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Sci-Tech

Scientists find a way to add the smelly, thorny 'king of fruit' to sweets

And no, they neither smell nor taste of durians.

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Don't bin your durian seeds! Scientists from Singapore have found ways to use them -- in your candy, for example.

NTU Singapore

Singaporeans have a deep affection for durians despite their notoriously foul stench. Now local researchers just gave the island state reason to love the "king of fruits" even more.

Scientists at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University have found a way to extract gum from durian seeds and turn it into a food stabiliser and -- with further processing -- probiotic powder.

The team demonstrated the process -- first washing the seeds, then slicing and boiling them before adding a solution to harvest the gum -- at a media briefing Thursday morning. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems last September.

Food stabilisers are an ingredient used in many food items -- including gummies, sweet carbonated drinks and mayonnaise -- to bind and ensure that "various ingredients that do not mix well can gel harmoniously," according to Professor William Chen, director of the school's food science and technology programme.

These are typically harvested from Africa-imported acacia trees, but with climate change affecting seasonal harvests, alternative and more sustainable sources have to be explored, Chen added.

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This isn't jam. It's an ingredient companies can use to bind other ingredients in your gummy bears and mayonnaise, amongst other food items.

NTU Singapore

Singaporeans devoured six million durians within the first six months of last year. Their seeds, which are about three to four centimeters wide and make up 20 to 25 percent of the entire fruit, are typically binned along with their thorny shells. Estimating that 3,600 tonnes of seeds are thrown away every year, Chen said he saw an opportunity to turn them into a "plant-based, all-natural" food stabiliser that is also vegetarian-friendly.

This isn't the first attempt at giving food by-products a new lease on life. Researchers from the National University of Singapore created an alcoholic beverage out of tofu whey, a liquid waste created when making beancurd. Earlier, Chen himself also found a way to turn what could otherwise have become a brewer's waste into "valuable liquid nutrient" that can be used to grow beer yeast.

What Singaporeans know and love as the "king of fruits" are shunned by many, though, for its unique smell and taste that can be a reminder of gym socks or even sewage. But the harvested gum bore neither smell nor taste after extraction (yes, I sniffed it and put some in my mouth).

Durian seed gum also contains elements that enable it to become a nutrient support for probiotics, a good bacteria that help people maintain a healthy digestive system. By fermenting the gum with added bacteria cultures then spray drying to eliminate moisture, Chen and his team was able to make a light pink-coloured probiotic powder.

During trials, the researchers discovered probiotic activity in commercial stabilisers were significantly reduced after five weeks, while that in durian seed stabilisers remained steady for two months. This suggests durian seed gum is 20 percent more effective at improving the lifespan of powder-based probiotics, hence extending shelf life to as long as 120 days.

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