Forget Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers. True horror lies in the smell of the durian. Also known as the ‘stink fruit’ or ‘vomit fruit’, this juiceless, horned, peel-fleshy nightmare has been variously described as smelling like rotting onions, and over-filled diaper, or, by the late gourmand Anthony Bourdain, as being like ‘French kissing your dead grandmother’. To me, it smells like industrialized, concentrated garlic dipped in acid and vats of overripe parsnips, with echoes of mango, papaya and other flagrant tropical fruit (I remember driving through Indonesian villages in Java and the pungent aroma of the much prized delicacies, stacked up on village corners, being so overpowering you had to immediately close the window; and yet, I think I got it : part of me can definitely understand the attraction to the fruit’s \ bouquet, riven with its very sensual, hard-hitting fecundity; but only from a distance. Up close, it makes me almost heave). Though I have eaten durian desserts at a Chinese restaurant in Ginza – when tempered, messed with and toned down by a good chef, the rather acrid, masculine belch of this fruit can be rendered much more pleasing – ; by itself, at least for one not used to it, this fruit is unutterably vile.

It should obviously go without saying that your reaction to the durian will completely depend on your cultural background. There are hundreds of millions of people who adore and deeply value this addictive and expensive fruit (imported durians go in Shinjuku for $50 to $100 dollars – I have sniffed them on several occasions at the station fruit stall, where I often buy cut pineapple on a stick, and not just once; there is something that makes you go back to the durian, to keep smelling it and reconfirm. The perfume is deep, it goes down to the pit of your stomach). All across China and South East Asia the fruits are in constant demand, so whether the smell makes your mouth water, or alternatively makes you want to puke, will depend on what country you were born in and just what you were used to eating and smelling as a young child.

Cultural accustomization accounts for a great deal of what we consider delicious or repulsive. Japanese people visiting Britain, for example (infamous here as being a country with terrible food), are often shocked by the profound revoltingness of baked beans, Marmite, and especially licorice (unfathomable – one boy I met was deeply traumatized by just one piece of black bitterness, whose taste never totally left the mental vestiges of his mouth); all foodstuffs I happen to enjoy. Black pudding (sausage-like entities made of fried pig’s blood) is understandably considered beyond repellent; Bovril, warm ‘beef extract’ served in a plastic cup at a football match is still one of the lowpoints of my childhood, – god knows how people from other places would respond to its misery – while the mass appeal of fish and chips is also largely baffling to the majority of Japanese people – tasteless, huge, swimming in grease, about 10,000- calories – (you might find the odd afficionado who takes to a pile of newspaper filled with deep fat fried chopped potatoes covered in salt and vinegar) , but on the whole, the ‘national dish’ is found to be a very deep, ‘I told-you-so’ disappointment when it is finally sampled (for me, conversely, chips are heaven – I was so happy being back in the summer and being able to indulge in such a cheap delectation), but then again I grew up on them —- what could be more natural to a Brit than a bag of chips? ‘Objectively’, though, if such a thing were possible, would this rather slovenly dish stand up to to international consensus?

While overall, I definitely worship the level of food culture in Japan (it would be impossible not to), there are still plenty of things on the menu here that I cannot stomach; offal stew, for instance; the majority of meat and fish (fatty and undercooked); the absolute, body deep repugnance I feel for most varieties of seaweed, in particular, tororokonbu, strips of rubbery, algaed sea hair that make me want to die even in almost undetectable proportions – I would gorge on the durian any day of the week rather than be forced to eat a kaisendon, for example – the absolute epitome of deliciousness for many epicureans in Japan:

Taste is greatly subjective, culturally pre-decided; a lot of Japanese schoolkids, like vegetable-loathing children worldwide – truly abhor avocado, tomato, celery and green peppers, for example – all things I consume eagerly on a regular basis, but are horrified to learn that I myself can’t touch raw squid

(ugh!! :: : H O W ?!! I would run from the restaurant screaming, particularly when it is served live, in a bowl of ‘dancing squid’ but that’s just me )

….. ……………. ….. But back to the durian.

What is unique about the durian is that even in the countries where the fruit is deeply appreciated, in the hospitality industry no one pretends that it doesn’t, in fact, stink to high heaven and can be smelled a mile off, floating through walls and under doors, precisely the reason why it is banned in hotels and business spaces across Asia, on trains in Singapore; It makes little kids cry ; it is very love/hate divisive

and is cross-culturally found challenging by a very large number of people.


You might be wondering why I have seemingly decided at random to discuss, even pillorize, durians – which, in truth, don’t play a large role in my life – at Halloween, fearing I have finally, actually lost my marbles.

The reason is this:

Yesterday afternoon, after airing the house intently, and then having lit various new kinds of beautiful Japanese incense in different rooms, I cycled out to the shops in the flittering Autumn sunlight expecting to come back home and sigh an ahhh of olfactory delight.

Instead, as I re-entered the house thirty or so minutes later, I was totally bewildered by the thick miasma that was all round me and felt dismayed.

‘Is this what our house smells like when people come round even after lighting expensive high quality incense?” was one thought

that occurred to me as my mind tried to grapple with the sulphurous, asafoetida-like haze that hung in the air, like putrid mangoes that have rotted to grey dust and shatter like skeletons in a bad mummy movie.

The mystery was eventually resolved when D came down from upstairs ,where he had been hanging washing on the line, unaware of my confused, quasi-retching in the kitchen.


When we were coming back to Tokyo in August from Kuala Lumpur, we had (very foolishly) spent all of our money on souvenirs in the airport gift shops, unaware that our Japanese credit cards were no longer working and that we in fact had zero money; instead, we had bags of colourful edible keepsakes (very nice passion fruit and mandarin Earl Grey tea, and I quite liked the mango chocolates, though the filling was rather intense). The durian pralines though – mon dieu! D had taken a box of them to work, where colleagues, both Japanese and foreign, had politely tried them and then rushed urgently to the toilet to spit them out; I had then insisted he bring that box home as I just had to know. And indeed, although at first the fleshed pungency of the durian innard was mitigated slightly by the chocolate shell, once you got into the serious, hardcore fruit filling, the effect was mind-bendingly horrible, shocking; I would go so far as to say upsetting. Because once you had tried one (obviously you would never try two), the deep cavernous garlic of the durio zibethinus paste was so searing, so shuddering, for me and D at least, that it penetrated to the very centre of your being.

The instant white durian dried coffee was apparently even worse. No one had got past half a sip at his workplace, before spontaneous ejection from the lips. Knowing that we would never in a million years ever drink this (we had tried to keep an open mind in trying it at least…though I never got to), he had ripped up the packets yesterday in order to be environmentally friendly, disposing of the the durian dust first and throwing the containers away in the appropriate plastic garbage , unconscious of the effect it would have on my smell brain when I walked back into the house. Later in the evening, if the cupboard door where the olfactory biohazard was being stored was opened even an iota at any point I would start with a smell-traumatized spasm; shouting out (a physical reaction); the smell so strong that even when it was closed, it permeated and pervaded the entire house.

I am definitely not a fan.


Filed under Flowers

29 responses to “HORROR OF DURIAN

  1. Andrea

    Omg I loved your article. It made me laugh out loud in my empty kitchen, after lunch. I eat Durian, don’t crave them but I don’t mind some. Interestingly some of my born and bred South East Asian friends absolutely hate it and I know especially one close friend who lived his entire life in Yorkshire until he went to Uni, who absolutely loves it and has to eat it outside his home (wife is from Singapore). One Japanese friend grew to love it while living in Asia. (I would not drink that coffee either.) So there.

  2. gunmetal24

    I remember Durian listed as a note in one perfume release. I wish I had a chance to try it haha. It was an Areej le Dore.

    I like eating Durian with whip cream myself, it’s the only way I really enjoy it. But otherwise I am neutral to the fruit…and yes the smell is overpowering so I understand.

  3. I get sulfurous asafoetida with hints of papaya, mango, lychee, red chili powder, and cumin from durian. It is curiously sweet and savory simultaneously. I don’t crave it nor do I find it horrific. The sulfur note is the most off putting facet of the fruit to me, I think that’s what offends most people’s taste. Unfortunately, my body does not agree and subjects me to tortuous belching and flatulence whenever I have tried it. Papaya is the only other fruit I can think of that has a similar sulfur note, although much milder.
    I brought some chewy durian candies from Thailand to the the pharmacy I worked at in the 90s, they were met with revulsion (despite being far milder than the actual fruit) by my American coworkers.
    I am particularly sensitive to vibrio and scombroid poisoning by squid and its ilk so they’re all off the menu for me. Seafood ain’t my jam.

  4. This is a wonderful story for Halloween. I have to say I really hate durian. If you had a cat, let the cat smell it and you would know how awful it is.

  5. Hanamini

    Funny. I totally agree about the old durian. I tried some in Indonesia, but couldn’t stomach it. Then a month ago I decided my tastes may have changed and I should give it another go in the form of a Malaysian durian cake sold in a local market. Well, that was £15 down the drain—still inedible. As for uni 9sea urchin) and shirako (fish brains), well, they defeated me in Japan and still do here. But: I’ve inflicted a ton of salty, ammoniac licorice on family, friends and colleagues over the years, to similar reactions. I grew up on it (Sweden-born, Sweden/Denmark-raised, Finnish mother—you can’t escape it and nor would I want to) and can’t do without it. One day it will be the death of me. That much salt and ammonia can be good for no-one. Fish and chips never does anything for me; I could drink the vinegar, though.

    • We are the same! I can literally drink vinegar – see my uncouthly pouring the salad bowl into my mouth – but it makes my lips go white.

      I think licorice was a good example, actually , as it is just as polarizing. Personally, I didn’t mind it wrapped up in my dad’s chewy Licorice Allsorts when it has that anisic crunchy sugar on it, but I can definitely understand the revulsion of the hardcore bitter variety. I didn’t know it was a Scandinavian variety.

      Do you like it in perfume as well?

      • Hanamini

        I’m afraid I don’t know—not having tried many perfumes with licorice notes. I do love all things anis/fennel/licorice, but generally have a tough time with food notes in my perfumes; can’t stomach much vanilla, caramel, almond, chocolate, etc in them. Gourmand is a turn-off.

  6. Hahaha… I’d give the chocolate and coffee a go at least once! I LOVE durian at the right ripeness. To me, the stink is worst when far away (or when it’s filled a room), but the smell is not bad up close. On the other hand, I cannot stand even a tiny bit of black licorice. Tried it as a child at school and had to run out of the classroom to a water fountain to rinse my mouth out, and this was before I discovered durian if I’m remembering correctly. The only thing stopping me from buying frozen durian in the US these days like I used to from time to time is that the price has gone up astronomically.

    • I had some frozen jackfruit at a Vietnamese restaurant recently and really liked it: does the fact of frozen temper the stink a bit? The texture is definitely interesting in durian.

      • Nope, still stinky when thawed to refrigerator or room temperature. I love the multiple textures in durian, from creamy to slightly fibrous. Jackfruit seems somewhat popular in the US as a “meat substitute” for cooked things like pulled pork, although they tend to put too much seasoning into it.

      • Pork ?


        Things are overflavoured in the US generally.

  7. JulienFromDijon

    I hope I will sample some durian fruit once in my life.

    You forgot to quote blue cheese ! 🙂

    One French radio humorist, with Chinese origins, told her experience with blue cheese.
    She thinks she’s still digesting the itsy-bitsy bite, that she tried a decade ago.
    The taste is already divisive (fermented milk, hints of ammonia), but for genetic reasons, a large chunk of people in east Asia doesn’t digest well milk, as adults.


    I hated it as a child. Now, for me sometimes, “roquefort” with bread is close to heaven.
    The depth of the salty green aroma, like see and minerals, and the onctuosity of the cream and bread, is beyond world.
    It depends on the quality and on your hunger.
    On the best of time, it’s a grounding feeling that is, for me at last, the best cure when being homesick.

    Durio “zibethinus”? Civet?

    Isn’t zibethinus a reference to civet? (“Zibet” in German)
    Now the story has run full circle.

    Durian as perfume ingredient?

    I wonder if there are natural extracts from Durian fruit that can be used in the perfume art.
    It sounds to be so strong, so maybe some oil can be extracted from it.
    “thegoodscentscompany” says there is a fruit extract, but only as skin conditioner, not as perfume.
    There is a Durian from taste for food, and the terminology is quite funny :
    Flavor Type: onion
    durian savory sweet creamy chive garlic caramellic
    Then they show a list of synthetic counterparts for each facette.

    Another stinker exists in passion fruit perfumes.

    Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, on their youtube then vimeo lessons,
    had one fruity ingredient carefully wrapped 2 times, the last container being a box similar to a tupperware.
    Diluted well, it gives an appealing tinge of passion fruit to perfumes.
    Alone, and not diluted enough, if fills the rooms with the olfactory signal “the toilets are clogged”.
    I imagine it as a rotten vegetable in a trash bin effect, with a warm effect.

    People revolted by licorice is what astounds me the most.

    I love licorice. I shouldn’t eat licorice anymore. The lack of regulation around it has always been odd : eating more than a few candies can trigger a loss of sleep, higher blood pression, and lesser the blood clotting.
    (Haribo’s one are quite safe. But buy some bonbons “Stoptou” and you’re in for trouble).
    I thought this matter of taste would only be a mild annoyance.
    I wonder how this disgust plays on sales of, say, “La petite robe noire”, on the east-asian markets.


    In the same range of disgusts as licorice, I would catalog ginger.
    It’s a sincere problem when assessing perfumes as good or mediocre. The taste for Ginger grew on me.
    The problem is that I’ve spotted a few perfumelovers that are giving bad grades to perfume, without noticing that it came from their dislike of ginger in the top notes.
    Just to quote a few perfumes : “Twilly” from Hermès (works very well on skin, not on fabrics) ; “Lyrics for woman” from Amouage has some in the opening ; “Eau mohéli” from Diptyque, their ylang-ylang solinote…
    Just like the candied ginger roots, ginger can remind strongly of chewing soap, with a fuzzy weird aroma.
    Funny enough, despite this divisive aroma, “yogi tea” is a bio brand that is well loved here in France. Their use of ginger is quite everywhere despite the alleged different flavor. The provider must likely believe that ginger is both something yin and yang in ayurvedic medicine, giving balance, et being a sort of detoxify-er.

    • Wow. Ginger? !!! I live on it. It treats all my ailments and I can’t get enough of it. But I did notice that my colleague at work keeps wrinkling his nose when I make my ginger tea.

      Blue cheese: yes, this is the one I meant to mention actually. I quite like it in small doses, but probably the most FOUL – AND I MEAN TRULY STOMACH LURCHING experiences was when D’s brother kindly sent a Christmas present of port and Stilton through the post. It got lost in transit, and eventually arrived weeks later having been all over the world, and the cheese had melted all over the wine bottle. I was literally screaming in hysterics when D opened it and insisted we throw the entire package away. Give me durians ANY day over that!!!!!!!

      I respect the French cheese tradition but zut alors if anything smells like rotten toenails it makes me just throw up

    • PS I look forward to your evaluation of the durian

  8. I loved your post!!!
    I have to say, I am someone who loves the taste of durian. When we were in Hong Kong I couldn’t get enough of it.
    It is harder to find here, especially since we have groceries delivered, and I don’t go to the Asian market, but that would be where I would find them.

  9. Cody

    I tried a durian smoothie in Bangkok once out of curiosity. It tasted exactly like that revolting rotting garbage smell specific to New York City in the heat and humidity of July and August. A combination of stale urine and rotting vegetables… honestly the most toe curling vile flavor I’ve ever experienced.

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