No discussion of Thai fruits can be complete without the durian. This odd fruit is like truffles to the French, or perhaps haggis to the Scots would be a more apt comparison, since it is hard to think of a more objectionable edible product. Although there are many varieties, most durians are larger than an adult's head and covered with very sharp spikes about an inch long.

Durians on sale in the market.

Within the thick skin are usually five seed pods consisting of a thick gooey mucous which surrounds a seed the size of a chestnut. The mucous is the edible part. In texture, and even in taste, the closest comparison I can think of is marshmallows. The fruit is thought to have originated in the islands of Indonesia, where, on the island of Borneo, the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described his first encounter:

"The banks of the Sarawak River are everywhere covered with fruit trees, which supply the Dyaks with a great deal of their food. The Mangosteen, Lansat, Rambutan, Jack, Jambou, and Blimbing, are all abundant; but most abundant, and most esteemed is the Durian, a fruit about which very little is known in England, but which both by natives and Europeans in the Malay Archipelago is reckoned superior to all others. The old traveler Linschott, writing in 1599, says:- 'It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world, according to those who have tasted it.' And Doctor Paludanus adds:- 'This fruit is of a hot and humid nature. To those not used to it, it seems at first to smell like rotten onions, but immediately they have tasted it, they prefer it to all other food. The natives give it honorable titles, exalt it, and make verses on it.' When brought into a house the smell is often so offensive that some persons can never bear to taste it. This was my own case when I first tried it in Malacca, but in Borneo I found a ripe fruit on the ground, and, eating it out of doors, I at once became a confirmed Durian eater."

The Dutch who occupied and colonized much these islands called the fruit stinkvrucht due to its terrible odor. The smell is so bad that many people can't get past it. When I tell Thais that I'm not fond of durian, they assume it's because of the smell, but in fact I find the "golden pillow" (mon tong) variety favored by Thais much too sweet for my taste.

But such is the love of durian throughout South-east Asia that Thailand exports several tons of the fruit to other countries within the region during the season, which runs from about March to July. The country's national carrier has even in some years run special cargo flights shipping entire plane-loads of durian to Hong Kong and other destinations, where people eagerly stuff themselves with the stinky fruit. Durian does have a dangerous side, and not just the one pointed out by Wallace:

"The Durian is, however, sometimes dangerous. When the fruit begins to ripen it falls daily and almost hourly, and accidents not infrequently happen to persons walking or working under the trees. When a Durian strikes a man in its fall, it produces a dreadful wound, the strong spines tearing open the flesh, while the blow itself is very heavy; but from this very circumstance death rarely ensues, the copious effusion of blood preventing the inflammation which might otherwise take place. A Dyak chief informed me that he had been struck down by a Durian falling on his head, which he thought would certainly have caused his death, yet he recovered in a very short time."

Aside from the danger of falling durians, the sulfur-rich chemical soup that gives the fruit its foul odor also reacts strongly with alcohol. You may feel the need for a stiff drink before trying durian for the first time, but you must avoid it all costs. The reaction between these two can lead to death if too much of either is consumed.

During their season, which runs from around March to September, durians can be found in most markets all around the north, and especially at the Muang Mai wholesale market on the banks of the Ping River not far from the center of Chiang Mai. Several of the vendors lining the road along the river carry whatever is in season, rotating from mangoes to durian and so on throughout the year. In addition to a poor sense of smell, the other basic tools needed by durian sellers are a pair of thick leather gloves and a stick. The gloves protect the hands from the sharp spikes, while the stick is used to 'test' the durian. Believe it or not, the way to tell a 'good' durian from a 'bad' one is not by smell, but by how it sounds. 'Good' durians will make a hollow sound when whacked with a stick. No self respecting Thai would buy a durian without hearing how it sounds first.

Once they've found the right fruit, the vendor will weigh it to set the price. The most valuable golden pillow variety sells for around 50 U.S. cents a kilogram. While that may sound inexpensive, the whole fruit is quite heavy and may weigh more than five kilograms, yet yield less than a kilogram of edible product. After the purchase, there's just one more challenge: how to carry a fruit that will easily shred the thin plastic bags used to pack most other fruits in the market? In most cases, the vendor will cut open the fruits and remove the seed seed pods for the customer, who is happy to leave the spiny husk behind. Some vendors will even sell the individual pods for customers who don't want or can't afford a whole fruit.

Weight Information
1 cup, chopped or diced 243.0 g
1 fruit 602.0 g
Nutritional Information for 1 cup, chopped or diced
Energy 357.21
Protein 3.5721 20.000 18%
Total lipid (fat) 12.9519 65.000 20%
Carbohydrate, by difference 65.8287 300.000 22%
Fiber, total dietary 9.234 25.000 37%
Calcium, Ca 14.58 1000.000 1%
Iron, Fe 1.0449 18.000 6%
Magnesium, Mg 72.9 400.000 18%
Phosphorus, P 94.77 1000.000 9%
Potassium, K 1059.48 3500.000 30%
Sodium, Na 4.86 2400.000 0%
Zinc, Zn 0.6804 15.000 5%
Copper, Cu 0.50301 2.000 25%
Manganese, Mn 0.78975 2.000 39%
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 47.871 60.000 80%
Thiamin 0.90882 1.500 61%
Riboflavin 0.486 1.700 29%
Niacin 2.60982 20.000 13%
Pantothenic acid 0.5589 10.000 6%
Vitamin B-6 0.76788 2.000 38%
Folate, total 87.48 400.000 22%
Folate, food 87.48 400.000 22%
Carotene, beta 55.89
Carotene, alpha 14.58
Vitamin A, IU 106.92 5000.000 2%