Buddha’s hand is a stunning fruit, causing many to hold the curiosity in sheer wonderment of its branched appendices. The elongated, yellow tentacles protruding from the base resemble gnarled human fingers; hence, its namesake—Buddha’s hand in prayer. This religious association is one reason why the Chinese bring the fruits as a temple offering. During the Chinese New Year, the older generation exchange Buddha’s hands between family and neighbors to impart good fortune. Some hobbyists grow bonsai trees of the fruit as well.
Buddha’s hand originates in the lower Himalayas, but botanists are unsure if it’s native to the region in India or China. Some speculate that India’s migrating Buddhist monks carried the fruit with them to China circa 400 AD. Others believe that the fruits developed in China’s Yangtze valley from other citron cultivars.
Those who claim that Buddha’s hand is native to India cite the country’s extensive citron diversity, the range of which far surpasses China’s. Citrons make several cameos in India’s ancient texts and artwork, including the devotional texts, Vajasaneyi Samhita (800BC) and Charka Samhita (100AD) and the famous Ajanta paintings from 200BC-700AD.
Few countries grow Buddha’s hand, mostly because of its high perishability and impracticality. The only countries selling Buddha’s hand in reasonable volumes are China, Japan, and India.
On rare occasions, Buddha’s hands appear in the farmers markets of California, Asian markets in New York, and in a few of Australia’s specialty produce stalls. In these markets, Buddha’s hand commands a high price—a 2012 article written in the Los Angeles Times quotes $10 (550 INR) for a single fruit. Put in perspective, one could buy roughly four kilos of lemons for the same price.
Availability of Buddha’s Hand
Buddha’s hand season is November through January. While China grows the fruit on 5,000 in the Zhejiang Provence south of Shanghai, India has no such dedicated efforts. Here, production is limited to the arid to semi-arid regions of the northwest, and the lower Himalayan regions of the northeast.
Where to find Buddha’s Hand
Finding Buddha’s hand requires visiting the northeastern and northwestern states in which they grow. Several factors limit its availability outside of these regions: Buddha’s hand molds quickly, it requires cold storage, and must be washed and packaged carefully. Those living in the warmer central and southern states are unlikely to find this fruit.
Indian vendors also have little incentive to sell the fruits. Buddha’s hand is a difficult product to sell without the religious significance pushing sales higher, as is the case in China and Japan. With the rind as the only thing of value, chefs aren’t likely to pay the fruit’s high price tag.
Checking for Ripeness in Buddha’s Hand
Like other citrus fruits, the waxy flesh should be yellow or bright orange, and free of mold. Its skin shouldn’t be limp or dry. When ripe, Buddha’s hands are wonderfully aromatic—they are known to fill rooms with its bright, lemony perfume. Gently scratch the skin: if oil collects under the fingertip, it’s ripe.
Taste of Buddha’s Hand
Buddha’s hand best resembles lemons with its bright, zesty flavor, and oranges secondarily. Though the fruit is not sweet like an orange, its rind has similar floral notes. Buddha’s hand trumps other types of citrus in that it lacks bitterness. Susan Taylor of the Chicago Tribune described the fruit as “extremely aromatic, with a fresh, sweeter floral bouquet than a lemon.”
On her website, chef Julie Logue-Riordan describes a cooked citron as having overtones of “coconut, macadamia nut, banana, light caramel and cinnamon.” Though elegantly written, few lay cooks are likely to come to the same euphuistic conclusions when using the fruit in their own dishes.
The juiceless, seedless pith resembles the whites of an orange peel: cottony, tasteless and lackluster. It is seldom used in recipes.
Nutritional Value in Buddha’s Hand
Produceoasis.com lists the nutritional value of Buddha’s hand as follows: 1 teaspoon of the rind contains:
1g carbohydrate (negligible)
1g of fiber (3% RDI)
13% RDI of vitamin C
1% RDI of calcium
Health Benefits of Buddha’s Hand
Chinese superstition holds that Buddha’s hand brings peace, luck and prosperity to its owner. These attributes make the fruit prized gifts, and some own Buddha’s hand ornamental trees in hopes that the luck will rub off on them. Along with peaches, gourds, and pomegranates, Buddha’s hand is also a feng shui fruit.
The fruit also has a number of traditional medicinal uses. According to the book, “Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants,” Buddha’s hand acts as an expectorant, stimulant and tonic. Chinese herbalists prescribe the fruit to remedy distension and chest pain, bloated stomach, anorexia, vomiting, cough, and lung ailments.
Medical studies highlight a number of Buddha’s hand’s beneficial flavonoids and compounds, including limonin, nomilin, stigmasterol, beta D-glucoside, limettin, scopoletin, and umbelliferone (Yin and Lou 2004).
--According to a 2013 “Food and Chemical Toxicology,” essential oils in Buddha’s hand display anti-inflammatory activities.
--A 2009 study published in Heterocycles shows that chemical constituents in the bark have cytotoxic, anticancer properties.
--According to a 2007 study published in Phytotherapy Research, Buddha’s hand’s compounds, limonene and y-terpinene, may inhibit progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
--A number of studies highlight the anti-cancerous properties of limonene: A 1992 study in The Journal of Cancer Research shows that dietary administration of limonene causes a regression in breast cancer tumors, and a 1998 study affirms that limonene is also non-toxic when tested in breast cancer and colorectal cancer patients.
--A 2011 study published in Clinical and Translational Allergy shows that vitamin C consumption—a nutrient abundant in Buddha’s hand—may alleviate symptoms in asthmatic children.
How to open/cut
To cut into thick rinds for beverage infusions or for candying, tear off one of the fruit’s appendages. Then, use a paring knife to slice large rinds away from the pith.
Use finely grated fruit for use in rice dishes, dessert batters and salads. To make these confetti-like pieces, take a grater or micro zester and drag it along the fruit’s oily rind. Expect the fingertips to smell like lemons for hours afterwards.
The Chinese and Japanese use Buddha’s hands to aromatize closets and floral arrangements. If wishing to do the same, cut the base into rings and hang them throughout the house.
The shelf life of Buddha’s hand is 1-2 weeks at room temperature. When kept in the fridge at temperatures between 7-9 Celsius (45-59F), the fruit will last up to a month. If keeping at room temperature with the intention of using it recipes, avoid placing the fruit in hot, humid rooms—otherwise, the fruit will mold quickly.
Buddha’s Hand Recipe Ideas
Use Buddha’s hand as a substitute for recipes calling for lemon zest or grated orange. Other suggestions:
--Add a teaspoon of finely ground Buddha’s hand to smoothies, tea, juice, soda or water.
--Given its religious significance, one of the most ironic uses of Buddha’s hand is its use in vodkas and cocktails as a garnish.
--Make Buddha’s hand infused liquor: use a paring knife and separate the rind from the pith. Add the rinds in a large glass jar. Pour vodka, amaretto, or rum into the jar. Seal tightly and let the concoction sit for at least 30 days.
--Make a citrusy marinade by adding the grated rind to soy sauce dips, tamarind pastes and date-based sweet glazes.
--Create a bright zesty salad dressing by combining thinly sliced rinds with oil, salt, lemon juice, sugar, thyme and garlic. Marinate in a bowl overnight for best results.
--Add the zest to sweet bread and muffin batter. Also sprinkle atop cupcakes, frosting and coconut whips.
--Make a vegan cheesecake infused with the flavors of Buddha’s hand: add the zest to a filling made from blended soft tofu, coconut oil, cornstarch, maple syrup, vanilla extract, lemon juice and soy milk. Bake the mixture for 40 to 50 minutes, or until firm.
--Making jam or marmalade. Any lemon preserve recipe will suffice; simply substitute the lemons with thickly cut Buddha’s hand rind.
--Make Buddha’s hand infused sugar: Slice the rinds into long pieces, then coat them in sugar granules. Place the sugary rinds on a tray and let them sit for an hour. Gently scrape off the sugar and place the granules in a dehydrator for an hour: This will remove the moisture. Once finished, transfer the dried sugar to an airtight container. The candied rinds may be dehydrated as well: Once cooled, dip the pieces into chocolate sauce. Serve these candied rinds alongside teas and hot drinks.
--Add finely ground Buddha’s hand rind into grilled tofu marinades, sauces or salsas.
Fruits: Lemon, orange, calamondin, citron, lime, sour orange, pomelo, carambola, santol, passion fruit, apricot, peach, nectarine, fig, pomegranate, cacao, cochin goraka, bel, date, elephant apple, kiwi, kokum, tamarind, wood apple, kumquat, sea buckthorn
Vegetables: bell pepper, tomato, bamboo, asparagus, fiddlehead fern, beans, raw papaya
Herbs, spices, and oil: vanilla, cocoa, chocolate, jasmine, orange blossom, mint, honey, maple syrup, coconut oil, vinegar, white wine, vodka, amaretto, rum, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, orange juice, soy sauce, mustard, wasabi, rice vinegar, thyme, lavender, lemongrass, green tea, black tea
Some have compared Buddha’s hand to Captain Davy Jones, a character from Disney’s movie, Pirates of the Caribbean.
Five finger mandarin