A man in China has reportedly failed an on-the-spot breathalyzer test taking him over the legal alcohol limit, not because he consumed too much alcohol, but because he consumed too much durian fruit.
People can be pretty imaginative when it comes to making up excuses why (honestly officer!) there was a perfectly good explanation for doing whatever it is they’ve been pulled up on. Blaming a high blood alcohol level on the stinkiest fruit in the world, however, is a new one.
According to a video on the Chinese video site Pear Video, the unnamed man was pulled over by police in Rudong County in the eastern Jiangsu province on April 17 for suspected drunk driving. The man, caught on police body cams, protested his innocence, proclaiming: “I’ve just eaten durian fruit!”
The police were understandably skeptical. However, a blood test proved his innocence, despite having tested over China’s strict 0.02 percent (20 milligrams per 100 milliliters) blood alcohol limit (for comparison, in the US, for over-21s it’s 0.08 percent) on the breathalyzer.
This intrigued the Chinese police enough that they decided to carry out a test themselves – fortunately, on camera – to see if eating durian fruit really does raise your blood alcohol level.
Incredibly, the breathalyzed officer, Yu Pengxiang, returned a blood alcohol level of 0.36 percent (36 milligrams per 100 milliliters) – quite the jump.
So does eating durian really get you drunk?
Nope. Just three minutes later, Officer Yu was tested again and this time he came back negative.
The truth is, breathalyzers can produce false positives from non-alcohol related food and drinks as well as everyday items that contain trace alcohol amounts, including hot cross buns and white bread (thanks to the fermenting yeast), pecans, macadamias, ripe fruit, protein bars, mouth wash, and cough syrup.
Breathalyzers test for alcohol by detecting chemical substances that contain elements of the methyl group of compounds. They are meant to test the air deep in your lungs, which is affected by the alcohol already absorbed into your bloodstream – hence a blood alcohol level reading – but sometimes they can end up just detecting what is called "mouth alcohol", the air (your breath) which hasn't been absorbed into your bloodstream yet.
If you are breathalyzed almost immediately after eating or drinking a food item – a 1998 study found the effect disappeared after 15 minutes – that contains trace alcohol or a methyl compound, there is a (small) chance you could produce a false positive. According to this study, both rosemary onion bread and Jim Bean bourbon cake would take you way over the limit, albeit briefly.
So, back to the innocent man and his durians. Famously the Marmite of fruits thanks to their overwhelmingly unpleasant smell, the durian stink has been likened to gym socks, garbage, rotting meat, onions, and sulfur, and one of the compounds identified that makes up the most potent of these smells is ethyl (2S)-2-methylbutanoate, the likely culprit that landed this man in a pickle in the first place.
Does this mean you can plead a fruit overdose if you ever get pulled over by cops for erratic driving? No, you'd still need to take a blood test, which doesn't lie. However in the future, just be aware, and don't fruit and drive kids.
[H/T: BBC News]