DURIAN: DAVAO’S CONTROVERSIAL FRUIT

DURIAN: DAVAO’S CONTROVERSIAL FRUIT

When someone tells you of Davao City, what fruit comes into your mind immediately?

Durian, that’s what.  In fact, durian was one of the three Davao icons that was included in Apo Duwaling, the former name of the Kadayawan Festival.  The other two icons were Mount Apo (the country’s highest peak) and “waling-waling” (the orchid that used to abound in the forest of Davao region).

Foreigners and locals who come to the city should not miss eating the “excellent taste” of the fruit whose “flavor surpasses all the other fruits in the world,” to quote the words of old traveler Linchott.

But those who despise the fruit say durian “smells like hell” (or “rotten onion”).   Unfortunately, durian aficionados describe “this fruit of a hot and humid nature” as something that “tastes like heaven.”

In his book “Following the Equator,” Mark Twain wrote about his durian experience in Southeast Asia through these words:  “It was a most strange fruit, and incomparably delicious to the taste, but not to the smell.”

The American humorist further wrote: “We found many who had eaten the durian, and they all spoke of it with a sort of rapture. They said that if you could hold your nose until the fruit was in your mouth a sacred joy would suffuse you from head to foot that would make you oblivious to the smell of the rind, but that if your grip slipped and you caught the smell of the rind before the fruit was in your mouth, you would faint.”

British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace had the same experience. After a visit with the Interior of Borneo in 1855, he observed the offensive smell of durian in the house; some persons did not even attempt to taste it. “This was also my own experience when I first tried to taste it in Malacca; but in Borneo, I found a ripe fruit on the ground, and eating it out-of-doors, I become confirmed durian eater.”

Because of the durian’s “foul-smelling odor” that most airlines don’t allow the fruit on board.  In Singapore, the Asian country with the most rigid policy and rules concerning the care for the environment, the durian is forbidden on subway-stations and trains.

Despite this, there is an increasing demand for durian in the export market. It is called as “exotic tropical fruit” in North America and Europe where customers offer premium price.   Durian is also highly regarded in other Asian countries.

By weight, the edible portion (or aril as experts call it) is only 26% on the average.  Sixty percent of it is the rind while the remaining 14% are seeds.

According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, the fruit is rich in vitamin C, phosphorus, calcium, and iron.  It is also contains fair amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin.  It is also a good source of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

For the information of the uninformed, the aroma (or odor if you will) of the fruit comes largely from thiols or thioethers, esters and suphides.

The word “durian” comes from the Indonesian “duri” (thorn) and is botanically known as “Durio zibethinus.”  It is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It also grows in Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.  In the Philippines, durian grows well in Mindanao but most of the crops can be found in Davao region.

At one time, Davao City was known as Durian Republic because the fruit can be bought any parts of the metropolis.  Durian trees can be seen in nearby areas, particularly Calinan and Toril.  This must the reason why during festivity, durian is part of the celebration.

As a fruit, durian is eaten right after opening or as a frozen commodity.  Like most exotic fruits, durian is touted to have aphrodisiac powers. In Thailand, durian is eaten as a side dish with glutinous rice or it is made into a paste (often packed like long sausages).  In Sabah, Malaysia, red durian is fried with onions and chili and served as a side dish.

The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development says durian can be made into jam, candy, tart, and “polvoron.”  Unripe durian can be cooked like a vegetable.  Half-ripe or unripe durian are also utilized in making chips and soups.

Durian can be made into an excellent ice cream, or a cold milk shake. As a blender ingredient, though, it seems the king of fruits does not mix well with lesser commoners. The distinct durian flavor usually dominates, and in some cases mixing with other fruits accentuates the garlicky component of durian in unfavorable ways.

One known harmonious flavor with durian is coffee. Drinking coffee while eating durian is quite pleasant and invigorating – and a durian-flavored gourmet coffee would be an exotic treat.  If you happen to visit Davao City, there are places where coffee is mixed with durian fruits.

For those who want to taste durian for the first time, be sure to buy the very best.  But how will you know that the durian you are buying is the real thing? Here’s a tip from the experts:  “When picking a durian to buy, look at the stem, if it is dry the durian is probably old.  If the stem is cut off, shake the fruit and listen for the seeds knocking around; if you hear something the pulp has probably lost some moisture and therefore not as tasty.”

The durian seeds, which are the size of chestnuts, can be eaten after they are boiled, roasted or fried in coconut oil.  Its texture is similar to that of taro or yam, but stickier. In Java, Indonesia, the seeds are sliced thin and cooked with sugar as a confection. Uncooked durian seeds should not be eaten as they are toxic.

The petals of durian flowers are eaten in the Batak provinces of Indonesia, while in the Moluccas islands the husk of the durian fruit is used as fuel to smoke fish. The nectar and pollen of the durian flower that honeybees collect is an important honey source, but the characteristics of the honey are unknown.

Durian is also a medicinal plant.  A decoction of the leaves and roots used to be prescribed as an antipyretic.  The leaf juice is applied on the head of a fever patient.  It is also claimed to have depurative (blood-purifying) and vermifuge (worm-expelling) properties.

In the Malay Archipelago, about 150 years ago, famed Victorian naturalist and evolutionary theorist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote, “To eat durian is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.”

Pregnant women or people with high blood pressure are traditionally advised not to consume durian.  Here’s another warning: “Discover” magazine reported an incident where a woman with preexisting renal failure ate a durian and ended up critically ill from potassium overdose.

There are also stories about durian being harmful when eaten with coffee or alcoholic beverages.   The latter belief can be traced back at least to the 18th century when Rumphius stated that one should not drink alcohol after eating durians as it will cause indigestion and bad breath (halitosis).

In 1929, J. D. Gimlette advised in his “Malay Poisons and Charm Cures” that the durian fruit must not be eaten with brandy.  In 1981, J. R. Croft wrote in a book about “a feeling of morbidity” that often follows should a person drinks alcohol too soon after eating durian.  Several medical investigations on the validity of this belief have been conducted with varying conclusions.