Buddha's Hand, known as the tentacled citrus, is a unique and exotic fruit originating in Northeastern India and China. Unlike traditional citrus fruits, Buddha's Hand consists of a cluster of elongated, finger-like segments resembling a praying hand's shape, hence its name.
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What is a Buddha’s Hand?
Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) is a unique fruit that belongs to the citrus family. It is often referred to by names such as Fingered Citron, Buddha’s Fingers, or Finger Citron. This peculiar fruit originated in northeastern India or northeastern China and has been cultivated for centuries in various parts of Asia.
Buddha’s Hand is named after its peculiar shape, which resembles multiple elongated fingers or hands in a posture of prayer, giving it a mystical and symbolic appearance. The fruit consists of a cluster of slender, yellow, finger-like sections attached at the base, resembling a citron with a twisted and contorted shape.
These “fingers” can vary in number, ranging from three to more than twenty. The size of the fruit can also vary, with some specimens reaching up to a foot in length.
Unlike most citrus fruits, Buddha’s Hand is not typically consumed for its flesh or juice. Instead, it is primarily valued for its aromatic zest, which contains highly fragrant oils. The zest has a strong, sweet, and floral aroma, often described as a combination of lemon, lime, and orange blossoms.
Regarding flavor, Buddha’s Hand zest is intensely citrusy, similar to lemon or yuzu, but without tartness or acidity. It offers a bright, refreshing taste with subtle floral and herbal notes. The pith, the spongy white part under the zest, is bitter and not typically consumed.
Due to its unique appearance and aromatic qualities, Buddha’s Hand is often used as a decorative fruit in homes and temples, especially during Buddhist ceremonies and festivals. It is also used in culinary applications, primarily as a flavoring agent, adding its distinctive fragrance to various dishes, beverages, and desserts. The zest can be used in recipes that call for lemon or other citrus zest, providing a unique twist to familiar flavors.
The History of Buddha’s Hand
The Buddha’s Hand citron emerged from Asia in ancient times. In an era where legends were born, the Buddha’s Hand was often associated with the enlightened sage himself, thus earning its iconic name.
This remarkable fruit then embarked on a journey eastward, guided by Buddhist monks who saw in it a symbol of enlightenment and peace. Its arrival in China marked a pivotal point in its cultural history. Here, it transcended its botanical origins to become a beacon of longevity, happiness, and good fortune.
Its peculiar closed-fingers shape, resembling a praying hand, became a divine offering at Buddhist altars. Its form was immortalized in jade carvings, gracing the homes of esteemed Chinese officials.
The Buddha’s Hand then traversed the sea to Japan, finding a place of honor in the Tokonoma, an alcove meant to showcase prized possessions. From Asia’s heartland, it ventured into the vibrant Mediterranean, infiltrating the rich Roman culture in 301 BCE, where it was celebrated and cultivated for its enchanting aroma.
Centuries later, it arrived in California in the arms of 19th-century Japanese travelers. Initially seen as an eccentric addition to private gardens, its true potential was yet to be recognized.
Only in the late 20th century did Californian farmers begin small-scale commercial cultivation. Since then, its popularity has surged, leading to its widespread availability throughout Asia, Europe, Australia, and the United States today.
One thing remained unchanged throughout the Buddha’s Hand’s journey – its status as a gift of good fortune, being present on the table as a New Year’s gift.
What Does a Buddha’s Hand Taste Like?
The taste of a raw Buddha’s Hand is unique. It’s aromatic and citrusy, similar to a lemon, but without the sourness or bitterness of lemons or other citrus fruits.
Unlike many other fruits, the Buddha’s Hand does not have juicy flesh or seeds. The fruit is almost entirely rind and pith. The rind has a mild sweetness, and the pith, unlike other fruits, is not bitter.
This fruit is highly aromatic, and its zest is often used instead of lemon zest in recipes to provide a unique flavor twist. The aromatic quality lends itself well to infusing liquors, vinegar, simple syrups, and desserts like cakes, cookies, and candies.
When cooked, the Buddha’s Hand maintains much of its unique aroma and citrusy flavor but becomes slightly milder and sweeter. It can be candied, similar to how one might candy orange peels, to create a sweet treat.
How to Tell When Buddha’s Hand is Ripe
When determining the ripeness of a Buddha’s Hand fruit, you can consider the following visual characteristics:
|Look for a vibrant, bright yellow or golden hue. A ripe Buddha’s Hand fruit will have a uniform color without any green tinges.
|The fruit should feel firm and have smooth and glossy skin. Avoid fruits with wrinkles, soft spots, or blemishes.
|Ripe Buddha’s Hand fruits emit a strong, citrusy, aromatic fragrance. The smell should be pleasant and distinct.
|Size and Shape
|Look for a relatively large fruit with well-defined finger-like segments.
Are Buddha’s Hand and Citron Related?
Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) and Citron (Citrus medica) are indeed related. They are both varieties of the same species, Citrus medica, in the Rutaceae (citrus) family.
|Family and Genus
|As mentioned, both are part of the Citrus genus and are close relatives within the Citrus medica species.
|Both the Buddha’s Hand and Citron are known for their intense citrus fragrance more than their taste, as they have very little flesh or juice. The main flavor component is the zest or rind, used in cooking and perfumery.
|Both fruits have a bright yellow rind when mature, and their rind is often quite thick compared to other citrus fruits.
|Both fruits are often used for their zest rather than their flesh or juice. This zest can be candied, used in cooking, or even in alcoholic beverages for flavor.
|The most apparent difference is their physical structure. While Citron resembles a large, bumpy lemon, Buddha’s Hand is segmented into finger-like sections that give it its unique appearance and name.
|Pulp and Seeds
|Citrons have a small amount of edible pulp and may contain a few seeds. On the other Hand, Buddha’s Hands typically lack pulp and seeds.
|Buddha’s Hand is particularly significant in East Asian cultures, often used as a religious offering or a symbol of happiness and longevity. Citron, especially the Etrog variety, has its religious importance in Judaism during the festival of Sukkot.
|Citron is more commonly found and used worldwide.
Cooking with Buddha’s Hand
Preparing Buddha’s Hand fruit typically involves washing and drying it thoroughly before use. Since the fruit does not have a pulpy flesh like other citrus fruits, the focus is primarily on utilizing the aromatic zest.
To prepare the fruit, follow these steps:
- Wash the fruit: Rinse the Buddha’s Hand under cool running water to remove dirt or residue.
- Dry the fruit: Pat the fruit dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Zesting: Use a zester or a fine grater to remove the zest from the fruit. Avoid scraping too deeply to avoid the bitter white pith beneath the zest.
Once the Buddha’s Hand is prepared, it can be used in various ways in cooking. The fruit’s unique fragrance and flavor make it a delightful addition to many dishes. It is commonly used in sweet and savory recipes, and its zest can infuse flavors in syrups, sauces, marmalades, and baked goods.
Here are a few of our favorite Buddha’s Hand recipes:
Buddha’s Hand Salad Dressing: This salad dressing combines the uniquely aromatic and tangy taste of Buddha’s Hand with a blend of other ingredients to create a refreshing and versatile dressing. The beauty of using Buddha’s Hand in this dressing is that its citrus notes are less tart and more fragrant than standard lemons, which lends a sublime zestiness to the salad.
Buddha’s Hand Lemon Drop Cookies: This recipe is a delightful twist on traditional lemon cookies, replacing the standard lemon flavor with the floral citrus taste of Buddha’s Hand. These cookies showcase how this unique fruit can bring new life to old classics.
Candied Buddha’s Fingers: This recipe is a beautiful way to explore the candying process with an unusual fruit. The fruit’s subtle and complex citrus flavors are emphasized by transforming Buddha’s Hand into a sweet and syrupy treat while its natural bitterness is tamed.
Buddha’s Hand Candy: The result of this recipe is a sweet that carries a distinct citrusy punch with a hint of tartness.
How to Store Buddha’s Hand
Buddha’s Hand is often used as a decorative item, lasting about 1-2 weeks at room temperature. Ensure it’s kept in a cool, dry place from direct sunlight.
You can store it in the refrigerator to prolong its freshness. Keep it in a perforated plastic bag or the crisper drawer. It should last for 2-4 weeks when stored this way.
This fruit can also be frozen. However, it’s recommended to zest or slice it before freezing. Stored in an airtight container or freezer bag, it can last up to 12 months. Remember, the texture may change after freezing, making it best for flavoring dishes.
Buddha’s Hand can be dried for extended storage and used similarly to dried lemon peel. After drying, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Dried Buddha’s Hand should last for about a year.
Lastly, our favorite method: preserving or candying Buddha’s Hand, is another excellent way to extend its shelf life. This process involves simmering the fruit in a sugar syrup until it becomes translucent and then allowing it to dry. The candied fruit can last up to a year when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
Nutritional Benefits of Buddha’s Hand
Buddha’s hands are not considered very nutritious. However, it has some noteworthy health benefits:
Buddha’s Hand is packed with vitamin C, crucial in enhancing collagen production in your skin, reducing inflammation, and boosting your immune system’s strength.
Additionally, the fruit contains a fair amount of fiber, which is beneficial for regulating your digestive tract, promoting regular bowel movements, and preventing constipation. Furthermore, Buddha’s Hand citron is a good calcium source for promoting strong and healthy bones.
Lastly, this citron variety also contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E protects your cells from damage caused by free radicals, harmful substances that can accelerate aging and contribute to various diseases.
Where to Purchase Buddha’s Hand
Due to its relatively low demand and the unique growing conditions it requires, you might have some difficulty finding Buddha’s Hand at your local grocery store, so its accessibility can be scarce. However, here are some places you might find it:
High-end or specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods in the United States, are likely to carry Buddha’s Hand. You can find Buddha’s Hand at a local farmers’ market depending on your region. This is more likely in areas with a mild climate, particularly in California, where it is grown.
Buddha’s Hand is used in many Asian cultures for cooking, medicine, and religious purposes, so you might find it at an Asian grocery store. Lastly, several online stores sell exotic fruits, including Buddha’s Hand. For instance, websites like Melissa’s, Amazon, or eBay may have it available year-round.
As for the best time to find Buddha’s Hand, it is typically harvested in late fall and early winter.