July 27, 2015, by Emma Lowry

Marmite of Malaysia: do you love or hate durian fruit?

With its onion-custard flavour, spikey shell, creamy flesh and aroma akin to smelly old socks, the durian fruit is perhaps the most infamous and peculiar of Malaysia’s tropical fruits.

Dubbed the ‘King of Fruits’, Durian is loved and loathed in equal measure (much like the opinion-dividing effect of Marmite here in the UK).

Durian open feature

In celebration of all things Malaysian, as we approach our 15th anniversary, (and to mark the start of the summer durian season), here are 10 need-to-know facts about this polarising fruit:

1. Of 30 durian varieties across South East Asia, at least nine are edible. They are an expensive delicacy, commanding a price tag of £5-10 each.

2. Durian is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins and antioxidants. But it’s not that kind to your waistline; it’s carb-packed with up to 1,500 calories and fatty like an avocado.

3. While veterans may recommend eating durian (opened by street vendors with machetes, as demonstrated in the clip below), novices may prefer to sample ‘milder’ versions in cake, chocolate and ice cream or wine (?!).

4. Durians can temporarily raise blood pressure, creating hot flushes and a rapid heart rate. Novice eaters may suffer severe adverse ‘heaty’ reactions if it’s consumed with alcohol.

5. To prevent customer complaints about the overpowering, anti-social odour, hotels and public transport enforce durian bans. Learn more in this National Geographic clip (below).

6. Kuala Lumpur is home to the ‘all-you-can-eat’ durian buffet (as visited in the clip below). Mmmm. Pile up your plate!

7. Move over Glastonbury. The annual Bao Sheng Durian Festival is hosted in Malaysia. Held for a week every June in Penang, it’s a mecca for durian-loving hippies the world over.

8. Not only is the smell eye-watering. As large, heavy, prickly durians grow on trees, eye injuries are common during harvest season.

9. Durian is on the menu at the Woodstock Fruit Festival in New York State (the brain child of a fruit-obsessed, ultra-runner) – last year more than 2,000 durians were consumed.

10. A small variety of durian grows in villages close to our Semenyih campus in Malaysia. An alternative lunch option to campus catering?!

While Western ex-pats and tourists may not understand how something so smelly is so in demand in South East Asia, a simple comparison is cheese. Many Malaysians are repulsed by the idea of decaying dairy – so how we feel about durian is just how they feel about pungent, French Roquefort.

If you’ve never tried durian, maybe these views from staff at The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) will help you decide whether it’s a delicacy you’d crave or run for the hills to avoid!

Amara Sivalingam is Alumni and Donor Relations Manager. Durian is her favourite fruit; she grew up with a durian tree in her garden:

Denny Ng is one of the youngest professors at UNMC and in fact the whole of Malaysia! He obtained his PhD at UNMC and was the first student to complete it within two years. He is founding Director of the Centre of Sustainable Palm Oil Research. He likes durian and gives us a tip on eating it with its so-called partner, mangosteen – the ‘Queen of Fruits’:

Professor Andy Chan is Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Engineering. He specialises in modelling and statistical analysis of urban air pollution, particularly smog and haze in Malaysia. Prior to entering academia, Professor Chan worked for several years for Goldman Sachs. He is not a big fan of durian, describing the taste during his first encounter as like “cat poop”:

Mei Fong Chong came to UNMC eight years ago after finishing her PhD. She became associate professor in 2011. She specialises in bio-gas production from palm oil mill effluent. She loves durian, and used to eat it by the bucket-load with her family as a child:

For all you could ever need to know (and more) on the ‘King of Fruits’, check out this handy (if not scarily-obsessive) blog, Year of the Durian.

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