When students and staff at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, noticed an odd smell in the library, a gas leak was suspected. A hazardous-materials team was dispatched, and approximately 500 people were evacuated to ensure their safety. However, the source of the stench was discovered to be not a gas leak, but rather the scent of a rotting durian, a fruit native to Southeast Asia that’s known for its distinctive scent.
“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 Metropolitan Fire Brigade said in a statement.
Most people would agree that durian is an acquired taste. If you’re wondering exactly what it smells like, however, the stench was described in a study published by the American Chemical Society in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry as, “fruit, rotted onion and roasted onion” and “chemicals with strong notes of cabbage and sulfur.”
In fact, the scent is so unpleasant that the fruit has been banned on public transportation across Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong and in Singapore. Not even taxis will take passengers carrying the fruit.
Although the smell is complex, the researchers were able to pin its source down to two compounds.
“Further experimentation found that putting just two specific compounds together—fruity ethyl (2S)-2-methylbutanoate and oniony 1-(ethylsulfanyl)ethanethiol—effectively resembled the fruit’s entire set of odoriferous and fragrant compounds,” authors wrote in a press release.
The smell of the durian had circulated throughout the library via the air conditioning system. The Environment Protection Authority Victoria was tasked with disposal of the rotting fruit.
We’re glad everyone is safe! Hopefully, people think twice before choosing this particular fruit as a study snack in the future.