The soft, yellow flesh of a durian in its thorny green shell, seen in a shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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Some love them, others hate them.
Durians are banned on all public transport in Singapore because of their smell – some have compared it to sewage or smelly socks. Some hotels in Southeast Asia even prevent their guests from bringing the fruit into their rooms.
But durian lovers are ready to pay top dollar for the “king of fruit” – allegedly someone parted ways with a whopping 48,000 US dollars for one in 2019.
But there might be a new reason to appreciate the prickly fruit.
Scientists in Singapore are using durian bowls to make antibacterial bandages that they say can heal post-operative wounds.
The technology – developed by a research team at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore – uses a low-cost process to extract cellulose from the thick, green peel of the fruit. The cellulose is mixed with glycerine to form a soft, silicone-like gel that, according to the university, can be cut into plasters.
As long as Singaporeans continue to eat durian, we can make these bandages.
Researcher at Nanyang Technological University
Twitter broke out with questions and many focused on one thing: the pungent smell of the fruit.
Some wondered whether the strong odor of the durian could be recognized on the bandages or whether porters would be excluded from public buses.
Chen insisted that the bandages be odorless.
Others joked about it, with a saying – ironically – that it wasn’t surprising that durian patches can kill bacteria.
Despite the reactions, researchers say the innovation could help solve a serious environmental problem: food waste.
“It fits in with our drive to innovate to reduce overall food waste,” said William Chen, director of NTU’s food science and technology program and chief scientist behind the innovation.
Professor William Chen and a member of his team are experimenting with durian bowls.
At least one durian vendor is thrilled with the prospect.
“This invention … is a fantastic way to recycle the peel,” James Wong, who sells durian in Singapore, told CNBC. He said durian bowls are currently being thrown away and he is paying waste disposal companies to dispose of them. “To be able to sell the bowl for money is much better.”
80% of the fruit weight
Eating out in Singapore is relatively cheap as it is heavily subsidized by the government, Chen told CNBC.
“The downside to this affordable and abundant food is that we don’t really appreciate the food,” he said.
Scientists at Nanyang Technological University developed a hydrogel bandage made from upcycled durian shells.
To alleviate the food waste problem, Chen decided to experiment with durian peels, a material that is usually thrown away after the soft, yellow pulp is consumed. The peel can make up about 80% of the weight of the fruit.
Durian was the fruit of choice for several reasons, the researcher said.
Large fruits like durian give scientists the volume they need to work with. Plus, they’re high in fiber, which makes them suitable for the procedure.
Durian availability also played a role, Chen said.
“Singapore consumes 12 million durians annually,” he said. “As long as Singaporeans keep eating durian, we can keep making these bandages.”
advantages and disadvantages
According to Chen, dressings made from durian peel are both environmentally and medically beneficial. In contrast to existing plasters, the new dressings contain hydrogels that can protect wounds and keep them moist.
Some medical experts are also involved in the innovation.
“The hydrogel dressings made from durian peels performed as well as those on the market,” said Associate Professor Andrew Tan, a metabolic disorder expert at NTU’s medical school who is not part of the dressing project.
The hydrogel moisturizes which helps remove infected tissue and promote healing, he said, adding that “hydrogels can also cool the wound, which is helpful in relieving pain.”
On June 6th, 2021, people in Singapore queue up to buy durian.
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“I have always believed that nature has answers to everything,” said Priyadarshani Kamat, a Singapore-based homeopath. “In the past I’ve seen bandages made from potato peel help burn victims regain their skin quickly, and this [durian] Hydrogel is similar to that. “
Durian bandages aren’t prepared to replace all bandages – at least not yet. Tan pointed out that they are not suitable for severe wounds as they are mostly made of water.
They are also not 100% biodegradable. While the team managed to replace the soft, padded layer with the durian hydrogel, the outer adhesive part is still plastic, Chen said.
Nevertheless, Chen and his team hope to bring the durian bowl bandages to market within the next two years.
I feel a little better when I consume durian because I know the bowls can be put to good use.
Xin Yi Lin
“I want to turn research into something useful for society,” Chen told CNBC.
He added that such innovations should not replace the need to generate less waste. “We don’t want these innovations to combat as waste increases – the idea is to reduce it at the source,” he said.
After hearing about Chen’s research, a durian lover felt better about consuming the fruit.
“I know the durian bowls add too much waste, especially during the durian season,” said Xin Yi Lin, a Singaporean student who is a self-proclaimed durian fanatic. “I feel a little better eating durian because I know the bowls can be put to good use.”