The 5 Basic Tastes Of Durian Fruit
If you have never had durian and looked for descriptions of how it might taste like, you would be left disappointed.
Even if you seek for other food items that might just taste a little like durian fruit, you’d find that none would give you an idea.
There is simply nothing on earth that taste quite like durians… with the exception of maybe durian cakes… but that is cheating.
While one would only truly discover the heavenly taste of durians by eating it, there are some basic tastes that can be embodied by almost all types of durians.
At this point, let’s make a distinction between the word taste and flavour.
These two terms are often used interchangeably when connoisseurs attempt to describe durians. Even though most readers would intuitively understand what writers are talking about, it’s better to differentiate the two as we talk about the basic tastes of durians.
Today most food experts would classify the 5 basic tastes as sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness and umami.
A flavour is like vanilla, peach, chocolate, chicken, caramel, milk, etc. And yes durian is a flavour. That’s why we have things like durian puffs, ice-cream, pie and cake among many more.
It is actually the taste of the flavour of durians that is so challenging to put into words.
In the world of durians, it is generally agreed that there are 5 basic tastes to durians. And it is a mix of both tastes and flavours.
Yup. Leave it to the king of fruits to decide it’s own rules in defining what the word taste means.
This is the most basic and fundamental taste of durians.
Almost all durians have a strong noticeable sweetness in them.
In fact, most durians will have sweetness as the dominating taste that engulfs a person’s mouth when he or she bites into the aril.
Unless it is a special cultivar that packs a powerful punch of bitterness from the start like capri, almost all durians can come with a little bitterness when they come from old trees. Even the sweet ones.
A lot of durian hunters chase after durians that are bitter.
The thing is that when a durian starts to contain a little of that bitterness, it usually implies that the fruit had dropped off from an older tree. This in turn would mean that the flesh is creamier with it’s flavour more compact and concentrated.
This is a reason why bitter durians can taste much better to a lot of people.
With that said, how bitter (if at all) a durian is depends heavily on the quality of the harvest which is in turn affected by the climate.
But do note that those who pursue bitter durian do not do it because they like their durians to taste as bitter as bittergourd.
It is implied that the durian would have sweetness as well. And it is the fusion of the sweetness and bitterness on top of the durian flavour that makes cultivars like musang king and black thorn so deliciously tempting.
And then there are those that taste marvelously sweet and leave a bitter aftertaste. This is because our taste buds that identify these tastes are situated on different areas of our tongue. So it’s only natural that we only get to the bitter a little later when the level of bitter of certain durians are not that high.
In many cases, it is this bitter aftertaste that is like the cherry on top.
Sweetness and bitterness is by the far the most common tastes that are found in almost all types of commercial durians.
Remember that young trees have a dominating sweet taste. As they become teenagers, they can start to exhibit bitterness.
And when they get into adulthood, an alcoholic taste can start to become a distinctive flavour in certain durians.
This is when durians like D24 become XO, and mao shan wang become wang zhong wang.
Some compare this alcoholic taste to that of wine, cognac and whisky.
Of the few scientific studies conducted to break down the contents in durian fruit, it is found that some can contain traces of alcohol. Mainly in the form of ethanol and retinol.
There has also been reports of people failing breathalyser tests after consuming durians.
A floral aroma can accompany the taste of certain types of durians.
This can sometimes stun the senses of the consumer and lead to uncontrollable delirium.
The floral aroma is somewhat like what you get when drinking tea such as chrysanthemum or osmanthus.
Combined with the sweetness and stickiness of the flesh texture, it becomes a seductive blend like a love potion that pulls you into a world of lust and desire.
When I first heard about durian farmers describing the taste of numbness in their durians, I thought that they were referring to a certain flavour that they couldn’t find other terms to describe.
Only when I had a numb durian did I realise and acknowledge that the subtle numbness described by them literally meant your tongue going numb.
It’s like having mala xiang guo which is a popular dish in parts of South East Asia. Except that the spiciness gets replaced by the durianess.
Numbness is a trait that depends on how fresh a durian is from falling off the tree.
The magic numb window is about 2 hours after the drop.
The implication of this is that one would have to go to the source to sample the taste of numbness.
Durian logistics can sometimes get fresh fruits into a retail stall within 2 hours. But that would have to be a store very close to the farm.
It is almost unheard of for durian fruits in Singapore to have numbness. Even the closest durian farms in Johor would take hours to send their harvest to the country.
So you would have to take a trip to a durian farm for this one.
It can be generally said that all types of durio zibethinus can incorporate the tastes of sweet, bitter and alcohol. Some would have a floral flavour. And numbness heavily depends on luck.
The different tastes of different durians comes down to the different intensity of the 5 tastes packed into it’s pulps.
But by just talking about the taste, don’t forget that there are other elements at play which affects the durian eating experience such as the texture of creaminess and stickiness, the amount of flesh versus the size of the seed, the strength of the aroma, the concentration of flavour, etc.
Finally, you might want to know that durians can also taste sour as well. But instead of it being a special species, that just means that it has started to rot already.