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Durian, King of the Fruit

Durian, King of the Fruit

(Durio zibethinus) This infamous tropical fruit is indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the southern Philippines. The reputation of this fruit has gone before it as surely as its aroma trails after it. A good durian is sweet and has the texture of smooth, rich custard and the flavor, while quite unlike anything else, hints at banana, mango, pineapple, pawpaw (all somewhat over-ripe) and vanilla. Some call it the king of fruits, regard it as an aphrodisiac and break hotel rules by sneaking it into their rooms. Others hate it with vengeance.

So what is it that provokes such passionate reactions? Unless you have smelled ripe durian, it is hard to imagine an odor as invasive. Some say that it smells like hell but tastes like heaven.

The most forbidding aspect of this fruit is its spiky skin. Roughly the size of a soccer ball, heavy for its size, and coming to a point at one end, the skin of the durian is thick, covered in sharp, sturdy spines of dull green which yellow as the fruit ripens. A fruit is ripe and ready to eat when it splits along its 'seamline'. It may need a little help and, if the spikes are yellow, a sharp thump on a hard surface (a concrete driveway works well) should achieve the same result. Another way, if it doesn't split of its own accord, is to use the point of a knife at the end away from the stem and lever one of the segments of skin upwards. Then praise the shell open, segment by segment, with well-protected hands.

Inside, the fruit is divided into sections and within the smooth white walls of each section are three or four large, glossy, cream-beige seeds, each one enclosed in a custard-like covering which can be pale cream to bright yellow in color (depending on the variety of durian rather than its stage of ripeness). The texture of the flesh that encases the large seeds is dense and creamy, the taste highly praised by all brave enough to venture past the smell. Durian is considered "heating" to the body and for this reason, a feast of durian is usually followed with "cooling" mangosteens.

In some areas, durians are never picked, but left to ripen and fall - ensuring they are perfectly ripe. A common saying is "a durian has eyes and can see where it is falling". This is because (so the saying goes) the fruit never fall during daylight hours when people may be hurt by their size, vicious spines and the velocity gathered as they hurtle to the ground, but rather in the wee hours when honest citizens certainly would not be prowling under durian trees.

Durian are used to make preserves, ice-cream and candy. Commercial durian ice cream sold in Asia is flavored with artificial durian essence. Delicious though it is, durian remains an acquired taste.

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