Durian is one of the most divisive foods in the world. Loved by some and hated by others, this tropical fruit can be served raw or cooked. Durian is primarily harvested in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, but the unusual fruit has become popular throughout Asia and can be found in Asian markets in the United States.
What Is Durian?
Durian, nicknamed the "king of fruits," is a large, spiky, greenish-brown fruit that is well-loved in its native Southeast Asia. The fruit is known for its strong odor when ripe, which can vary depending on the variety of durian. Many people find the odor off-putting, and the fresh fruit has even been banned from some public places and mass transit. Durians often crack open when ripe, making extracting the edible flesh inside relatively easy (while also distributing that famous aroma). A large knife or cleaver is otherwise used, and the white, yellow, or red flesh—beloved by many for its custardy texture and unique flavor—can be eaten raw or cooked. Durian's short season and limited shelf-life, as well as rising demand, means the fruit is relatively expensive, particularly when imported.
How to Cook With Durian
Measuring the ripeness of a durian and deciding when to prepare it is a matter of taste. Some like to eat slightly unripe durian before the fruit emits its strong odor and the flesh is still crisp. Many enjoy ripe durian when the odor is strong, but before the fruit becomes over-ripe. Ripe durians that have split should be used immediately, or they will begin to ferment. The over-ripe fruit is sometimes cooked and used in savory dishes like curries.
To cut the fruit, place the durian stem side down on a clean cutting surface. Using a large, sharp knife, make a cut through the thick skin on the top of the durian, about 3 to 4 inches long. Take care when handling the fruit, since its spiky skin can poke you. As you cut, pull back the skin with your other hand. Use your hands to pull back the skin—it will come off fairly easily.
Lay the two halves down on the cutting board, then using a spoon or your hands, remove the large "pods" of fruit. Place the fruit on a plate. Use your knife to cut along the seam down the center of the inside "shell" and you'll find more sections of fruit. Remove these sections of fruit with a spoon or your fingers and add to the plate. Before eating or serving, it's best to remove the large, inedible seeds.
Working with durian can leave your hands smelling like durian all day. To help remove the smell, run hot water through the durian skin. This will create a very mild lye solution, which, when combined with soap, helps get rid of the smell.
Durian is frequently enjoyed fresh, but is also popular for making candies, sauces, curries, baked goods, drinks, desserts, and more.
What Does Durian Taste Like?
Durian has been described by a number of journalists, travelers, and writers using seemingly incongruous descriptions. The fruit is extremely popular and loved by many in Southeast Asia, but the smell alone has put off many newcomers. Durian's odor has been described as resembling dirty gym socks, rotten egg, cut onions, manure, and roadkill. Some describe the flesh as tasting similar, but fans of the fruit describe it as having notes of almond and with a custard-like texture. When ripe, the flesh is uniquely tender and creamy. It is not acidic, overly sweet, or overly juicy. The odor, flavor, and coloration can vary depending on the variety of durian.
Fresh or frozen durian can be mashed or puréed and used in cakes, milkshakes, candies, and even savory dishes. It's most commonly served in sweet recipes.
Where to Buy Durian
Durian is sold in many Asian markets in the U.S. The fruit is in season from June through August and it is much more commonly available fresh during its peak. Look for light-colored spikes without any dark brown patches or bits of white between the spikes, signs that the fruit is too ripe. Give the durian a shake—if it rattles, it has dried out and is no longer good to eat. Avoid fruit with dry, shriveled stems.
Durian also freezes and cans well and is often exported and sold this way. Frozen and canned durian can be found year-round at Asian markets.
How to Store Durian
Durians ripen quickly, so they shouldn't need more than a couple of days on the counter before they are ready to eat. To slow down the ripening, you can store the whole fruit in the fridge wrapped in paper or plastic for up to two days, but be forewarned—it will smell up your fridge (and everything in it). Cooked durian will last a few days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Durian can also be frozen in a zip-top bag with the air removed for up to three months.