Death by Durian Fruit? | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
Current Issue
September 2014  magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Death by Durian Fruit?

Anyone who has ever smelled a durian fruit can tell you that it smells mighty strong. Although Wikipedia claims that this southeast Asian fruit's aroma can evoke "deep appreciation," an online search turns up a host of less favorable descriptions for durian's smell: "almost overwhelmingly foul," "r...

smithsonian.com
Anyone who has ever smelled a durian fruit can tell you that it smells mighty strong. Although Wikipedia claims that this southeast Asian fruit's aroma can evoke "deep appreciation," an online search turns up a host of less favorable descriptions for durian's smell: "almost overwhelmingly foul," "rotting fish," "a dragon's breath," "unwashed socks," and "carrion in custard," to offer just a small sampling. (Or, as a recent comment on a 1999 Smithsonian story about durians puts it, "Durian is like red onion that has been left in the cellar for years and then marinated in acetone." Wow, that's specific!)

Durian fruits, courtesy Flickr user wenzday01

Apparently the fruit's sweet, creamy center is a treasure worth pursuing if you can bear the stink and get past the spiky husk. I don't know; I've never had a chance to try it (and I'm guessing that, like breadfruit, fresh durian may be hard to come by in DC). But now I know not to try it while drinking!

According to New Scientist, scientists at Japan's University of Tsukuba recently discovered that durian makes it much more difficult for the human body to break down alcohol. In a test tube, they combined fresh durian extract with aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), the enzyme that functions as the liver's main weapon against the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism. The durian—probably because of its high sulfur content—nearly knocked out the ALDH enzyme, inhibiting it by up to 70 percent. (Or maybe the enzyme just couldn't stand the smell, either.)

This could explain the occasional news story about deaths related to durian consumption, although it doesn't quite support the urban legend that combining durian with liquor will make your stomach explode.
Tags
About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus