Buddha's hand—it's an unusual name for an unusual-looking fruit.
The finger-like strands give the fruit its other name: fingered citron. But "hand" is apt, too--those "fingers" of the fruit come together at a base that holds them all together that looks remarkably like a hand.
As much as Buddha's hand looks more like a decoration than an edible fruit, rest assured that is, in fact edible—at least on the outside.
The inside doesn't have pulp or juice, so it's useless on that front. And yet its zest... its zest! While you can't eat this crazy-looking citrus fruit like an orange or a grapefruit, its zest adds a lovely lemon blossom-like flavor to dishes.
When Is Budda's Hand In Season?
Like most citrus, this fruit needs a warm, or at least temperate, climate in which to grow. Where lemons and oranges can grow, so too can Buddha's hand. Also like other citrus fruit, it ripens and is harvested starting in winter and may be available to buy into spring. It tends to come into season a bit more in-line with grapefruit than oranges, so we may be well into winter before you'll see it piled up at markets.
How to Choose Ripe Buddha's Hand Fruit
If you see these thick yellow spiders at markets near you, choose specimens with firm, bright peels that have a detectable floral-lemon scent. Avoid any fruit with soft spots or limp fingers.
Since there are both "open-fingered" and "close-fingered" varieties, this advice only applies some of the time, but most of the Buddha's hand sold in the U.S. are the "open-fingered" type and so should have fingers that are clearly separated and curling away from each other, since that's what they do when the fruit is ripe.
How to Use Buddha's Hand
Like its fellow-named citron, Buddha's hand is used mainly for its zest and peel. In fact, most varieties don't have any fruit or pulp to eat inside the peel-covered fingers.
To use Buddha's hand: break off a "finger" from the hand and grate or peel the bright lemon exterior. As with all citrus peel, you only want the brightly colored part, not the bitter white pith beneath.
Use the resulting shredded zest in baked goods, salad dressings, drinks, or marinades. Seriously, you can use the zest in any dish or recipe that calls for lemon zest or orange zest.
Note that its aroma is quite intense. Lovely and floral, but concentrated and intense. A little goes a long way in any dish.
Buddha's Hand for Display
Don't like to cook but love its wonderful smell? Know that displaying its fun look will add its scent to that room in a most charming way. It is a pretty fruit and works well as a decorative table-topper the same way a bowl of lemons or clementines does. Prepare for questions from less adventurous eaters.
In China, the fruit is displayed for good luck. In Japan, Buddha's hand is a popular New Year's gift as a token of good fortune.