Thailand: A Deadly Combination – Durian and Alcohol

There is a Thai belief that you should not eat durian and drink alcohol together—they often believe the combination can kill you. I thought that this was crazy, and started to do some research into the science, fully expecting that this belief was bogus.

Lo and behold! There is actually some truth to this belief, and the science to back it up! A study conducted in Japan published by the Food Chemistry Journal, “Inhibition of aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme by Durian (Durio zibethinus Murray) fruit extract”, showed that durian does have a significant impact on our body’s ability to process alcohol.


When looking upon this fruit, you might find yourself thinking it looks more like a weapon from the Dark Ages than something to be consumed.

Durian is the most emotion-evoking fruit of them all! It’s known for its malodorous, pungent smell. Some describe it as rotten onions, turpentine, or raw sewage. You either love durian, following your nose through the streets at night at night scouring the town for one those lobes of fruity goodness, or you absolutely cannot stand it. It is such a thing of controversy that it is banned from most accommodations, and basically all public transportation.

Give it a try—the “king of fruits” has many loyal followers. Might you be among them?

Here is how I understand it, on the most basic level:

When we drink alcohol, our bodies have an enzyme that processes the alcohol and renders it inert, to more easily pass it through our system. This enzyme is called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).

The study, conducted by a group of Japanese scientists, mixed durian extract with the aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) enzyme and then observed how well the enzyme was able to break down alcohol. It is well known that the durian fruit has a very high sulphur content. Turns out, the sulphuric properties of the durian extract inhibited up to 70% of the enzyme’s ability to break down alcohol! 70%! That is a massive influence!

Inhibits the enzyme's ability to break down alcohol by:

While they have not established that ingesting durian while imbibing alcohol will directly kill you, they have shown that durian does, in fact, negatively affect our body’s ability to process alcohol.

It is something to keep in mind next time you have thrown back a few beers and are drawn towards that alluring durian scent. Now we know it is a smarter move to pass on that temptation.

Want more of the nitty-gritty? Dive into the abstract of the paper:


The scientific basis of the adverse, or at times lethal, effect of ingesting durian (Durio zibethinus Murray) while imbibing alcohol has not been established. Symptoms are reminiscent of the disulfiram–ethanol reaction (DER) arising from the inhibition of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Cognizant of the inhibitory effect of sulphur compounds like disulfiram on ALDH and the rich sulphur content of durian, the influence of durian fruit extract on the ALDH-mediated oxidative metabolism of acetaldehyde was investigated. We report a dose-dependent inhibition of yeast ALDH (yALDH), at most 70% at 0.33 ppm (mg extract/l assay mix), by dichloromethane:pentane extracts. Sulphur-rich TLC fruit extract fractions that eluted farthest from the origin effected the greatest inhibitory action. yALDH assay using diethyl disulfide as internal standard further supports the role of durian’s sulfury constituents in the fruit’s ALDH-inhibiting property. Insight into the etiology of DER-like symptoms felt upon simultaneous durian and alcohol consumption is hereby presented.


– ALDH, aldehyde dehydrogenase; – DE, durian extract; – DER, disulfiram–ethanol reaction; – Km, Michaelis constant; – β-NAD or NAD, nicotinamide–adenine dinucleotide; – Rf, retardation factor; – V0, initial velocity; – Vmax, maximum velocity

Till next week, folks.
And remember, never stop giving sh** eatin’ grins!

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John S. Maninang, Ma. Concepcion C. Lizada, Hiroshi Gemma
Corrigendum to “Inhibition of aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme by Durian (Durio zibethinus Murray) fruit extract”

Food Chemistry, Volume 120, Issue 4, 15 June 2010, Page 1122

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