"French-kissing your dead grandmother," "smells like shit and tastes like farts," and "gym socks," are not comparisons that you would want to associate with any fruit (or any food at all), let alone the supposed "King of Fruit."
And yet, for whatever reason, people continue to be drawn to durian, with everyone from Pizza Hut to condom companies capitalizing on a stench that is familiar to millions in Southeast Asia and has proven to be a huge draw for Western travelers seeking an extreme gustatory sensation that they can use to describe their super-"authentic" travel experiences to friends and dates when they get back home.
But a fundamental question remains, or at least, remained: Why does durian smell so bad? Well, that's what scientists are for, and thanks to a recent study undertaken by the American Chemical Society, we now know that that putrid stench is the result of two very specific things.
The paper, with the appetizing title of "Insights into the Key Compounds of Durian (Durio zibethinus L. 'Monthong') Pulp Odor by Odorant Quantitation and Aroma Simulation Experiments," breaks down the durian's signature stench into 16 distinct compounds.
The smell of the durian is a complex one, and among its most potent "odor activity values" were the compounds that "smelled of fruit, rotten onion, and roasted onion," followed by "chemicals with strong notes of cabbage and sulfur," authors wrote. Yum! Cabbage, sulfur, and rotten onions—no wonder that delicious durian smell has become so infamous and so hard to pin down.
The results of research, set to appear in an upcoming Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, also found that it was possible to elicit the perception by combining just two of those 19 compounds.
"Further experimentation found that putting just two specific compounds together—fruity ethyl (2S)-2-methylbutanoate and oniony 1-(ethylsulfanyl)ethanethiol—effectively resembled the fruit's entire set of odoriferous and fragrant compounds," authors wrote in a press release.
So while one mystery is solved, scientists now have to figure out why people want to eat smelly food in the first place.