Buddha's hand is a citrus fruit in the citron family, which looks like a lemon with long, finger-like segments growing from it. While it contains no fruit or pulp, it is extremely fragrant, and the peel and rind can be used for a number of dishes, like salad dressings, marinades, baked goods, and drinks.
What Is Buddha's Hand?
Buddha's hand, or fingered citron as it is also known, is a variety of citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, that usually contains no fruit, pulp, juice, or seeds. It gets its name from its unusual shape, which resembles a hand with multiple splayed fingers, although some cultivars resemble more of a closed hand than an open one.
And while its insides, beneath its bright yellow peel, are nothing but bitter, white pith, its zest adds a lovely lemon blossom-like flavor to dishes, and it can be used in any preparation that calls for citrus zest. Its peel can also be candied.
Like most citrus, fingered citron 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 it may be well into winter before you'll see it piled up at markets.
How Did This Fruit Get Its Name?
"Buddha's hand" is a translation of the names used for the fruit in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages. It has long been used as an offering at Buddhist temples, particularly the close-fingered varieties, which resemble a hand position for prayer. The fruit symbolizes happiness, a long life, and good fortune.
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.
How to Use Buddha's Hand
Like other varieties of citron, Buddha's hand is used mainly for its zest and peel. In fact, most varieties of fingered citron don't have any fruit or pulp to eat either within the peel-covered fingers or inside the base of the fruit.
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, marinades, or 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.
What Does It Taste Like?
Since you're not typically eating the zest but rather adding it to various recipes in small amounts, you're more apt to notice its aroma than its flavor. And its aroma is intensely sweet and lemony. If you were to eat the rind itself, it would taste lemony, though not exactly sweet, and the white pith underneath would be primarily bitter, but with a mild sweetness, at least when compared with the pith of other citrus fruits, and slightly crunchy.
The nutritional content of Buddha's hand is comparable to that of raw lemon peel, which means that 1 teaspoon (2 grams) contains negligible amounts of protein, carbs, fats, and fiber, as well as less than 1 calorie.
Buddha's Hand Recipes
You can use the zest or peel of Buddha's hand citron just like you'd use the zest or peel of other citrus fruits, including for making desserts, drinks, candies, and sauces. Simply replace some or all of the lemons in the recipe with Buddha's hand.
Where to Buy Buddha's Hand
Buddha's hand is available at Asian markets, as well as specialty food stores like Whole Foods and conventional supermarkets, during the late fall and winter months. Choose ones 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.
Buddha's hand can be stored at room temperature for around a week, or in the refrigerator for up to a month.