The durian is the fruit of several tree species belonging to the genus Durio and the Malvaceae family. Widely known and revered in southeast Asia as the "king of fruits", the durian is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk.
The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.
The durian, native to Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, has been known to the Western world for about 600 years. The 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace famously described its flesh as "a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds". The flesh can be consumed at various stages of ripeness, and it is used to flavour a wide variety of savoury and sweet edibles in Southeast Asian cuisines. The seeds can also be eaten when cooked.
The unusual flavour and odour of the fruit have prompted many people to express diverse and passionate views ranging from deep appreciation to intense disgust.
Other comparisons have been made with the civet, sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray and used surgical swabs. The degree of ripeness has an effect on the flavour as well. This strong odour can be detected half a mile away by animals, thus luring them. In addition, the fruit is extremely appetising to a variety of animals, including squirrels, mouse deer, pigs, orangutan, elephants, and even carnivorous tigers. While some of these animals eat the fruit and dispose of the seed under the parent plant, others swallow the seed with the fruit and then transport it some distance before excreting, with the seed being dispersed as a result. The thorny, armoured covering of the fruit discourages smaller animals; larger animals are more likely to transport the seeds far from the parent tree.