Jackfruit and durian: two fruits that most Brits would definitely describe as exotic, if they’d heard of them at all.
Both of these fruits are worth getting to know though, even if the first thing you’ll probably hear about durian is how awful it smells! This to the extent that in many hotels, train stations, and airports in Southeast Asia you’ll see signs warning you in no uncertain terms that durian is NOT allowed!
Jackfruit, on the other hand, began a slow and unexpected crawl towards awareness in certain circles in the UK.
A few years back it started appearing on the menus of particularly trendy establishments, usually ones that placed high importance on vegetarian and vegan foods. “Vegan pulled pork!” menus would loudly proclaim, drawing interest from the crowd of veggies desperate for any convincing meat substitute.
Whether or not you think that a fruit can ever be a viable alternative for pulled pork is beside the question, however. In this post we explore the differences between jackfruit and durian, so you can become your local expert on these unusual but rewarding cuisines.
The durian is oval in shape, with a greeny-yellow hue and distinctive spikes covering its skin. Depending on the variety (of which there are hundreds!) it can grow up to 30cm long with a diameter up to 15cm.
Hack it open and you’ll find a thick rind, with soft flesh inside that varies in colour from yellow to red – again, dependent on the variety.
Jackfruits are also ovular, greeny-yellow in colour, and covered in small spikes, but as you can see they look quite different from durians:
These fruits can get ridiculously big, and they claim the accolade of biggest tree growing fruit in the world. Its maximum length is a whopping 90cm (vs. durian’s 30) and the circumference can be as much as 50cm (vs. 12 for durian).
The inside of a jackfruit is fairly unique, and is potentially a little disconcerting the first time you see it. The flesh is between white and pale pink, and has strange tendril-like clusters. Between these at random intervals are soft spheres. All of it is edible, and the texture is something like pineapple but far less juicy.
(If this description isn’t doing much for you, trust us: you have to see it to believe it).
Geographically, both fruits hail from different parts of Asia. Jackfruit is native to southern India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Malaysia; the durian, to Borneo and Sumatra.
Botanically, the two fruits sit within different families. Jackfruit is part of the family Moraceae, which also contains figs and mulberries (both perhaps a little more familiar to the average Brit). Durian belongs to the Malvaceae family, in its own genus Durio. The family Malvaceae is also home to cotton and cacao: both quite different from durian!
Here’s where things get really interesting. For the foodies amongst us, jackfruit and durian both punch way above the weight you’d expect when looking at the fruits. Let’s take a little look at each.
We’ve already mentioned jackfruit being used as a pulled pork alternative, and the contention around this substitution.
For some, any meat substitute is sacrilege. “If you want meat, eat meat” being their common refrain. For others, creative ways to simulate meat for those who don’t want to eat it is a lucrative and enjoyable pastime.
Jackfruit pulled pork quickly pulled ahead of Quorn, facon, and various other imposter products to become popular amongst vegetarians and carnivores alike.
The fruit retains a convincing texture when cooked, and thanks to a low natural sweetness it acts as a great vehicle for the medley of spices required to trick the brain into thinking meat might be involved.
Let the fruit ripen and it does become sweeter, lending itself well to cakes and other confections. Wrap a jackfruit leaf around something and it’s a great way to protect it while steam-cooking. Dry the flesh and you can make chips. Grill the seeds and you’ve got a snack something akin to a Brazil nut.
In short, this is a very versatile fruit and you’ll find it in all manner of dishes throughout Asia and, if you know where to look, beyond.
Infamous odour aside, durian is another versatile ingredient that’s popular all across Asia. Many uses for durian involve sweet foods like ice cream, milkshakes, traditional Malaysian candy, and even flavouring for cappuccino.
Ferment the flesh and you get something called tempoyak, which goes great in curries. Durian works really well with sticky rice as well: just mix a pasted form of the fruit through your rice while cooking.
The leaves, shoots, rind, and petals all find a use in certain dishes throughout Asia too, making this a fruit where nothing need be wasted.
If you hear anything negative about these two fruits, take it with a pinch of salt. Yes, durian flesh can sometimes smell similar to sewage. And yes, some people may insist that fruit is not and will never be a suitable substitute for meat.
But move beyond these sound bites and you will discover two versatile fruits that are delicious in the vast majority of instances.
Expanding your palette by trying new and exciting foods is one of the great joys of life, and both jackfruit and durian offer tons of experiences to do just this.
Whether you go for a scoop of durian ice cream, a handful of jackfruit seeds, or any of the other dishes mentioned here or otherwise, you’re in for a treat.