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Durian – a rare fruit lovers’ most controversial affinity

 Durian – The King of Fruits is quickly gaining popularity around the world. It is considered at the top of the list for most rare fruit enthusiasts where the tree isn’t native ( in Thailand and Malaysia they are abundant).  These fruits are considered controversial mostly because of their distinct odor when ripe, repelling many people from trying it. It has actually been banned on public transportation in Singapore, and many other places it is banned from hotels, airports, etc.

This controversy over the odor leads the way to its fame. Its texture and taste is separate from its smell, and extremely unique to durian. In Hawaii, these fruits are still considered rare and valuable. On Big Island the going rate is $3 a pound for wholesale and $5 a pound for retail. One fruit may sell for as much as $20.  This is a lot considering only about 20% is edible.

Our Big Island plant nursery has several seedling durians for sale from excellent rootstock. These plants are great for planting out now and top working later. See our website for more info on our plant sales. 

Below you’ll find basic information on Durian including the characteristics of the fruit, the plants, taste, health benefits and more. 

Latin Name and family:

Durio zibethinus (species), Durio Adanso, (genus), Bombacaceae (Kapok-tree family)

Other names: King of Fruit,

Characteristics of Durian:

The durian fruits size and shape varies. In general they can be described as ovoid-oblong and sometimes they are round. They are 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) long, and 5 to 6 inches (12.5-15 cm) wide. On average they may be 7-10 pounds but some may weigh up to 20 pounds (8 kg) in weight. They are often described as the size of a US Football. A yellowish-green sometimes brown rind is very thick and is semi-woody. It has sharp spines and for this reason the falling fruits may cause serious injury.

Only up to 25% of the durian is pulp or flesh and 20% is seeds. Inside there are sections with the pulp surrounding the seeds. The flesh color varies from white, yellowish, pale orange or pink. Its texture is creamy, custardy and smooth.

Taste and Culinary Uses:

Durian is probably the world’s most controversial fruit. There is a famous Southeast Asian saying, they are hell on the outside and heaven on the inside.” When they ripe it has an aroma that is often described as rotten onions, low-tide seaweed, sewer pipe, turpentine, decayed onion. But the flavor is much different than the odor. Descriptions of the durian flavor vary and include: a general tropical fruit, garlic, vanilla, almonds, bananas, ice cream. It is not very sweet, or acid or juicy.

The ripe fruit is most often eaten raw, straight from the fruit, and eaten out of your hands. It is best chilled in the refrigerator. Commercial production in some countries includes canned flesh in syrup, durian paste, preserved in salt. It can also be used unripe as a vegetable when cooked, or preserved and salted and used as a relish with rice. In Java, the flesh is prepared as sauce to eat with rice, or turned into a relish. Others may ferment it and even smoke it and prepare as a side dish. The seeds are also edible once they have been boiled, dried and then fried or roasted. Even the rind may be used as an added ingredient in baking.

Buying, Harvesting and Storing Durian:

Durians mature in 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 months from the time of fruit-set. When the fruit is ripe it will fall to the ground. Durian is best harvested this way because it ensures maximum ripeness and flavor. In Thailand they pick durian early and use sprays to help it ripen. However in Malaysia they let it fall to the ground. Many people say that if it has fallen in the last day it is perfect, others relate that a durian left on the ground for about 12 hours improves the flavor.

How to pick out a durian

When you are buying durian, it is important to get one at the ideal stage of ripeness. If it is under-ripe, there will be little flavor, or bad flavor. If it is overripe, it is more likely that it tastes how it smells. Avoid buying durian with these characteristics: 1) a wrinkled stem, 2) discoloration on spikes, splits in the shell, 3) holes in the shell from bugs 4) flesh that is too hard to too soft and runny.

When picking a durian it is important to concentrate on the smell. An under-ripe durian has no smell where an over-ripe durian has a really strong smell. A perfectly ripe fruit will have a lower level earthy but sulfurous smell.

There are also other tricks to picking a good durian that work but vary on the particular variety. A few are: 1) stratch the stem, should be a grass-green color under the brown layer, 2) shake the durian, a ripe durian will rattle a little bit as the flesh recedes, 3) thump or tap with the side of a knife, if it sounds a little hollow it should be edible, 4) scrape fingers or a stick along the spikes, if you hear a sort of hollow reverberation instead of dull sound it is more likely to be ripe.

Durians persish quickly. They ripen 2 to 4 days after falling and are only fit to eat within 5 or 6 days.

Health benefits:

Great source of B Vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, B5, B6, and thiamin. A 3.5 oz portion or 100 grams of the raw flesh contains 147 calories and it has 33% daily value of Vitamin C and 31% daily value of Calcium, and 5 grams of fat. Additionally, it is rich in potassium, iron and copper. They also contain thiamin, folic acid and even tryptophan. Moreover, the flesh is reported to an aphrodisiac. There are several reported medicinal benefits of durian: the flesh as a vermifuge (dewormer), the roots and leaves decocted as a fever reducer, medicinal baths with the leaves for people with jaundice, and decoctions of the leaves and fruits are applied to swelling and skin diseases.

Growth patterns:

The tree is tropical and in some countries will not grow above 2,000-2,600 feet). They also need a lot of rainfall. Durian trees may grow 90 to 130 ft (27-40 m) in height in tropical forests. From seed there is usually fruit production in about 12 -15 years. However, grafted trees will grow to be smaller trees and bare fruit in as short as 6-8 years. In the first several years of fruit you can expect anywhere from 10 to 40 fruits.

As they mature (6th or so year of fruiting) this number may possibly jump up to over 100. Because they take so long to fruit from seeds, most people plant grafted trees from good rootstock. The fresh durian seeds are usually only viable for 7-10 days. There are over 300 named varieties in Thailand, in Malaysia there are 100. However only a few are in commercial production. Cross-pollination is recommended for good fruit set.

Check out my other articles on rare fruit:



1.Permacopia Book II. D. Hunter Beyer Dr. Franklin Martin.

2.Hawaiian Organic growing Guide, Shunyam Nirav. (1992)Oasis Maui /inc.