Beauty within the beast

You stink. But I love you.

You stink. But I love you.

Legend says gravity joined forces with the apple to give Isaac Newton a fresh take on the laws of physics.

But a durian would have knocked Newton out cold. This tree fruit, which hangs from branches in Southeast Asia and other tropical regions, can weigh as much as 15 pounds and is thickly armored with a tough, woody hide and further shielded by sharp, knobby spikes. The durian’s infamous smell, too, can turn some green—but its creamy, sweet flesh is like almost nothing else in nature. And that millions of people have fallen in love with this beast is as heartening as a fairy tale.

The durian, which includes multiple species in the genus Durio, is considered in pomological terms an “ultratropical,” meaning the trees do best almost exclusively within the tropical latitudes, with the nucleus of the fruit’s origin, diversity and distribution centered in Indonesia, and especially Borneo. Here, and throughout Southeast Asia, the fruit is revered like a deity, though due to its smell—an aroma wavering between gasoline, onions and ripe socks—the region’s air and bus lines often prohibit durians onboard. Even the durian’s devotees will acknowledge the stench, but for many people, the custardlike globules occupying each fruit’s interior are powerfully alluring—and almost addictive.

Thailand is the home and leading exporter of the Mon thong durian, a unique cultivar that can be harvested early and will ripen off the branch, a crucial trait for any durian intended to reach California. Most arrive frozen, and a few come to Sacramento, where both Seafood City and SF Supermarket often retail the so-called “king of fruits” for $1 to $2 per pound.

Jet-fresh durians are another story. Only sporadically available, a whole fruit can easily go for 50 bucks. What you get, allegedly, are brighter flavors, uncompromised texture and enhanced aromas.

Fun factoid 1: Tigers, committed carnivores otherwise, avidly eat durians where these two jungle beasts still coexist.

Fun factoid 2: Local fruit winemaker Joe Real of Woodland has made durian wine, and he has plans for retail distribution. Keep your nose to the wind.