Jackfruit is NOT a Durian


Jackfruit is a gigantic, green-gold lopsided monstrosity that looks more like an alien cocoon than a fruit. It's weird, it's stinky, it's totally exotic.

It's not anything like durian. Not the teensiest bit.

If you can't tell, I'm joking. It's pretty common for people unfamiliar with Asian fruit to confuse durian with jackfruit. But for some reason, I never hear the confusion the other way. On our travels, Rob and I sometimes chatted with fellow western tourists who had not yet met their first durian. When we  explained what we were doing in Asia, we inevitably received an incredulous eye brow raise and amused grin. "Oh yeah, durian," they tend to say vaguely. "It's like jackfruit right?"

At this point I have to control my desire to to yell, "How do you know what jackfruit is but not durian? And no, jackfruit is not anything like durian. At all!"

cempejak, a jackfruit relative

As innocent of a mistake it is, it irritates me. Because why is jackfruit more well-known? How? Why? When? This is the kind of durian-centric conundrum that keeps me up at night. How is that Westerners who have never heard of rambutan, mangosteen, langsat, or duku know the word "jackfruit" but draw a blank at durian? It's the fruit with the worst reputation. The stinkiest, spikiest, weirdest fruit of them all, the one that even Andrew Zimmern couldn't stomach. Surely such a fruit is of more interest than jackfruit?

This post is dedicated to clearing up whatever confusion exists between jackfruit and durian and proving, once and for all, that jackfruit is not anything like durian.

Mix-up #1: Durian and Jackfruit are related.
Nope, not even close.  When Linnaeus was classifying the fruits, he put durian in the mallow family (Malvacae), and jackfruit in the fig and mulberry family (Morocae). It's just a fun coincidence that the family names sound similar and rhyme. Durian and jackfruit aren't even in the same order, one more step up the taxonomic tree. There is currently some disagreement in the scientific community about whether a separate family should be formed for durian and its relatives, but that doesn't change durian and jackfruit's status as first cousins three times removed. So I suppose they are related, but only because they're both Plantae.

Fruitarian kid Cappi Osborne

Mix-up #2: They're the two largest fruits in the world
Once again, nope. With the exception of watermelon, jackfruit and durian are both far larger than any fruit found in more temperate zones.  Jackfruit especially is renown as the heavy weight champion of the tropics, with the very largest fruits reaching nearly 50 kg (110 lb!).

Jackfruit is exceptionally large, but durian is actually not of notable size for tropical fruits. It's hard to imagine an apple as big as a soccer ball, but that's fairly normal size for tropical fruits like papaya, pomelo, soursop, marang, or coconuts. An average durian weighs only around 2.5 kg (5 lbish).  The largest durian I've ever heard of was discovered by my friend Robert Lockhart, who found a 14kg (30 lb) durian in the Philippines.

That's an enormous durian, and not one that you'd want to be standing under when it dropped. But the average jackfruit is still far, far larger than the very largest durian. And if we're comparing fruits, watermelons beat any tropical fruit, including jackfruit, by a good 50 kg (100 lb). The largest watermelon weighed in at 122 kg (268.5 lb)! Good thing watermelons don't grow on trees!

Mix-up #3: They're both kinda spiky on the outside
Jackfruit is covered in a dense network of raised bumps. These can make it difficult to hold if the jackfruit is really heavy and will definitely leave a red pattern on hands and forearms. But these are bumps, not thorns. If someone were to hold a durian that heavy, they would end up with a million bloody skin perforations, not to mention a red pattern. The name durian actually derives from the Malaysian word for thorn. No thorns, no durian. Capisce?

Fruity No Fly list in Kuching Airport

Mix-up #4: They both have a strong odor and are banned on airplanes
People already familiar with durian's reputation may be surprised, but it's true. Jackfruit is also banned in airports and in the plane cabin, although it doesn't have durian's prohibited status as cargo.

Jackfruit emits a strong, bubble-gum odor that has been likened to a combination of rotten-onions, bananas, and pineapple. That's a big step up from durian's sweaty socks sitting in sewer water near a fishery. The taste of jackfruit is also typically more readily acceptable to western palates. It's unclear if this is because of the flavor inherent to jackfruit, or because it resembles flavors already familiar to westerners like bananas and pineapples. Internet hearsay suggests that Wrigley's juicy fruit gum may have been inspired by the jackfruit. Now why is there no durian gum? (oh wait, there is)


Mix-up #5: They're both a confusing mess on the inside
To the uninitiated, jackfruit and durian may seem impregnable. The thick skins, the bumps (or spines), and the jumble of soft, odiferous flesh is at first overwhelming.

Acutally, only jackfruit is bubblegum scented chaos. Jackfruit lacks those wonderful weakened seams I go on and on about in How to Open a Durian, meaning that there is no obvious way to cut it open. The edible portion is intermixed with slimy stringy fibers, so that hunting for a piece of fruit is like goldmining in a sea of spaghetti. To make matters worse, the skin and core emit a thick, sticky white latex that quickly coast lips and fingers and drapes like spiderwebs across the hairs on the back of the hands.

Durian has a very sensible organization (thank-you nature! I love tidiness). Once you get a sense for locating those weakened seams in the shell, opening a durian is actually very easy. Each fruit has five hollowed cavities which encase a row of fruit pods. The seam conveniently runs right down the middle of each cavity, making making fruit access relatively easy. There is no spaghetti or inedible fibers. And in contrast to Jackfruit, Durian has no latex. Plus one, durian.

Mix-up #6: They both have large "pods" of flesh surrounding seeds
Yes, the anatomical structure of the edible portion is similar. Both durian and jackfruit have in common arils, large seeds, a seed coat, funiculuses (funiculi?), and probably lots of other botanical terminology. Anyone who has ever tasted jackfruit and durian knows that neither the texture nor the taste of jackfruit is in any way similar to durian.

The edible flesh of Jackfruit is typically a bit rubbery, very pliable and chewy, and sometimes stringy, like juicy plastic. As mentioned above, the flavor is sometimes described as a combination of bananas and pineapple or Wrigley's yellow gum. The edible portion of durian is thick and creamy, a pudding encased in a thin waxy skin. The flavor is indescribable and has confounded authors, travelers, connoisseurs, and chefs - a sweet almondine onion-sherry chocolate mousse with hints of garlic and farts. Delightful! And completely incomparable to jackfruit.


Mix-up #7: They're both jungle trees
I'm only adding this in here because I have witnessed, with my own eyes, someone point to a jackfruit tree with jackfruit on it and proudly proclaim it a durian tree. This just makes me sad.

True, durian and jackfruit do both grow in humid tropical environments and they do have similar leaves: shiny, dark green, oblong and kinda pointy.  BUT: durian trees grow on average more than twice as tall as the average jackfruit tree, putting durian trees in an entirely different rainforest strata (they're emergents, jackfruits are canopy).

The position of the fruits in the tree should also give away at the slightest glance which tree is which. Jackfruits tend to cluster on the trunk or very nearby. Durian, except for one species, spread themselves indiscriminately along the branches and very rarely appear on the trunk. So even the trees don't have much in common.


Finally: Well, at least they both come from Southeast Asia
Nope. This came as a surprise to me too. I believed jackfruit to have originated in the same place as durian: Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia. But jackfruit originates in Southern India, in the mountains called the Western Ghats. India is technically not Southeast Asia.

Jackfruit's place of origin may be the secret behind why it's more well-known in the West than durian. India and the West have had significant interaction for thousands of years. It's estimated that by 3,000 BCE India had established trade with Mesopotamia. Fun fact: even before 1,000 BCE there was an established Jewish colony in Kerala (a major jackfruit growing region) that traded regularly with the Middle East. This means that western cultures have been in contact with jackfruit for over 5,000 years! The English word "jackfruit" even derives from the Tamil word chakka, despite jackfruit being widespread throughout Southeast Asia.

In contrast, the first mention of durian in Western records is from Niccoli da Conti's voyage to Malaysia in 1421. Could it be that jackfruit seems more familiar to Western people because it is? It's a long shot speculation, but it's fun to guess.


Can we all agree now that they're not at all similar? Not the teensiest bit?
Post your jackfruit/durian rant below.

15 comments:

  1. Fun stuff. I especially liked the size showdown so I looked up some numbers. While a 268 pound watermelon is impressive, it seems the king of the hill is pumpkin. Just last year a record setting pumpkin weighed in at... drum roll... 2009 pounds!

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  2. mix-up #2.. you forgot to mention the pumpkin.. the largest pumpkin outweighs the largest watermelon by far!! http://www.pumpkinnook.com/giants/giantpumpkins.htm

    great post!

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    1. lol, I guess I didn't think of pumpkins as a fruit! Jeez, a 2 ton fruit is insane! That could feed an entire village. Or make enough juice to flood it :P Had any pumpkin juice lately Mango?

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  3. oops.. sorry, didn't see robs comment until after I'd posted mine..

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  4. For me, and I'm English (although married to a Chinese) durian is simply the most wonderful food God has ever created. The smell and taste is out of this world, I crave for it like a forbidden drug! No other food creates such diametrically opposed views...you either worship it or are disgusted by it. I for one worship it!

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  5. I have never seen or tasted durian .. but I ordered some seeds online recently and hope i live long enough to see them come to fruit. Your description of the jackfruit was not very flattering. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE JACKFRUIT

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    1. I absolutely love jackfruit too! It's definitely one of my favorite fruits if it's allowed to ripen properly. But it's not durian :D

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  6. Fantastic article, thank you for writing it and clarifying in detail the differences between the two. Although I really enjoyed the writing style and humour, I sadly cannot say the same about my feelings for durian. The smell is enough to chase me away from any space where it is sitting. I've been living in China for a couple of years now, and had first thought that some local supermarkets smelled like rotting meat. But later realized that it was your friend, the durian (and yes, not jackfruit).

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    1. Dear Lance,
      I suggest your reserve your judgment of durian until you have tasted (and smelled) a fresh one. The difference between the odor of a durian that has just dropped from the tree and one that has been sitting around for days is quite remarkable.
      Thanks for reading this article! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)
      - Lindsay

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  7. I knew durian and not jackfruit. I love durian and I am a westener... it was almost grounds for divorce my all day eating durian when I went to Malaysia with my boyfriend. Nice post.

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  8. I knew durian and not jackfruit. I love durian and I am a westener... it was almost grounds for divorce my all day eating durian when I went to Malaysia with my boyfriend. Nice post.

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  9. Cool article, thanks!

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  10. Thanks for this article, ive been trying to understand the difference for years. I had durian a long time back and i loved it. I didnt know what it was and i thought it was jackfruit, i think for the reasons this article has pointed out. I finally got my hands on frozen jackfruit, thinking i was going to get a taste of that yellow custardy sweetness, instead i got something stringy and inedible. Thats what brought me here. Now i know. Now i wonder where i can get frozen durian from.

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    1. Glad this article was of help! I also prefer durian to jackfruit, although if you find one of the jackfruits that are soft inside, rather than crunchy, they can be very nice. To find frozen durian I would check an Asian grocery in your area :)

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    2. Well right after i posted that i immediately googled where to buy frozen durian, and it led me right back to this website, and your page on where to buy durian in la, where i currently happen to live, and your convenient durian hotspot map. I cant wait to check out 99 ranch. I see it all the time and had no idea it was an asian market. Thanks again for your hard work and info. Im so excited to go there this weekend.

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So, whatcha think?

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