Home SCIENCE What is Durian and Why Does it Smell So Terrible?

What is Durian and Why Does it Smell So Terrible?

Durian is known as the king of fruits in Southeast Asia, but it’s also banned from many public spaces due to its powerful odor. This week’s Reactions video explains the unique chemistry behind durian, and catches our co-hosts at PBS Digital Studios reacting to this stinky delicacy as they try it for the first time.

image/text credit: Reactions

Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance; others find the aroma overpowering with an unpleasant odour. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage.

image credit: Reactions

The persistence of its odour, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia.


This question has finally been answered thanks to a gas chromatography study.So, why does the durian smell so strong? Why does it smell good to some and bad to others?

The answer is because the durian is packed full of strong smelling aromatic chemicals. People who pick up on the good smells (esters) find it enjoyable, while people who pick up on the bad smells (thiols) don’t. It is all a matter of personal preference.