Why does the durian fruit smell so bad?

There is no fruit quite like the durian, which has the appeal to entice even as it repulses. Of the durian, food writer Richard Sterling writes (via Smithsonian Magazine), "Its odor is best described as... turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away." 

In A Love Letter to a Smelly Fruit, The New York Times correspondent Thomas Fuller describes the contradictory nature of Southeast Asia's most controversial fruit: "I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. Yes, the fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you'll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard."

How durian gets its smell

It took a group of scientists from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry to understand how the durian can produce its overpowering, distinctive stench. Over the course of their research, they found 50 distinct compounds in durian, four of which science had not seen before. Individually, the compounds could be described as skunky, metallic, rubbery, burnt, garlic, cheese, onion, and honey, yet none of these, on their own, could match the smell that was so distinctive to durian. And while some of these compounds are also found in other foods like dried squid and leeks, it is the combination of all these odorous components that has made the durian the antisocial stinkbomb that it is. Its smell has even gotten the fruit banned from the Singapore mass transit system.

But the durian's smell isn't the only thing that makes this fruit so weird. Smithsonian Magazine also says scientists at Japan's University of Tsukuba have discovered that durian actually neutralizes an enzyme that protects drinkers from the toxins that their bodies produce as they metabolize alcohol. According to this study that was reported in the New Scientist, this discovery means that you literally cannot eat durian and drink at the same time, or you could poison yourself.