Durian is always a great conversation starter, especially when it sometimes kills people. Behold these newspaper headlines from 1930’s to present, which I have collected out of some kind of morbid fascination:
These are not the traumatic deaths from durian falling on people, although that happens too (be comforted: it’s not common).
These are deaths of gluttony, when someone (usually a man) dies after eating either an unusually large amount of durian or combining durian with a carbonated or alcoholic beverage.
There are more recent examples, like the 2012 death of a businessman who ate 4 durians in a row, or the 2009 death of a Thai government worker who ate 5 durians, but webpage headlines don’t have the collage aesthetics of the old news prints.
These stories insert a certain risque appeal to eating durian. As if durian wasn’t exciting enough, just a pinch of death makes the taste even sweeter. Take a walk on the wild side, eat some durian.
Until you get old and death is already too close, at which point a lot of people stop eating durian out of fear.
It also opens the doors to a lot of questions. Why? What’s going with durian?
So many theories. But it most likely has something to do with this:
Nobody has yet tested the actual physiological effects of eating durian, but locals have a word for it: “heaty.”
It might not be an acceptable Scrabble play, since it’s technically not a real English word, but it is a term frequently tossed around durian stalls and eateries.
An imaginary Merriam Webster entry would look like this:
Heatiness is a concept from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s present in Ayurveda as well, and it’s basically the yin-yang philosophy manifested in food.
Some foods, like vegetables, are cooling. Others, like coffee, alcohol, cake, pleasure, and durian are heating. To stay healthy, we need a healthy balance of both. The ratio of that balance is up for debate, but it seems to be different for different people.
Some people report a lot of different symptoms.
Some symptoms can manifest within 10-15 minutes of eating, like pounding heart, sweating, and feelings of heat.
Others, like sore throat, can take days of repeat abuse at the durian stalls.
There’s no actual scientific evidence that heatiness is a physiological thing. Some people think the whole concept of heaty foods is a bit antiquated, like bleeding people with leeches.
But when somebody kicks it after a particularly hearty durian feed, even doctors start pointing fingers at heatiness and trying to guess the mechanism of departure.
Most of them think it has something to do with this:
Durian Raises Temperature and Blood Pressure?
There are several doctors who have suggested that the “heaty” symptoms are actually caused by a temporary rise in blood pressure and body temperature caused by eating durian.
It’s well known that drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure just for the evening. For example, a glass of wine raises systolic blood pressure around 2 points for up to 10 hours. It’s not a big change, but to quote WebMD:
“While this doesn’t sound like much, even a few points can make a difference in people who have borderline or high blood pressure.”
When a 60-year-old business man perished after eating 5 durians in a row, Dr. Hu gave this statement about blood pressure to The Star:
Or when asked to reflect on whether durian was healthy, Dr. Wong, who speculated that durian might cause a slight increase in body temperature.
It’s logical. Things that raise your blood pressure would get more blood pumping through your veins which would make you feel hot. But what if I told you that:
Nobody Actually Knows
That sounds a bit crazy, right? With people dying and doctors giving public statements and the population of multiple countries believing that durian causes heatiness, no one has ever tested whether or not durian has any effect at all on either blood pressure or temperature.
As far as I know, no one has ever brought a thermometer with them to a durian stall to see if anything happens. Not local researchers, or durian nerds, or hypochondriacs, not even me, and I’m weird enough to do that.
Which is why I’m doing it now. It’s time to take sciencey things into our own hands and do a grassroots study.
So come eat durian with me on August 14
As a blogger who openly encourages and even celebrates wanton, indulgent durian gluttony, I feel a teeny tad bit responsible to get to the bottom of this heatiness epidemic and find out what’s really going on.
After all, if someone with a heart condition dies after I tell them where to pig out on durian, I’ll feel kind of bad about it.
You can help me.
THE WHERE Ministry of Durian in Singapore (or in your own home. See details)
THE WHEN 3:00-5:00PM August 14, 2016 SGP
THE GOAL Eat a crap load of durian (some people drink beer too). See if anybody’s body temperature or blood pressure changes.
Find out how this is going to go down and how you can get involved here or just click the poster. Or just leave me a comment telling me this is ridiculous (it’s okay, I know). Or leave me a comment to tell me you’ll be there!
I’m also *considering* running a livestream during the event. If this is something that would interest you, be sure to tell me so in the comment box below.
One night 25yrs ago in Bandung, 4 college students had a chicken barbeque with fresh ganja leaves (from almost a whole tree) as a “lalab” (Sundanese: vegetable/salad)
An hour later a friend came fr Padang, Sumatra with a vacuum container full of of (opened) durian.
That night, until the next morning, was our weirdest drunk ever. Like the movie Hangover, but still remember everything.
What was the conclusion?
[email protected] says
Hang tight — that post is coming soon 🙂 🙂
This is so cool! I’ve always wanted to see scientific studies either supporting or discrediting Asian food science. I grew up in a household that believed in the “heatyness” and “chilliness” that you speak of, although I never knew those were the English terms for it! I wish I could participate and eat some durian for science, but recently I’ve been getting splitting headaches after I eat one. Props to you for this splendid idea! I look forward to the results!
[email protected] says
Thank you for your enthusiasm and support! I very much appreciate it, as I do get quite a lot of skeptic looks when I tell people about this little project. We’d love for you to come and hang out with us, even if you don’t eat durian! We need the “control group” too 🙂
Graham Macmillan says
Hi Lindsay, I was just thinking about you when your email came through. I have just finnished off a Durian Flavoured Ice Cream, here in Phuket. Had some Durians two days ago from Chumporn, not as tasty as last years ones. Somehow the durians this year on Phuket have a sharper taste. Last year they were more creamy.
Happy eating on the 14th. Lucky lass. Cheers, Graham.