"Durians are not allowed in the facility."
In Southeast Asia, it is common to see this sign at the entrances of hotels, travel agencies and others.
According to the graphical representations, what we blame this fruit for is its smell. It is also not uncommon, during the summer season, to hear that people die from durian overdose.
However, this fruit remains one of the favourites of Asians.
So, what's true about that? ?
Let's start with the smell. Yes, durian stinks, that's an undeniable fact. It is often not sold in the same place as other fruits in the covered markets of the Philippines, because not only is it stinky, but the stench is persistent. It will therefore be placed outwards, and not in the heart of the covered enclosure, so as not to ruin the entire site.
The first time you pass by a durian, you don't immediately understand what's going on. The air is charged with a thick, sweet, new smell, which is difficult to associate with the fruit at first sight. When we think of fruit at home, we think of light, sweet, fresh fragrance. And durian is far from that definition. Its fragrance is heavy. Fat. Deep. Heady and complex.
In short, at first, it is difficult to perceive that it is the smell of a single product. Instead, we have the impression of a mixture that does not work, as if we had put together several products whose mixed flavors give a result close to the smell of rotten. Some people think it's a decaying corpse. And you have to admit, it's not untrue. In any case, even if it's not exactly the same stench, it's just as persistent. The smell of durian never leaves you. All you have to do is sniff it to keep it with you, take it up your nose and endure it for long minutes. And when you bring a durian into an enclosed space, such as hotels or certain shops which, due to the climate of Southeast Asia, are air-conditioned and therefore keep doors and windows closed, you can perfume it for a long time.
A taste of almonds, cheese, onions and wine
Some people love the smell, others can't stand it. But in the long run, everyone agrees, it's so disgusting that it becomes unbearable.
Because you can't get used to it. You may be used to it, but the smell is too strong to go unnoticed. And no matter how much you have it in your nose, you never get used to it. When we have finally clearly identified this perfume, after several encounters with durian, we can recognize it among thousands.
Then, when you taste it, you're not surprised. Actually, we eat that smell. Its flesh is the solid expression of this stench: sweet, complex, tenacious. Naturalist Alfred Wallace, who specialized in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and the Philippines, described the aromas of durian very vividly during his visit to Borneo in the middle of the 19th century. It is like reading Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Caroll's absurd description of the shrinking potion. "A rich almond cream", but with notes of "cheese, onion sauce, and wine".
One bite and we have regrets. The already powerful taste is followed by an even more powerful aftertaste. And who remains. Always. Does not fade, but not at all. Go ahead, eat what you want on top, to hide the remains of the durian: you will only get an abominable mixture between what you eat and the aftertaste of the fruit that refuses to give way. Worse: when you finally think you've got rid of it, after brushing your teeth 4 times, you'll tend to burp, because the fruit is sneaky, it's not easily digested. And then, back to square one.
So well, durian smells and tastes so intense and powerful that you don't want to eat it twice.
And yet, in Southeast Asia, where it is banned in commercial establishments, we love it, we love it. Here, it is called "king of fruits". And it's true that he's handsome. Its skin is very graphic, bristling with quills of an extinct yellow-green colour. He's a big man, the durian. It is large, sometimes immense. Count about thirty centimetres in length and about 1 to 3 kg, sometimes up to 7 kg for some varieties.
With this impressive armor as a bonus, we better understand this idea of sovereignty over the kingdom of fruits. And since he smells stronger than all the others combined, we can actually agree on an idea of superiority on his part.
Durian or foamy death
And then durian has a unique consistency, confusing for novices. Underneath this shell are quarters of yellow pulp. It is dense, without juice, and its creamy texture reminds us of avocado. You immediately feel that each bite will be very nourishing. Asians appreciate this wealth. We, having difficulty ignoring the strange smell and taste, we simply find that it stinks and that at that point, it is necessarily suspicious. The locals therefore like durian, for its beauty, its texture, and they also like the complexity of its aromas. Many animals also enjoy this fruit. Including tigers, will understand.
However, it is not without danger.
In southern Mindanao, the fruit season begins in September. Durians are then available in large quantities and their price drops until sometimes reaching 30 pesos per kilo, or 50 cents of euros, while off-season, it is quite expensive and especially rare. People are going crazy. A little like me when trumpet courgettes arrive on the Nice markets. They buy durian by kilos and take revenge for the time spent waiting for the fruit to return. My friend Donna, from Davao, the Philippine city associated with durian, told me that every year, many people across the country die from excessive durian consumption. He was advised to drink soda to help digest the fruit, and especially not alcohol. And also told me that it was bad for people with high blood pressure.
As far as overdoses are concerned, that's the truth. Every year, several deaths are reported by the press in Thailand, Indonesia and the rest of the region. Indeed, it is strongly discouraged for people with hypertension to consume it. And also to pregnant women.
But the real Molotov cocktail is durian combined with alcohol. Japanese scientists at Tsu kuba University recently established that durian, probably because of its high sulphur content, is capable of inhibiting the enzyme ALDH, which is our liver's main defence against toxic alcohol by-products.
When we know that, naturally, 50% of Asians do not produce this enzyme properly and cannot eliminate ethanal (not ethanol, ethanal, responsible for hangovers in particular), we can imagine what it can do if they force things and eat durian in addition to that. The result is not pretty to see: we find inanimate bodies, their mouths covered with white foam, as if they had rabies. This is an example from the Jakarta Post here. And even without alcohol, you should never abuse durian. Simply because it is extremely rich in sugars and very fatty. It is one of the most caloric fruits. Almost as much as the lawyer, almost twice as much as the olives. A stomach bomb.
Yet durian remains one of the favorite fruits here. The Thai people attribute incredible virtues to it. For example, it is considered an aphrodisiac by Javanese people. And then he has this amazing look that sets him apart from the other fruits. Moreover, being seasonal, he knows how to make himself desired and makes his fans crazy when he finally appears on the market shelves. I mean, he's weird, and that's probably his main quality. It looks like nothing, visually, tastefully, olfactoryly speaking. It is singular and strange, with a hint of danger. Eating a simple fruit then becomes a real adventure. You should try it. You will never forget this moment.