Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.
Durian fruit has long been looked upon as an aphrodisiac. As a result it is, in spite of its rather pungent and unpleasant aroma a popular fruit in season. Out of season it can be eaten preserved in various ways. Durian ice cream is especially delicious.
It may well be that the smell of the Durian is one of the more important parts of the aphrodisiac as this has been shown to be the case with some other foods and scent and sex definitely go together in the animal world. Such is the scent of Durian that is actually banned on public transport and certain buildings in some parts of Asia.
It is the aroma which puts most people off the idea of actually tasting it. Even the description of the taste "a mixture of onion and white chocolate" does not sound too appealing. Make the leap of faith however and most people will find that they actually like Durian. Eating it may in a way partially explain its aphrodisiac and so sexual connection. There is too a somewhat 'sexual' appearance to some Durian fruit, rather like the Coco de mer.
The texture of Durian is quite unlike any other fruit. To some the Durian is the most delicious fruit on the planet.
The Sharply Husked Durian
Durian is a fruit to persist with. Like apples, oranges or for that matter, bananas, there are many varieties of Durian. They all taste and smell slightly differently. Some are very expensive with entire crops sold up before they are actually harvested. It is those with the greatest aphrodisiac effect which command the highest price.
A fairly recent belief is that Durian fruit which have passed through the digestive tract of an elephant have, by result of their journey, greater and more potent aphrodisiac properties. Presumably it is believed that somehow the strength and virility of the animal is imparted to the fruit.
The digestive process of the elephant is quick moving and not very efficient. Within a zoo setting a whole uncrunched apple will pass through an elephant in just a few hours. I have seen Zoo keepers pick these from the dung, rinse them and eat them. Their verdict? "Warm".
Elephant dung is inoffensive stuff and may actually have other properties.
It is more difficult to believe that the soft fleshier fruit of the Durian would pass through an elephant unscathed. Even more difficult to believe that an elephant would put a whole Durian husk in its mouth let alone swallow it. I reckon that every elephant I have ever worked with would roll and crunch the Durian underfoot first and then pick out the fruit and eat it.
The Smelly But Delicious Contents
There is a saying on Java, Indonesia which translates as 'When the Durians ripen and fall the the Sarongs will be pulled up'.
The other aphrodisiac 'food' which passes through the the digestive tract of an animal is the coffee bean which is eaten by the Civet Cat Vivera zibetha. This is used to make the most expensive coffee in the world. As to its aphrodisiac effects, who knows? I do know that I spent a very pleasant evening with a young lady in Bali after drinking two cups of the stuff...but that may well just have been her. Please note I would not drink it today now that the poor Civets are being factory farmed.
There is though a connection between the two foods. It is the Civet Cat, whose scientific name Vivera zibetha and the Durian, Durio zibethinus. The 'zibethinus' here is referring to the Civet Cat which was reputed to have a very special fondness for the flesh of the Durian.
A High Price To Pay
For some people if you say that a food has aphrodisiac properties then they are more than willing to pay the price and ingest it, regardless of its origins or the risks involved. In comparison to Fugu then 'Elephant Durian' is probably one of the safer ones.
Elephant Durian are collected by people living in the jungles in Malaysia and Indonesia. Elephants seen to consume the Durian are followed till the fruit are 'passed' and then collected. That comparatively short journey through the digestive tract can put the price of a fruit up from $5.00 to $500! And there are people prepared to buy.
According to the jungle dwellers the fruit are swallowed whole after the elephant has smoothed off the vicious spikes or have wrapped the fruit in leaves. Again, knowing elephants, this is something I do feel is a little hard to believe. There is though the possibility of some Asian Zoos considering the legend and benefiting. Or perhaps the Elephants choice of fruit is an important part of the aphrodisiac properties.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 30, 2010:
Hello, hello, - Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed reading.
Hello, hello, from London, UK on December 30, 2010:
Thank you, Peterr, for such an interesting article written with your first-hand knowledge.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 29, 2010:
Exactly Sally. I reckon you could get some people to eat anything if you told them it was aphrodisiac. My mind boggled a long time ago.
Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on December 29, 2010:
When I first saw the title, Elephant Aphrodisiac, I thought you'd be telling us about what makes elephants virile.
But, if I get it right, this Hub's about what makes the human's sex urge pop when primed by eating elephant-ingested and then expelled durian fruit.
This boggles my mind. If I got this wrong, let me know.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 27, 2010:
Pente - Yes it does affect some people that way. I cannot say it is my favourite fruit but I will eat, and enjoy it in sason....and I love the ice cream.
Pente from Planet Earth on December 27, 2010:
I don't know how I was convinced to taste Durian while I was in the Philippines. I found the smell to be totally abominable. However, I do know that I will never try it again. The taste reminded me of rotting meat. Luckily, I had an empty stomach, as I gagged and retched for the next 5 minutes after that vile substance touched my lips. That incident was over 25 years ago, yet seeing your photograph of the opened Durian fruit was still enough to make my stomach immediately cramp up.