Durians can be eaten at various degrees of ripeness. Some people, mostly Thais, actually prefer their durians slightly under ripe, like those who prefer their bananas green. Others, notably the Indonesians, often prefer a durian so ripe it’s developed an alcoholic bite. I like neither. I chase that perfection of flavor when the sweetness and caramel-stink are at their peak and the texture is smooth as silk and sticky as cream cheese. Here are our tips and tricks to picking the perfect durian.
That Heavenly Smell
Durian is odoriferous, and all the more so when fully ripe. However, the outside of a perfectly ripe durian doesn’t have the same sharp pungency as the inside. Since the shell of the durian doesn’t contain the same volatiles as the flesh, if the durian hasn’t been broken open yet, either by force of falling or a knife, the odor should remain mostly sealed inside. This varies slightly with the thickness of the shell.
If the durian has no smell at all, chances are it’s not ripe. If it smells really strong, chances are it’s overripe. When you get your nose close to the fruit, you should experience a low level, earthy yet sulfurous smell, like
fresh cut grass and scrambled eggs. The famous, nauseating stink that
wafts up and down streets is the result of opened durians, overripe
durians and durian waste in the vendor’s trash bins. So choose a durian
that smells freshly stinky.
2. The Fall
When ripe, durians fall off the tree. That’s why durian orchards have such a bad rap – every year, several people are injured or die from falling durians (see 2012’s victims).
If the durian fell within the last day, chances are that it’s perfect.
Some people believe that allowing a durian to sit for up to 12 hours
improves the flavor (and drug-like effects), but it’s up to personal tastes.
Ask the vendor if the durian fell, and how long ago. If the person selling the durians also owns the trees, chances are they know exactly what time of day or night that particular durian fell, and from which tree. If not, they’ll also know exactly how long that particular durian has been sitting around at their stall.
Knowing if the durian fell is a good start, but immature durians sometimes get knocked down due to strong winds, rain, animals, or a natural culling process when the tree has too many fruits. In many countries, durians are purposefully cut off the tree days before it would have fallen, for transportation or ease of harvest. All durian vendors outside of Thailand know that the best durians are those that fell, and many have developed tricks to convince you the durian fell fully ripened, when really it’s been sitting under a tarp with calcium carbide. Read on.