The durian, as the king of fruits, is both loved and reviled. The famous (or infamous) fruit is unparalleled in both taste and smell. As Singaporeans say, it “tastes like heaven and smells like hell”.

What does durian smell like?

The smell of durian has been described as similar to burning rubbish, old gym socks, and stale cat poop. The smell from an unopened durian isn’t so bad, but once you cut into it…


It punches you in the nose. The smell is piercing and it really travels. It also lingers. Eating durian indoors? The smell will be hanging in the air for a good few hours, and likely for the rest of the day. Your clothes and hair will take on the odour as well. In fact, durians are so pungent that they’re banned from public places and public transport.


A lot of foreigners (as well as some people who say that they hate durian) can’t get past the smell and so they’ve never actually tasted the fruit.

What does durian taste like?

But durian tastes nothing like it smells. Because the taste of durian… is heavenly. Admittedly, the flavour is indeed very strong and could take some getting used to. How strong is the taste of durian exactly? Strong enough to completely overpower the smell. It’s bittersweet, rich, and creamy. Its flavour has been compared to custard, butterscotch, and bitter treacle.

Some people also describe it as cheesy or garlicky. The texture of durian is smooth, silky, and melts in your mouth like toasted marshmallow. This flavour is why the pungent king of fruits has so many subjects who’ll pledge their everlasting love and loyalty.


Didn’t like the first durian you tried, but still willing to give it another go? Maybe try a different cultivar. Here are a few popular ones, and how to identify them.

1. Mao Shan Wang

Flavour: Predominantly sweet with a slight bitterness
Aroma: Mild, with notes of honey

The most popular cultivar of durian, a Mao Shan Wang is seldom perfectly round. It has a small flat patch on its base, from which its seams radiate in a star-shaped pattern. Its thorns are broad and pyramid shaped. The area around the stem is quite bare and thorn-free.

Mao Shan Wang durians with greyish thorns tend to be more bitter, whereas durians with greener thorns are usually more sweet. Mao Shan Wang flesh has a rich, royal yellow hue and should come off the waxy seed with ease.

2. D24

Flavour: Bittersweet and very creamy
Aroma: Rich

The D24 is another superstar in the durian scene. Before Mao Shan Wang took over the market in the 2000s, the D24 reigned supreme. Its flesh is a light yellow colour, and is smooth and very soft. It smells very pungent, and is in equal parts bitter and sweet. For the uninitiated, the D24 is a good representation of durians in general.

3. D101

Flavour: Sweet and creamy with a slight bitterness
Aroma: Pungent

Even for those who are on the fence about durians, the D101 is very easy on the palate. It’s sweet and creamy, like custard. Its flesh is a warm yellow colour. Its husk is often a deep green, and its thorns are very sharp.

4. Red Prawn

Flavour: Sweet, not much bitterness
Aroma: Very pungent

Red Prawn, also known as Hong Xia in Mandarin and Ang Hei in Hokkien, was named for its reddish-orange pulp. It may not be as fleshy as other types of durian, but it’s still one of the more popular cultivars. That’s because it tastes tantalisingly sweet, with only a slight hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. The Red Prawn is perfect for durian fans with a sweet tooth.

5. XO

Flavour: Bitter
Aroma: Good XO durians are pungent.

An XO durian is usually smaller in size, with pale yellow flesh that may seem overripe – wet and soft. Since its flesh is so mushy, potential buyers should NOT shake an XO durian before purchasing it. The XO has an extremely bitter taste that’s not for everyone. It also tastes somewhat alcoholic, hence the name “XO”.

Though the XO durian has a sizeable cult following, it’s definitely not recommended for those who are trying durian for the first time.

Ready to delve deeper into the world of durian? Check out these other articles.

Other articles in the Durian Diaries:

5 Best Places to Eat Durian
How to Choose Durian

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