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A Taste So Sweet, a Smell So Rotten: The Pungent Joys of Durian

What has spiky skin, can grow up to a foot long and is banned on most public transit in Southeast Asia? The “king of fruits” has a reputation that precedes it, but don’t take everyone else’s word for it — durian is something you have to try for yourself.

The fruit, native to Southeast Asia, comes from the Old Malay word dûrî, meaning thorn, in reference to its signature spiky green skin. The inside, however, is a custard-like soft yellow flesh that makes durian the king.

The fruit itself, however, is known to have such a strong odor, it’s banned from many airports, hotels, and public transit in the region. The smell has been described as everything from rotting garbage to sewage. But if you can make it past the overpowering aroma (which can sometimes be smelled from a hundred feet away), durian enthusiasts will say it’s like eating a slice of heaven.

The durian fruit itself is also pretty diverse, with different variations of durian having distinctive flavor profiles. One of the favorites is the sweeter durian, but others can be more bitter, more floral or even numb-inducing (those types are best from trees over 30 years old and eaten within two hours of harvesting). Trying to describe durian’s flavor is harder than you would imagine. Some say it tastes like peanut brittle toffee; others say it’s like garlic and caramel were mixed into a whipped cream.

Durian can also be made into dishes like ice cream, cakes, biscuits, hard candies and coffee. It’s added to soup and rice dishes to make them more flavorful. Fermented durian is added to coconut milk and spices to create a savory curry dish. Even the nectar and pollen of the fruit can be collected to create a type of Durian honey. But no matter how it’s used, durian has etched out its place in Southeast Asian cooking and eating. Whichever way you eat it, durian has proven itself time and time again to be one of the most unique fruits this planet has to offer, both in taste and smell.

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