Have you ever heard of Buddha’s Hand? It may sound like a religious object but it’s actually a fruit. Once you see a Buddha’s Hand, you’ll never forget it. It looks like a cross between a sea creature and a gnarly witch’s hand. It certainly doesn’t look like any other fruit you’ve ever seen. However, it does taste like fruit that is probably quite familiar to you. Let’s learn all about Buddha’s Hand along with 5 great ways to use it (and they are not all about eating it).
What Is It?
Buddha’s Hand is a form of the citron, one of the four original citrus fruits from which most other citrus types are thought to have developed from. Technically known as Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, Buddha’s Hand is also sometimes called “the fingered citron.” It is also closely related to the lemon.
It is segmented into finger-like sections so that it looks like a human hand. The “fingers” of the fruit run along a gradient from open hands where the segments are spread out to closed types where the segments are close together. According to tradition, Buddha prefers the closed hand because it symbolizes the act of prayer.
Where Does It Come From?
The fruit is native to China and the lower Himalayas. Some scholars believe Buddhist monks carried the fruit from India to China around the 4th century A.D. while others believe it naturally developed in the Yangtze Valley from another type of citron. In China, where it is called “fo-shou” and in Japan, where it is called “bushukan,” this fruit is served around the New Year and is offered at temples as gifts because it is believed to symbolize happiness, good fortune and longevity. The scent, which is similar to lavender, made the plant popular for ornamental purposes as well as a source of perfume for clothing and the home.
In the 1980s, Buddha’s Hand was first grown in California. Buddha’s Hand is in season between September and February. It grows on a tree that can range from 6 to 12 feet high and is quite a sight. The tree is often used in gardens and on patios and terraces for decoration.
What Does It Taste Like?
Buddha’s Hand smells sweet, a bit lemony and similar to lavender. It has no juice, seeds or pulp. The oily pith, unlike in other fruits where it can be bitter, is sweet. The fruit can be used whole or can be zested.
Where Do I Find It?
You can find Buddha’s Hand at farmers’ markets, Asian groceries and other specialty produce markets. It runs from $5 to $24 per lb.
How Do I Select and Store It?
Choose Buddha’s Hands that are bright, firm and have a sweet aroma. Avoid blemishes, moldy spots or shriveled fingers. Store at room temperature or in a cool place for up to two weeks. It can last up to a month if refrigerated.
What Can I Do With It?
1. Use the Zest and Peel
Basically, you can use Buddha’s Hand wherever you would have used lemon zest or thinly sliced peel. Add it to desserts, dressings, marinades, salads or atop vegetables. For instance, my Citrus Cilanto Dressing is a combination of sweet and tangy. Just substitute Buddha’s Hand zest for the lemon zest. Blend together 2 Tbs. orange juice, 1 Tbs. lime juice, 1 tsp. Buddha’s Hand zest, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives, 2 tsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. I like to use this dressing atop creamy green avocado, sweet yellow mango, spicy arugula, and red bell pepper and red onion slices for a refreshing and fun dish with color and flavor.
Other recipes where Buddha’s Hand zest can be used include Creamy Lemon Herb Dressing, Lemon Coconut Vanilla Tart, Delicious and Mostly Raw Lemon Cream Pie, Almond Biscotti Re-Imagined, Gluten-Free Lemon Swiss Chard Pasta, Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes and Lemony Chickpea Salad.
2. Make Beautiful Edible Gifts
You can make your own gifts of specialty oils, sugars and salts. Infuse olive oil with Buddha’s Hand zest to make your own specialty oil. Read How to Infuse Your Own Olive Oil with Herbs and Spices for the simple instructions. To make Buddha’s Hand Sugar: Zest the Buddha’s hand and finely chop the zest. You want a few tablespoons worth of zest. Let it dry overnight or place the zest in a very low oven for about 20 minutes. In a bowl, mix 1 cup of sugar with the zest. Transfer to a sealed container and let it sit for about a week for the flavors to intensify.
You can also make your own specialty salts. Use any coarse salt such as kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, or Pink Himalayan salt. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, mix in 1 tsp. of Buddha’s Hand zest for every ¼ cup of salt. Store the flavored salt into an airtight container and let it sit for 24 hours before using. Present the oils, sugars and salts in pretty labeled jars tied with ribbon for impressive and thoughtful gifts. You might even try infusing bottles of vodka or other liquors with the peel of the fruit.
3. Make Candy
The Buddha’s Hand can be used to make candied citrus peel just like people do with lemons. In fact, Candied Buddha’s Hand has been made for centuries. All you have to do is chop a Buddha’s Hand into cubes and blanch them for about half an hour or until they are translucent. Drain the cubes and then put them in a pot with 1 ½ cups of sugar and 1 cup of water over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves to make a syrup. Use a candy thermometer and when the mixture reaches 230 degrees, turn off the heat. Let the mixture rest for an hour. Drain the syrup and reserve in the refrigerator for other uses such as cocktails. Lay the Buddha’s Hand pieces out to dry overnight and then store in an airtight container.
4. Household Uses
Since Buddha’s Hand smells so good, it can be used for the household just like lemon. In fact, people in ancient China and Japan used it to wash their clothes so why not use it in your laundry. Adding the peel of Buddha’s Hand to vinegar can make a disinfecting citrus spray that can make your home clean and smell good. Mix the peel with herbs and spices to make your own potpourri. Check out 10 Easy, Money-Saving Ways to Clean Your House with Fruits and Vegetables for more ideas.
5. Decorative Conversation Starter
Place Buddha’s Hand on your kitchen counter, dining room table or living room coffee table and wait for the questions to start flying at you. Not only is it a decorative and unique centerpiece but it will make the room smell fragrant and lovely.
It’s always fun to learn about new foods. Buddha’s Hand may look strange but with all it’s delicious and fragrant uses, it’s sure to become a new favorite.
Lead Image Source: Buddha’s Hand/Flickr
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