The King of Fruits – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

A One fact is certain: you’ll smell it before you see it. The scent (or should that be odour?) is overpowering (or should that be nauseating?). One inhales it with delight, or shrinks back in disgust. Is it sweet almonds with vanilla custard and a splash of whiskey? Or old socks garnished with rotten onion and a sprinkling of turpentine? Whatever the description, it wafts from what must be considered the most singular fruit on the planet—the durian, a Southeast Asian favourite, commonly called the ‘king of fruits’.

B Its title is, in many ways, deserved. As fruits go, it is huge and imposing. As big as a basketball, up to three kilograms heavy, and most noticeably, covered with a thick and tough thorn-covered husk, it demands a royal respect. The thorns are so sharp that even holding the massive object is difficult. In supermarkets, they are usually put into mesh bags to ease handling, while extracting the flesh itself requires the wearing of thick protective gloves, a delicate and dextrous use of a large knife, and visible effort. One can see why it is increasingly popular, in western markets, to have that flesh removed, wrapped up, and purchased directly.

C This leads one to wonder why nature designed such a smelly fruit in such an inconvenient package. Nature is, however, cleverer than one might think. For a start, that pungent odour allows easier detection by animals in the thick tropical forests of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, where the wild durian originates. When the pod falls, and the husk begins to crack open, wild deer, pigs, orangutans, and elephants, are easily drawn forth, navigating from hundreds of meters away directly to the tree. The second clever fact is that, since the inner seeds are rather large, the durian tree needs correspondingly larger animals to eat, ingest, and transport these seeds away, hence the use of that tough spiny cover. Only the largest and strongest animals can get past that.

D And what are they seeking? Upon prising open the large pod, one is presented with white fibrous pith in which are nestled pockets of soft yellowish flesh, divided into lobes. Each lobe holds a large brown seed within. Although these seeds themselves can be cooked and eaten, it is the surrounding flesh over which all the fuss is made. One of the best descriptions comes from the British naturalist, Alfred Wallace. Writen in 1856, his experience is typical of many, and certainly of mine. At first, he struggled hard to overcome the ‘disagreeable aroma’, but upon ‘eating it out of doors’ found the flesh to have a ‘rich glutinous smoothness, neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect’. He ‘at once became a confirmed durian eater’. Exactly!

E In actual fact, the flavour can vary considerably depending on the stage of ripeness and methods of storage. In Southern Thailand, the people prefer younger durian, with firmer texture and milder flavour, whereas in Malaysia, the preference is to allow the durian to fall naturally from the tree, then further ripen during transport. This results in a buttery texture and highly individual aroma, often slightly fermented. Whatever the case, it is this soft creamy consistency which easily allows durian to blend with other Southeast Asian delicacies, from candy and cakes, to modern milkshakes and ice cream. It can also appear in meals, mixed with vegetables or chili, and lower-grade durian (otherwise unfit for human consumption) is fermented into paste, used in a variety of local rice dishes.

F Such popularity has seen the widespread cultivation of durian, although the tree will only respond to tropical climates’—for example, only in the very northern parts of Australia, where it was introduced in the early 1960s. Since that time, modern breeding and cultivating techniques have resulted in the introduction of hundreds of cultivars (subspecies bred, and maintained by propagation, for desirable characteristics). They produce different degrees of odour, seed size, colour, and texture of flesh. The tree itself is always very large, up to 50 metres, and given that the heavy thorny pods can hang from even the highest branches, and will drop when ripened, one does not walk within a durian plantation without a hardhat—or at least, not without risking serious injury.

G Thailand, where durian remains very popular, now exports most of this fruit, with five cultivars in large-scale commercial production. The market is principally other Asian nations, although interest is growing in the West as Asian immigrants take their tastes and eating preferences with them — for example, in Canada and Australia. The fruit is seasonal, and local, sale of durian pods is usually done by weight. These can fetch high prices, particularly in the more affluent Asian countries, and especially when one considers that less than one third of that heavy pod contains the edible pulp. In the true spirit of Alfred Wallace, there are certainly a large and growing number of ‘confirmed durian eaters’ out there.

Questions 1-4
Reading Passage 1 has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Which paragraph gives a reason for durian’s

1. spread outside of Asia?
2. variety of forms?
3. variety of food uses?
4. defining characteristics?

Questions 5-7
Label the diagram. Choose ONE WORD from the passage for each answer.

Questions 8-10
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage One?

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN If there is no information on this

8. The seeds can be eaten.
9. Durian trees are grown in many parts of Australia.
10. Thailand consumes the most durians.

Questions 11-13
Answer the questions. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.

11. What can help to carry durians around?
12. Which sort of durian is usually fermented into paste?
13. What should one wear when walking among durian trees?