This is one that I’ve resisted writing for a while, and with good reason. There is no middle ground on this – either you love it or hate it. And it’s not something that can be genetically imparted; parents who love it do not guarantee their offspring will too. In fact nowadays, often the children won’t go near it, let alone touch it. But very recently, the king made it’s way, via celebrity hand-delivery no less, to Hollywood!
Actress Jessica Chastain, who plays Sara the Warrior on The Huntsman: Winter’s War, brought a whole durian with her on The Jimmy Kimmel Live! show. She also brought a huge knife, a shorter serrated one, and rubber gloves. Ok, I felt the rubber gloves were over the top, but what’s Hollywood without a touch too much drama, right?
You can watch the by now widely circulated video clip on YouTube. But in short, when Chastain pulls the durian out of the bag, Jimmy Kimmel stares at it like he’s looking at a maliciously spiky weapon, and exclaims “Oh wow, what is that?” Well, he is meeting the king for the first time, afterall. Chastain tells Kimmel it’s durian, the “king of fruit in Asia”, and later she calls it the “blue cheese of fruit”.
She tells Kimmel that she fell in love with durian while in Singapore, and tried to describe the taste to him as “onions and garlic, and avocado and pineapple in a custard”. She shoves a piece of durian in Kimmel’s mouth and to his credit, he doesn’t immediately spit it back out. He actually chews on it for a few moments, and then decides that durian’s taste is “on the line between horrible and delicious” – which I think is a much better, and more accurate way, to tell it than Chastain’s.
Here’s a surprising thing: I have quite a number of caucasian friends who already like durian. And the number of caucasians I’ve met recently who like the fruit seems to be on the rise. On the other hand, the number of Singaporeans and Malaysians I know who don’t like durian seems to be on the rise too.
And here’s another surprising thing (at least it was a little surprising to me at first) – here at Sofresh, we do get orders for durian from our cruise ship clients! While we don’t supply a lot of it – only a few hundred kilogrammes to a handful of cruise ships over the cruise season – still, it’s always some strange small sense of joy and triumph for me each time durian is part of a delivery to a cruise ship.
If you’re uninitiated and looking for your first taste of durian, you have to appreciate that it’s not one universal fruit. What I mean is there are many durian breeds, with exotic names like Red Prawn, Green Bamboo, Golden Pheonix, XO (after the cognac), D13, D24, D101… and the difference in taste and texture between breeds can be quite profound. These days many helpful durian websites even categorise which breeds are recommended for “beginners”, and which for more “fine-tuned” taste buds. Of all the breeds, the perennial favourite of most durian lovers is Mao San Wang, translated “Cat Mountain King” (or Musang King as it’s called in Malaysia). Its taste is distinct, and its texture is a special dry-creaminess, there’s simply not another breed close to it. It’s also usually the most expensive. These I’ve mentioned are just a few of the durian breeds from Malaysia. There are also the variants from Thailand.
Durian is a high calorie fruit, providing a lot of energy. In Singapore and Malaysia, it’s not unthinkable – nor uncommon – to have just durian as a meal. The fruit’s soft flesh is easily digestable and contains simple sugars like fructose and sucrose. While durian is a comparatively high-fat fruit, it’s not saturated fat. Furthermore, it’s cholesterol-free and a rich source of healthy dietary fibre.
Durian is an excellent source of vitmain C (an overall super antioxidant), as well as the B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and pyridoxine. In addition, durian is a good source of essential minerals like manganese, copper, iron, magnesium and potassium. Durian also contains high amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that metabolises into serotonin and melatonin, the two neurochemicals that help induce sleep. So for those who suffer from insomnia, perhaps try having some durians after dinner, or even as dinner itself! This may be the reason too that people who eat a lot of durian sometimes feel like they’re a little “drunk” when in fact they’re feeling sleepy.
Up till now, I’ve simply loved durian for it’s smell, taste and sublime texture. All my life I’ve happily lived on the “delicious” side of Kimmel’s description of durian. But now, knowing all the nutritional benefits of durian has made the king of fruit even more wonderful for me!
And you know what? We’ve just come into durian season again in Singapore! All this writing about the king has stirred such a craving in me, I must be off now to get me some… till the next one!