must be a rare example of a primitive fruiting tree.


The Use Of Durian And Its Importance To Local Communities

In Southeast Asian societies, durian is held in high esteemed, and has been named “The King of Fruits”. Durian sellers derive up to 50% of their cash income solely from selling this expensive fruit.

Durian Sculpture near Manila, The Philippines

Durian Sculpture near Manila, The Philippines

Some groups called Orang Asli or the First People hold Durian in such a high esteem that they set up their abode in the proximity of the trees during harvesting season. One of these peoples, the Chewong believe that Durian possesses consciousness and the intent to help the people.

For Indonesian Dayak, Durian has great economic significance. Since Durian trees are so long lived they often surpass 7 human life-spans, they are individually named, often after the planter. When the planter and his spouse dies, trees are divided among the heirs

The Dayak never the fruit but rather wait for it to fall to the ground ensuring that the Durian is ripe and ready to be sold at a high price. If someone picks underripe fruit, he or she will have to face social shame and pay fines. Since Durian is only picked ripe, it must be sold soon after it falls and consumed within about 5 days, a real challenge to people who probably live great distances from roads or rivers.

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The Malay consider Durian to be a powerful aphrodisiac. When eaten, the diner is said to become heated and maybe even sweaty. There are some possible explanations: Durian is second only to avocado in terms of fat content, and its chemical breakdown is similar to alcohol. On account of this effect, Durian is also seen as a great make-up gift after marital discord in place of flowers or chocolates.

No Durians Allowed

No Durians Allowed

Would I like Durian?

Durian comes in many flavors ranging from decayed onion, turpentine, garlic, limburger cheese, spicy resin, to almond custard, cream cheese, onion sauce, and sherry wine; and its lovers find this blend of aromas and tastes alluring.

Moreover, a fresh Durian fruit offers a very different taste experience from market-quality fruits that are probably a couple of days old.

One of the reasons why Durian is so alien to westerners is that its flavors are rich and complex, rather than acidic and refreshing. Also, Durians are rarely sweet so it's hard to call them a fruit.


Anita OGalligan on July 13, 2018:

I adore Durian which might be unusual for a Westener. It is an acquired taste but it’s Yummy. Some oriental supermarkets in Dublin do sometimes stock it, usually frozen.

Gilly on December 29, 2012:

Jus tried one and the taste was overwhelming so I jus read up on it funny to after tasting like nothing I've ever tasted.

Bbudoyono on January 17, 2012:

I like durian very much. It is delicious. Don't focus on the smell but on the taste and you will enjoy it.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on January 15, 2012:

Years ago, my husband and I visited Malaysia and we encountered durian (pronounced 'duran') in a market there. The smell of the ripe fruit was so powerful and so onerous, I could not stay in the market.

My husband was made of stronger stuff and he actually ate some. Said it was rich and delicious. I was happy to just take his word for it.

Haunty (author) from Hungary on January 15, 2012:

Steve! The video is there for you personally. Glad it proved to be a good choice.

anjperez, I agree with you. Maybe it's because the smell is overpowering. Maybe because it's so good it's almost bad. Who knows?

Melovy, I'm jealous right now. I'd love me a handsome durian now and then. It'd go so well with the other nasty food I eat.

Ardie, this is outrageous! Steve is obviously picking a fight. And with the wrong person too! The sole purpose of this hub is to disgust. But thanks for reading, anyway. :D

Sondra from Neverland on January 15, 2012:

Ok Steve is just asking for it eh Haunty?? That's it, I'm writing another hub about him. This one won't be so nice ;)

As for the durian, yuck. And the video, weird. But still a very interesting topic since I've never heard of this stinky fruit. Perhaps I would like it as a candy or shake as mentioned in earlier comments! Great hub Haunty, I loved it :)

Yvonne Spence from UK on January 15, 2012:

This fruit is also available in Australia, in Northern Queensland, and our family had it there 2 years ago. It didn’t make much of an impression on us - what I mostly remember is the tour guide telling us how smelly it was, but that it tasted good. I certainly don’t remember an overpowering smell, but the tasting was outdoors!

Thanks for this fun hub.

anjperez on January 15, 2012:

if there is durian in any closed, air conditioned room, it will surely be deadly. when eating maybe it is best done outdoors. where natural air can easily disperse the smell. but i don't know why they say it smells bad? it doesn't smell that bad. in fact it is sweet smelling. maybe just too overpowering for such kind of smell.

Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on January 15, 2012:

Haunty. OMG my friend. You hit the jackpot here. I watched the video with the sound off and it was positiveley erotic. However did you get Ardie to fill that for you (lol,lol,lol) She'll kill me for that!Could be the end of a beautiful friendship don't you think?

Haunty (author) from Hungary on January 14, 2012:

Hi Rob! It's good to know it from afar, because you can start blocking your nose as you pass by. lol Thanks for the comment.

Kerlynb, I can only dream of such things now, but I hope to visit the Philippines one day and I can't wait to try the fruit in various ways. :)

Nemanja, thanks for stopping in and reading, friend. True, we don't get them around these parts, so yet another reason to visit the far east.

Nemanja Boškov from Serbia on January 14, 2012:

Belá, this was a very interesting hub - and I am again amazed by the fact that you always find such interesting topics to write about :)

I've never heard of durians, and this is probably because I've never seen them sold anywhere in our part of the world. It was nice to read about something new for a change :)

kerlynb from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on January 13, 2012:

LOL! :) I'm from the Philippines and we have durians here - lots of them! :) Yes, we are not allowed to bring them with us when we ride planes and ships. But then again, clever Pinoys have made genius ways to enjoy durian without having to eat them as a fruit. They make durian candies, durian ice cream, durian pastillas de leche, and so much more. Kudos to you Belá for writing this piece :)

rob_allen from MNL, PH on January 13, 2012:

Durian smells really bad. These fruits are sold in malls and you know that it's the sock-smelling fruit even from afar. But it tastes really great. What I like about this fruit is you can turn it into delicious milk shake! :)

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