ARTICLE

Beprickled stinkpots: My only-moderately-helpful guide to durian

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I asked the durian seller, quite persistently, how to tell the difference between the many varieties of the fruit he sold. He had four, each for a different price.

Mittens, my co-eater, had tasted every one of these stinky, prickly darlings over our nights in Kuala Lumpur and could discern differences in texture, sweetness and some of the "bitter" aspect described by many durian afficionados. Yet to the uninitiated, these were all just homogeneously beprickled stinkpots.

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After interrogating the seller, I rushed back to my hotel to make notes for later, so I could communicate the imparted knowledge to my dear readers. Alas, somewhere between good intention and a bag of cheap and gorgeously delicious mangosteens, the manual annotation never happened, leaving me with just my memories. Those memories endured for a few weeks, but now, as I have sat down to impart the durian knowledge a few months later, I discover I have no notes and my memory has faded.

It seems almost cruel to tell you the differences between four varieties of durian when I can't remember which was which, but I live in hope that some other durian-wise internaut might pass by and help out with the labelling.

Durians are weighty, prickly fruits, usually in excess of 1kg, with large segments of thick, creamy flesh surrounding a seed. The flesh ranges from pale off-white to yellow and even red. Durian lovers can identify "sweet" and "bitter" characteristics between varieties, and the texture can range from very creamy and soft to quite thick, and sometimes fibrous. Durians smell nasty to the uninitiated and are variously banned from hotels, some public places and public transportation (which of course means they are often identifiable on public transportation, rules being there to be broken).

Durian season in Malaysia is approximately June to September, but kampung (village) durian from local village growth, rather than organised plantations, and Sarawak/Sabah (Borneo) durians are around for considerably longer and can still be good quality (we were there in late October). Durian vendors will usually cut open the chosen durian and remove the segments, placing them in a container for you to smuggle back to your hotel. Hehehe. The SE-Asian press frequently writes about durian, and there are a few blogs too, though unfortunately they spend more time enjoying the latest durian than helpfully cataloguing the types (I display my analytical bias unashamedly). The widest range of photos is probably found at Stinky Spikes, or watch this guy's great video of durians being cut open.

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I believe the Malaysian varieties that were explained to me were labelled D2, D24, D101 and King Musang. (Malaysia has helpfully numbered many local varieties, though they are sometimes commonly referred to by special names instead.) You'll also find other varieties such as D99 around Malaysia and the lucky-dip kampung ones. In Australia we only really see Mon Thong (D159) durian from Thailand, quietly defrosting at market stalls or in the occasional supermarket.

So here are the four characteristics I was shown and sadly can no longer associate with specific varieties:

Type1: the spikes align so that you get straight spines (valleys) running the length of the fruit in some places. (possibly D24)

Type2: the spikes are arranged in groups of four of similar size, surrounding a fifth little one. (possibly D101)

Type3: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to an almost bald spot, described by the seller as looking a bit like a star (the uneven flattening around the edges could create that impression). (perhaps King Musang?)

Type4: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to a raised almost bald spot which protrudes a little like a nipple.

We saw all of these examples firsthand, but I can't guarantee that these characteristics are always present.

Variety D24 is very well regarded (pale yellow flesh, stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet), but King Musang (stronger yellow flesh) seemed to be the most expensive in KL when we were there and Mittens loved it (I suspect this is the same as the variety that seems to get a lot of press in SE-Asia: Mao Shan Wang; stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet). D101 has dark yellow flesh and is sweet, creamy, with small seed.

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Although I would once have vomited at the prospect of eating durian, my "appreciation" of this fruit changed during our trip (hey, two weeks of durian-smuggling-into-hotels by Mittens didn't leave much scope for nausea). I still can't breathe through my nose while putting the flesh in my mouth, but I can sort of enjoy the thick creamy mouthfeel and sweetness. It's a bit like an incredibly unctuous egg custard, thickened too far, and with a dash of rotting onion thrown in for fun. I don't appreciate the residual rotten-onion-breath.

So while Mittens slurped up the contents of a one-kilo durian every night for thirteen nights, I contented myself with juggling fresh, spongy-shelled mangosteens, and discovering why hotels don't appreciate the red juice from the shell (it *stains*). Mangosteen are just beautiful, but don't bother with derivatives like syrups or sorbets, as the delicate flavour is almost impossible to capture properly.

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As a side-note, it should be mentioned that while the pong of durian is very very hard to conceal, the pong of jackfruit is more pervasive in a hotel fridge. Jackfruit seems innocuous, and tastes quite pleasant, but it smells of something approaching warm, rancid cheddar, even at 4C, and its spirit lingers even after consumption.

Anyway, back to durian for one last time. Chinese Malaysians will tell you that durian is "heaty" and one shouldn't eat too much. "I've heard of someone who died by eating too much" is a not uncommon comment. Well, to them I say that Mittens must be rather chilly, cos after thirteen durians he was crying out for the next one and was in excellent health.

Apologies for this rather unhelpful durian catalogue! Fingers crossed that it is enhanced over time. Selamat makan!

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COMMENTS

9 responses to “Beprickled stinkpots: My only-moderately-helpful guide to durian”

  1. Mark @ Cafe Campana

    Great post. I have only heard a little about this elusive stinky fruit. Your descriptions are pretty funny and I love "…with a dash roting onion thrown in for fun." You really make the fruit come to life.

  2. Anh

    Durian! Love them and this post is so informative!

  3. Sarah

    Durian ice-cream. The best. It mellows out the stinkiness of the durian but you still get the good flavour.

    Mangosteens are awesome, aren't they? My suggestion is to cut half the skin off, and then freeze them. You eat them with a spoon like sorbet and it's delicious! (We had them served like this in a hotel in Nikko once and it was wonderful!)

    xox Sarah

  4. Y

    Fabulous post! Yes, I've been told many times about how 'heaty' durians are, and that the remedy for this is to fill one of the empty shells from the durian you've just eaten, with salty water and drink from that. My parents always made us do that after we'd had a durian feast.

  5. Thanh

    Love the post Duncan. You already know I'm the biggest durian fan, having made every thinkable dessert under the sun with durian. My latest thought is to somehow cover them in a batter and fry them. I'm worried about explosions so haven't tried yet haha.

    I have no idea which is which either. I clearly remember eating a lot of D24s and King ones in Malaysia. That King one was so stinky, even to me. But oh, the taste, magnific.

    My mum always said durians are "heaty". I've heard of the drinking the water from the shell thing as a cure, as well as eating mangosteens, which are "cool".

    Lastly, the vendor in Malaysia told me they don't import Malaysian durians overseas because once picked, they don't continue to ripen, as opposed to the Thai durians which continue to ripen.

    Now I'm going to eat my durian chocolates from Malaysia. Must try to make my own durian chocolates.

  6. Little Red Dot

    Hey Duncan,

    I must confess I am always surprised whenever people describe durian as "stinky" or "cheese-like" or "onion-like". To me, it has always been an amazing fragrance rather than a repulsive odour.

    Yes, I am Malaysian by birth and upbringing but from the very first moment I smelt a durian, I fell in love with it, so I would dispute the upbringing theory. Maybe my sense of smell is not sharp enough, but it always seemed to me to be more of a very aromatic custard. Yes, it is a pervasive smell and yes, it gets into your hands and yes, you can wash your hands five times consecutively with paint stripper and you would still not get the smell off…but why would you want to?

    Just a note that my wife and her family, all Anglo-Irish-Celtic Australians, loved their first taste of durians when they visited us in Malaysia. They even asked for seconds! Maybe they like cheesy onion-infused sweaty socks :)

  7. another outspoken female

    I like, though wouldn't say love, durian. The best characteristics for me are the creamy, luscious texture and the burnt caramel element in the flavour.

    My first experience had an accidentally stupid food/wine pairing. Any fool knows to not drink alcohol with durian (is it the 'heat' thing?)..except my partner who presented me with it, just after we started drinking a rather nice French champagne.

    Durian flavoured champagne burps get a bit tiresome after a while.

    In KL last September he got some of the highest grade durian. It was super rich and the flavour was stronger than I'd had before. Definitely couldn't get a through a kilo between us!

  8. Coby

    First poster to comment that I remain a durian virgin? I can't get past the smell I'm afraid. Not that anyone has actively tried to offer a cut durian to me, but I am unsure if I could get past the smell – can't tolerate eating male pig because of the stench and I think durian smells as bad as that. Still, I remain interested in the fruit, appears a little like custard apple within – I pressume it tastes better than this relatively bland fruit?

  9. Judy

    Durians! Thanks for the informative post. I don't mind durians. They're actually a fun fruit. Just don't burp after eating one. I was thinking of making some kind of durian buttercream for a durian macaron. I have never heard of anyone making a durian macaron yet. Durian ice cream is pretty good too. I think it's a love it or hate it kind of thing.

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