The Mystery of Singapore’s Pungent Durians – Solved

Nov 25 2020

Pungent Durian Mystery


The wafting scent of durian is sure to catch your nose if you are walking by Singapore’s fruit stalls any time of the year! An odour to some and a fragrance to many, no one can deny that durians are notoriously pungent—especially to those introduced to this splendid fruit for the first time.


Descriptions of durian’s strong scent

Putting the scent of durian into words has always posed a challenge, for no two people describe it quite the same way. Alan Davidson, the author of The Oxford Companion to Food, notes that the durian’s smell has been compared to “the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese” and Richard Sterling, food journalist, claims its odour to be “best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”


What does durian smell like


Other writers have described the durian’s smell and taste like this:


  • “Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain, Chef and Host of Parts Unknown
  • “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes.” —Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th-century British Naturalist
  • “To anyone who doesn’t like durian it smells like a bunch of dead cats. But as you get to appreciate durian, the smell is not offensive at all. It’s attractive. It makes you drool like a mastiff.” —Bob Halliday, food writer based in Bangkok


Well, it sounds like durians would sound way better on paper if described by durian lovers here in Singapore. Regardless of whether you love it or not, it is undeniable that durian is one of the strongest smelling fruits we know. To uncover the mystery behind this pungent scent, a team of scientists in Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong did some research on the science behind nature’s smelly secret.


The science behind the smell

The genes of the Musang King variety of durian, also known as Mao Shan Wang (MSW), were analysed and the research revealed that the fruit also contains genes that are involved in the production of sulfur compounds – what causes the durian’s strong ‘smelly’ scent. When durians ripen, the sulfur-containing compounds produced in the durian increases – explaining why it makes sense to sniff durians for a bittersweet fragrance in order to identify a ripened durian. Mao Shan Wang durians also contain more genes that are involved in sulphur and flavour production compared to other durian varieties like D24, which is likely the reason MSW is considered the most prized and fragrant by durian lovers in Singapore


behind the smell of durian


Durian’s strong scent appeals not only to us lovers of durian—it also draws the attention of animals in the forest and plays an important role in the plant’s pollination process. A research study found that animals in the rainforest like the endangered flying fox are attracted to durian’s smell; bats pollinate the durian and elephants disperse its seeds. The durian’s powerful smell proves necessary for the reproduction of this majestic fruit and shows the amazing collaboration between plants and animals in nature.


flying fox attracted to durian’s scent


Having discovered the science behind the durian’s smell, durian enthusiasts may even potentially develop new foods with hybrid smells and tastes, like “avocado with durian smell”.


Solutions to lingering durian odour

Even if you are a big fan of the fruit’s musky fragrance, the lingering smell of durian is pesky to deal with—you don’t want your car or fridge smelling like durian after all! Singapore’s buses and trains forbid passengers from bringing durian on board and Singaporeans go to great lengths to conceal the smell in order to carry their favourite fruit home by taxi or car.


items to get rid of durian’s scent


To keep your car from smelling like durian for months, you can place bread, coffee powder, pandan leaves, and charcoal to absorb and rid of the smell. A popular alternative for Singaporeans today is to order durian online so that the durian is delivered directly to their homes. Durians are also packed in well-sealed boxes so that your fridge is less likely to stink even when you stock up durians to enjoy over a few days.


We offer you free delivery when you order three boxes or more of our freshly packed Mao Shan Wang durian at our online store. Unleash the fragrance in the comfort of your home!