Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Durian Stinks Like Hell but Tastes Heavenly
I've known eaters who will fearlessly bite into the hottest peppers, but even they have quailed before durian, the fruit that hails from Southeast Asia and whose smell has been compared to garbage, rotting flesh, and the bathroom post-use. However, this hefty globe with its spiny, prickly outer covering isn't called "the king of fruits" for nothing.
According to its many fans, its stench does not correlate to its taste, which has been described in extremely flattering terms. Monica Tan of The Guardian writes, "The taste is mildly sweet, almondy, and very creamy, not unlike a rich cheesecake. It has a whiff of alcohol about it, which explains why eating it gives you this hot feeling inside—like you've downed a shot of vodka."
The smell of durian is so strong that it's been banned in hotels and public transportation in many places in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, one of its native lands. However, for a certain type of macho eater, this just lends the fruit more of a mystique.
The durian, clearly, is not meant for amateurs, the unadventurous, or supertasters who experience flavors much more intensely than your average eater.
Personally, I found that durian's smelly reputation was a lot more fearsome than its actual taste. It's a little bit like jumping into cold water: the anticipation is the worst part. Once you actually bite into the fruit, it's quite enjoyable: sweet, rich, and smooth. It helps to remind yourself that many of the world's most delicious things (ripe cheeses like brie or feta, black or white truffles, kim chi, etc.) may not smell pretty at first, but they sing on the tongue.
There are many durian recipes out there, although most durian fans seem to prize eating the fruit itself. It's not easy to get outside of its native environs, but if you live in an area that has a lot of Asian markets, you can usually find the fruit in the frozen section. Occasionally, some Asian groceries will carry them fresh, if you're lucky enough to get there at the right time.
For more interesting foods, check out our Weird Ingredient Wednesday section to learn about citrus caviar, the wonders of black garlic, and why Lapsang Souchong tea is the ultimate brining/marinade ingredient.