Everything about Durio dulcis is just a little bit magical. The tree is one of the more rare durians, residing deep in the jungles of Borneo. When in season, the red orbs dot the leafy forest floor like fallen Christmas ornaments, that sensational red leaping out of the green foliage like a natural stop light. It’s the strongest smelling durian, and its odor is said to waft as much as a kilometer through the jungle.
It’s also Rob’s favorite durian.
Durio dulcis has a bright red exterior with long, extremely sharp thorns that are sometimes yellow or black on the tips. It is extremely difficult to open because it lacks the weakened seams running stem to tip that every other durian opens along. Getting into a Durio dulcis requires a machete. Generally, the fruit is simply whacked in half and the gooey flesh is scraped out with the fingers.
I used to make fun of cutting durians in half like this. Now I see there’s a time and place for everything.
In the case of Durio dulcis, the old adage, “Smells like hell but tastes like heaven” is exaggerated. The smell of Durio dulcis is absolutely overpowering. Although Durio graveolens literally means the “smelly durian,” the odor of Durio dulcis has by far the strongest aroma, an intoxicating vapor of industrial glue, menthol, and sugar.
Various botanists seemed to have had a love-hate relationship with the fruit. Writes durian explorer Wertit Soegeng-Reksodihardjo, “A
fruiting tree may be smelled for miles around, and a ripe fruit kept in a room is unbearably nauseating, even for the durian lover. Yet the pulp is most tasty and sweet.”
Regardless of opinions of smell, everyone agrees that in flavor Durio dulcis is unparalleled. The flesh is soft, almost soupy yellow draped loosely on large, nearly black seeds. It is the sweetest of the durians, like powdered sugar whipped into yogurt with a minty aftertaste. Anyone who likes mint chocolate will love this durian.
It grows wild throughout Borneo, but is not generally cultivated. Rob and I found it twice; at the Agricultural Park in Tenom, Sabah, and near a longhouse in the Upper Kapuas region of West Kalimantan.
Durio dulcis is known by a variety of names.
Here are some that we found: Durian Lai, Durian Tahi (Poop durian, may be a joke), Lahong, and Durian Merah (Red Durian. This can be also refer to the red-fleshed durio graveolens). Durian Api, Fire Durian.
Others have mentioned: durian bala (Kenya), Pesasang (tidung), durian isang (fish gill) and Durian Hutan (jungle durian).
Durio dulcis literally means the “sweet durian” in Latin. It was named by the great botanist Odoardo Beccari during his three year exploration of Borneo between 1865-1868. He first found this durian during a stay on Mattang Mountain, near Kuching Sarawak. It was that odor that drew him to the right spot. He says, “attracted by the sweet and delicious scent exhaled by some fallen fruits, I discovered one of the most exquisite wild durians of Borneo, Durio dulcis.”
Growing Durian Dulcis
Despite its excellent flavor and the unabashed enjoyment by durian lovers, Durio dulcis is only occasionally cultivated. It is not considered of economical interest and hasn’t been the subject of much research. The tree is large, at least 40 meters tall, and the flowers are a lovely shade of pink. Like most other durians, it is naturally found in mixed lowland dipterocarp forests in both swampy areas and ridges up to 800 meters altitude. It is a robust tree and it has been suggested to use it as rootstock in commercial durian farming.
- Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo by Odoardo Beccari, page 110
- World Agro Forestry Center
- The Species of Durio with Edible Fruits by Wertit Soegeng-Reksodihardjo
- Durio Malaysia by Salma Idris
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