The Reason Why Durians Have Such a Strong Smell & Why S’poreans Still Love It


Last Updated on 2024-03-21 , 1:04 pm

Whether you’re a Singaporean man, woman or cat, you’d most probably love this: durians.

It was only while working in Goody Feed that I realized there were apparently Singaporeans who couldn’t handle the smell of durian; a colleague, who’s a true-blue Singaporean, had nearly fainted when one of us brought durian to the office.

And that begets the question: why does durian have such a strong smell, and why are we Singaporeans and Malaysians “immune” to that strong smell?

The Smell of Durian

To many of us, durians simply smell sweet.

But to the ang mos, they find it rather hard to find an adjective to describe the smell: in fact, they’ve gone on to describe it as “turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock”.

Why’s there such a big difference? Do we have different noses or what?

Here’s why.

Smell of Durian has 50 Compounds

It’s easy to describe the smell of cheese: it’s cheesy. It’s also easy to describe the smell of a burn meat: it’s burnt.

But what if you put 50 different types of smells together?

You get a durian.

In a study done by scientists from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry, they break down the smell of durian and tried to match them with other smells.

It turns out that there is a total of 50 discrete compounds; in other words, there were 50 different strong smells that make up one durian smell.

And 4 of the compounds are…completely unknown to science.

Maybe aliens did land in Yishun after all.

Some of the smells include fruity, skunky, metallic, rubbery, burnt, roasted onion, garlic, cheese, onion and honey.


No wonder it smells like socks.

But how did durian come out with so many smells at one go?

Genome Duplication Event

Don’t let the name intimidate you because I’m going to explain in Goody Feed English.

Just two years ago, researchers decided to sequence the durian’s genome (i.e. understand more through its DNA) and found something rather…shocking.

They found that durian’s earliest ancestor is the cacao plant, which is used to make chocolate


Yeah, durian and chocolate used to be BFF.

But throughout history, durian went through lots of changes. You can say that it “evolved”, and unlike us humans that evolved from a monkey to a human (some of my colleagues have yet to evolve), durian did it a different way.

If you’ve remembered your science lessons, you’d know that fruits are used by plants to reproduce: the fruits are eaten by animals so that its seeds can be planted elsewhere.

Many fruits therefore have one unique smell to attract animals.

But our dear durian is ambitious: as it “evolves”, it creates new smells and didn’t completely remove its previous smell. Soon, it garnered so many smells that the smell has changed from chocolate to…durian.

So yes, durian has such a strong smell because throughout the years, it “evolves”…greedily.


But why we Singaporeans love it?

Smell is Subjective

As mentioned, the smell of durian isn’t “smelly”: it’s merely different.

The main reason why we Singaporeans love it is that we’re used to the smell, and the smell tells us about the sweetness of the durian meat that awaits us.

So if you put an ang mo into a room with ten durians for ten days, he most probably would love it, too.

That is, if he’s still alive after that lah.


Featured Image: japansainlook /