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The King of Fruit, Durian

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Davao City is known not only for its fine beaches and the endangered Philippine eagle, but also for its durian. Tagged as one of the world’s most exotic fruits, durian is now a byword not only in the Philippines but also in other countries. (READ: Davao City: Your complete weekend itinerary)

Travelers, both local and foreign, who come for a visit to Davao City usually bring with them durian delicacies – candy bars, sticks, cubes and preserves – when they go home as a pasalubong. (READ: From Davao City, make the trip to these 8 beautiful beaches)

Southern Mindanao, where Davao City is a part of, is considered durian republic.  In fact, most foreigners who come to the city are surprised to know that durian thrives well in this part of the world. (READ: 9 spectacular places to visit in Mindanao)

The place in which the durian is indigenous has not been determined with certainty.  The species is generally believed to be native to Borneo and other islands of the Malay archipelago.

Durian is common throughout Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. In the Philippines, durian grows only in Mindanao while in the rest of the country the trees are few and far between.  It is also an important crop in Vietnam and Burma (Myanmar).

The fruit is famous (or infamous) for its odor.  Most people say that durian stinks, that it has a repugnant aroma.  But to some, its fragrance can be compared to a perfume. “It smells like hell but tastes like heaven,” described one foreign scribe. 

Most airlines won't allow it on board.  Singapore, so orderly that it bans chewing gum, bans durians from its subway stations and trains. (READ MORE: Britania Islands, breathtaking paradise in Surigao del Sur)

British novelist Anthony Burgess told of “the fetid exciting reek like eating a sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.”

It seems among FIlipinos, many love durian, second to everyone's favorite, the Philippine mango. In a survey conducted by this author, many of the respondents singled out durian as their fruit for all seasons.

“Durian, of course,” replied Dr. HIlario Lapeña, a Filipino physician who now works in Canada, when asked what is his most favorite fruit.  “Nothing beats it.  I have tasted lots of exotic fruits but I still go back to my all-time favorite – durian. Friends who used to say that they hated it are now converts.” 

Another physician, who describes herself as a fruit lover, likes to eat all kinds of fruits, tropical or otherwise.  But durian is the best, according to her. “My first encounter (with durian) was not very pleasant due to its odor. But once you have tried to taste its soft creamy pulp, you’ll learn to love it.  My husband is from Laguna and it took so much prodding before he tasted it.  Today, durian is his favorite fruit.” 

In the 1912 issue of the Philippine Journal of Science, O.W. Barrett noted: “The chemical body which is responsible for the very pronounced odor is probably one of the sulfur compounds with some base perhaps related to that in butyric acid; it is not an oil nor a sugar, not a true starch but a substance new to the organic chemist.” 

Durian is also known as Durio zibethinus.  The name “durian,” however, comes from the Malay word “duri” (which means “thorn”) together with the suffix “–an.”

There are several varieties of durian grown in the Philippines. The most important ones, commercial-wise, according to the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, are Chanee, Mon Thong, Alcon Fancy, Arancillo, Atabrine, Duyaya, GD 69, Lacson Uno, Mamer, and Puyat. 

Unlike mango, durian is a seasonal fruit and generally it is eaten fresh. At the beginning of the season, a kilogram costs P60.  The price will go down when more durian fruits are delivered from the neighboring areas. 

When ripe, the aril (usually referred to as the “flesh” or “pulp" and only accounts for about 15-30% of the mass of the entire fruit) is usually eaten fresh.  The ripe pulp can also be made into jam, preserve (often packed like long sausages), candies, and other sweets.

Durian Health Benefits

1. Enhances immune system

Durian is high in vitamin C, which help in optimizing the immune system and protecting the body against infections. It eliminates free radicals and prevents cold and flu.

2. Maintains blood pressure

Durian contains potassium, an electrolyte that helps to maintain blood pressure levels by reducing the effects of sodium. Potassium also helps to ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps further lower blood pressure.

3. Improves bone health

Durian is an excellent source of copper, manganese, magnesium and calcium, all of which play an important role in developing and sustaining bone strength and durability. Also, the potassium in durian helps to ensure that the calcium is deposited in bones and thus improves bone health and prevents osteoporosis.

4. Prevents anemia

The high amount of folate, copper, and iron in durian encourage the development of red blood cells.

If you have anemia, these nutrients will help get your red blood cell count back on track and relieve the symptoms of anemia like fatigue, headache, pale skin, and shortness of breath.

5. Prevents scurvy

Scurvy is a condition caused by a lack of vitamin C. People with scurvy may experience fatigue, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and poor wound healing.

Since durian is a great source of vitamin C, it can help prevent the condition and keep you healthy. A single serving of just 100 grams of this fruit can provide a person with quarter of their daily requirement for vitamin C.

6. Boosts energy

Durian is also rich in carbohydrate, which gives a quick release of energy to keep you going strong during exercise. The high potassium content in durian can also help reduce fatigue and relieve anxiety.

7. Improves skin health

The vitamin C content in durian helps protect your skin from free radical damage, which can breakdown your collagen and encourage wrinkles and sagging.

Apart from that, the high water content in durian can keep your skin hydrated and alleviates the appearance of fine lines. It also increase your skin’s elasticity, which will keep your skin soft and supple.

8. Promotes digestion

Being a rich source of dietary fiber, durian is helpful in preventing constipation by adding bulk to stools and softening them.

The high amount of thiamine and niacin in durian also necessary for the proper functioning of the digestive system.

9. Maintains healthy thyroid levels

Durian has a good amount of copper, which is important for regulating thyroid functions. It plays a vital role in thyroid metabolism, especially in the hormone production and absorption. Therefore, eating durian would be beneficial in maintaining the function of the thyroid gland.

10. Cures insomnia

If you’ve been struggling with insomnia, eating durian may help cure your symptom and prevent it from coming back. Durians contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is used to produce serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin and melatonin are hormones that regulate mood and sleep. So, an increase in tryptophan levels can increase serotonin and melatonin production that will lead to a better mood and improve your sleep quality.

11. Treats sexual dysfunction

A number of studies have recently been conducted to evaluate the potential of durian meat as an aphrodisiac and they found that it can produce intensified sexual libido and reduces infertility in men by increasing the sperm motility.

How to Choose a Good Durian

There are three steps to pick a good and ripe durian:

  1. Shake the durian. Grasp the durian with both hands, bring it near to your ears and give it a shake. If there’s no noise, the fruit may be underripe or overripe. When a durian is underripe, its flesh would be hard and bland. On the other hand, an overripe durian would tend to have waterlogged flesh which make it feels heavy. A durian with ideal ripeness would make a crisp, clear, and slightly squishy sound when shaken.

  2. Smell the durian. If it smells raw, then the durian is probably not ripe. If the smell is very strong and sharp, it is likely overripe. It should smell somewhere in between – neither too raw nor too strong.

  3. Check the spikes of the durian. The color of the spikes or thorns could tell you the ripeness of a durian. Bright green spikes indicate an unripe durian, while dry brown spikes shows an overripe one. For the perfect ripeness, look for green spikes with brown husks.

Here’s a timely tip to people visiting Davao and who would like to eat durian.  After eating, put some water into the empty durian shell and wash your hands in it.  This technique reportedly removes the smell of the durian in your fingers.

Try anything else – detergents, deodorants or whatever, but all these will be useless-- the smell will remain just as pungent.

In the Malay Archipelago, about 150 years ago, famed Victorian naturalist and evolutionary theorist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote, “To eat durian is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.” –

Source: Henrylito D. Tacio is an award-winning journalist based in the southern part of the Philippines. He specializes on reporting science, environment, medicine, agriculture, and travel features.

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Nice work, keep it up man !

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