The smelliest fruit in the world: why does durian smell so bad?
It's known as the King of Fruits, so what makes it so controversial?
The durian is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, where it's hugely popular and largely known as the King of Fruit. It's around a foot in diameter and its skin is completely covered in spikes. These are pretty unusual characteristics for a fruit, but not completely unique. The thing that does make it unique is its smell.
If you have heard of the durian, there's a good chance the smell is the reason why. It has been described as everything between sewage and rotting garbage and, despite its huge popularity, the smell is almost universally intolerable. Food writer Richard Sterling once said, “its odor is best described as… turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”
The smell is so strong that in some places it's actually banned, even in the Far East. Places like airports, hotels, and public transport refuse to allow them, even in their skin, as the smell is so pungent, it permeates the skin and lingers long after the fruit has left the building. A library in Australia had to be completely evacuated after someone dared to bring one in for a mid-afternoon snack.
If you can get past the smell to taste the thing, you are likely to fall into one of two categories – "absolutely love it, the smell is no longer an issue," or "good grief it's as bad as the smell." There is no middle ground when it comes to Durian.
But what is the source of the smell? Researchers at the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich have been researching the chemistry of the fruit to determine exactly what causes the foul smell, and the results explain a lot.
There are 19 compounds, classed as volatiles, which were found to contribute to the smell. The researchers have categorised them into the smells they cause when found in other food sources, with the majority being fruity, rotten, or oniony. Researchers could recreate the smell by combining just 2 of these compounds, ethyl (2S)-2-methylbutanoate and 1-(ethylsulfanyl)ethane-1-thiol, which give things a fruity and rotten onion smell, respectively.
Some of the other compounds have been described as smelling, individually, of rotten cabbage, and sulphur. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to eat that concoction.
Love it or hate it, it's big business, and traders in the Far East estimate the durian to be worth around $230m to the local economy. Be that loyal locals who can't get enough, or curious tourists, it can only be a good thing.