Durian is a highly prized fruit in Southeast Asia, and yet it might be the most well-known throughout the world for its pungent smell. It may also be one of the most controversial fruits, with devout fans and repulsed detractors.

The unusual fruit is native to Southeast Asia, and is most commonly grown in Thailand and Malaysia. While it’s not as mainstream in the United States, it’s becoming more available. Durian fruits are melon-shaped and covered in a spiked olive-green rind. Inside the fruit there are several sections of creamy, yellow flesh that cover seeds. However, the fruit is most easily identified by its smell.

The smell is so intense that durian has been banned from many public places, like Singapore’s Rapid Mass Transit. The exact culprit for the pungent smell is not yet known. More than 50 compounds in the fruit may be responsible for its uncommon scent.

Despite being described as putrid and being compared to the smell of onions, rotting flesh, and sewage, there are many who love the taste. Those brave enough to try it describe it as mildly sweet, much like an overripe banana. The flesh is rich and custard-like.

It’s also highly nutritious. The fruit has many beneficial compounds, and it has been used in traditional Asian medicine as a treatment for fever, infertility, and jaundice. Here are some of the health benefits.

1. Macronutrients

Durian contains fat, protein, carbohydrates and fiber — all things that help you feel full longer. One cup of durian has one-third of the recommend daily fiber intake and nearly 4 grams of protein. It contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. It also has omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for maintaining healthy brain function, growth, fertility, metabolism, and more.

2. Vitamins and minerals

High in vitamin C, thiamin, and vitamin B-6, Durian is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. It has more than 80 percent of your daily value of vitamin C and nearly 25 percent of your folate in a single cup. Both folate and vitamin B-6 are being studied for their potential to lower the risk of many chronic diseases. Folate has been shown to prevent certain birth defects and potentially lower risk of breast cancer.

Durian is also rich in potassium, magnesium, and copper, which are essential for healthy red blood cells and electrolyte balance. It also contains smaller amounts of zinc, iron, phosphorus, and calcium.

3. Antioxidants

Ripe durians have high levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants help fight free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress. They can also help protect against heart disease and cancer.

4. Insulin balance

The smelly fruit helps balance insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, according to a recent study. Durian increases the effect of insulin and alters its secretion. It can help with the insulin resistance that is common with diabetes, and it may even help with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is heavily influenced by insulin resistance.

Durian doesn’t rapidly raise blood sugar like many fruits. It has a lower glycemic index than papaya, watermelon, and pineapple. Although it’s not a low-glycemic food, it could be beneficial for people with diabetes.

5. Weight loss

While durian is unlikely to be labeled a “diet food,” with over 350 calories per cup, it has been shown to aid weight loss. It contains the antioxidant caffeic acid, which may support weight loss. Durian’s effect on insulin also likely plays a role in its ability to support weight loss and improve metabolic disorders.

With a high fat and fiber content, durian helps you feel full and satisfied. The fat content gives slow-burning energy and helps prevent a blood sugar spike from the carbohydrates. This means it’s safe for people with diabetes to eat in moderation.

However, more human studies need to be done to better understand durian’s weight loss and anti-diabetic potential.

6. Lowers cholesterol

In addition to helping control insulin levels and aiding in weight loss, durian may help lower cholesterol. While it has only been shown to improve cholesterol levels in rats to date, researchers believe that durian may also help people with high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Its antioxidant and fat concentrations likely help to lower cholesterol.


For many years it was an urban legend that drinking alcohol while eating durian was a deadly mixture. A recent study confirmed that alcohol and durian should not be consumed together. Durian interrupts how the body processes alcohol. It causes the liver to struggle to break down the alcohol and increases the levels of toxic byproducts from alcohol metabolism. The combination can be lethal. Until there are full-scale human studies, it’s best to avoid mixing the two.

The takeaway

If you can get past the intense aroma, durian fruit can be beneficial. It can help decrease cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and oxidative stress while supporting weight loss and healthy insulin responses.

Look for ripe varieties for the best flavor and benefits. You can also find durian frozen, which may help you avoid the unwanted aroma. Just be sure to eat it well before your Mai Tai or Cambodian beer.