After the latest series of mass shootings and terrorist threats, the administration of Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology couldn’t be blamed for assuming that the eye watering odor wafting through its campus on the morning of April 28th was the beginning of a chemical attack. The college’s security team immediately evacuated 500 students and teachers following a report of a gas leak or possible chemical spill. However, when the Metropolitan Fire Brigade arrived, they discovered a different kind of hazard: the world’s most stinky fruit!
The local fire department issued the following statement after completing their investigation, “After a comprehensive search, firefighters identified the smell was not chemical gas, but gas generated from rotting durian, an extremely pungent fruit which had been left rotting in a cupboard.” The smell had been circulated throughout the entire library thanks to the air conditioning system. The fruit has gained popularity as a delicacy due to the large numbers of Southeast Asian immigrants who have made Australia their home.
The Durian is native to Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and is known for its strong odor, which has been described variously as rotten onions, raw sewage, or spoiled eggs. While there are more than nine species of the tree which bear edible fruit, only the Durio zibethinus is available for sale internationally. The flavor has split the culinary world, with some praising the taste as a mix of custard and almonds, while chef Anthony Bourdain says that after eating the fruit, “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
As Southeast Asia became more affluent, trade of Durian fruit increased, and it was slowly introduced into regions with large numbers of Asian immigrants. Eventually Singapore became one of the first places to regulate Durian possession, when it was banned from subways, airplanes, and hotels as the smell can linger for days. However, contrary to popular belief, it is only one of several pungent foods that can lead to a warning or fine in the notoriously straitlaced country. Travelers should also avoid jackfruit, mangosteens, and cempedaks, or be prepared to face confiscation or fines as high as 500 SGD (approximately 375 USD). In fact, the Philippines is one of the few regions to celebrate the pleasures associated with the smelly snacks, and several statues have been erected showing happy people surrounded by Durians.
While residents of Singapore, Bangkok, and Manila would probably recognize a Durian fruit’s unique fragrance immediately, apparently Australia is a bit behind. RMIT University eventually apologized for the false alarm, and the fire department advised that they would be responsible for disposing of the discarded Durian. Despite the hours of inconvenience they experienced, it remains to be seen if any of the affected students or faculty will lobby the college’s administration for a Durian ban on campus.