What the Heck Is Durian Fruit—And Why Does It Smell So Bad?
Durian fruit has been making headlines recently for a very bizarre (and very stinky) reason: Two Australian libraries have been evacuated in the last month after patrons mistook the fruit’s foul odor for a gas leak. Yeah, you read that right—this has happened two times in one month.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and people have a lot of questions: What is durian fruit? Why does it smell so bad? Why do people keep bringing it into libraries?!
While the library thing remains a mystery, we do have some answers.
What Is Durian Fruit?
The durian fruit is native to Southeast Asia and is commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Known in some places as the “king of fruits,” the large, thorny durian ranges in color from pale yellow to red.
The health benefits of durian fruit are impressive—it’s naturally rich in iron, vitamin C, and potassium. When eaten in moderation, it can improve muscle strength, skin health, and lower blood pressure.
While it is a (relatively) popular snack, durian fruit is banned from many types of public transport across Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore due to its rank smell.
Why Does Durian Fruit Smell So Terrible?
Durian’s scent has been compared to (among other disgusting things) sewage, turpentine, gym socks. Anthony Bourdain once said that eating the fruit will leave your breath smelling “as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."
How can something smell so darn gross? The answer is kind of complicated: A 2017 study published in Nature Genetics found that the durian is actually related to the fragrant cacao (chocolate) plant. Since the two plants separated, durian has experienced a “whole genome duplication event.” According to Popular Science, this allows “the original set of genes to continue carrying out their intended functions, while leaving a second set free to evolve and develop into different traits—like durian’s spiked outer shell and pungent smell.”
A lot of those genes (including the ones responsible for creating sulfuric compounds) are focused on pumping out odors. This is likely to attract primates to eat the fruit and then disperse its seeds. In short, you can blame durian’s disgusting smell on its own genetics.
What Does Durian Fruit Taste Like?
RAHMAD SURYADI/Getty Images
The fruit’s flavor seems to be indescribable. In 1856, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote that durian tasted like “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds,” but “there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes.” Yum?
Some people love it, some people hate it. The only way to find out definitely what durian tastes like is to try it yourself.
But, for the love of God, leave it at home next time you go to the library.