Can You Eat a Buddha's Hand or Is This Unique Citrus Just for Looks?

The fruit—which resembles interlocked hands—doesn't have seeds or flesh.

Photo: Janelle Jones

Have you recently strolled down your grocery store's produce aisle and spotted a beautifully bizarre fruit that beckons with long, yellow fingers? This is the Buddha's hand citron, a distinctive citrus that doesn't have the juicy flesh we usually associate with this category of fruit. Instead, it is packed with albedo and flavedo (we'll explain!).

These fruits are also known as finger citrus—not to be confused with finger lime—and finger citron. In East Asia, Buddha's hand citrons are associated with bestowing luck upon the home they perfume, and for cooks and mixologists, they offer a refreshingly optimistic scent that infuses liquors, syrups, and teas dramatically. We consulted with Buddha's hand growers to learn more about this distinctive fruit and its applications.

What Is a Buddha's Hand Citrus?

Buddha's hand is a variety of citron; its full botanical name is Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, the varietal derived from the Greek sarkos and dactylos meaning "fleshy finger." Those fingers, numbering from about five to 20-plus, are carpels separated into fleshless segments. Sometimes, they are held close together or closed, like a praying hand; other times, they are arranged loosely (picture a squid in jet-propulsion mode) or splayed apart, like a relaxed and corpulent octopus.


The tree-grown fruit's general shape is visible after its petals fall, explains Tony Marquez, a California citrus grower who sells Buddha's hand via Pearson Ranch. "If the fruit is closed when it is green, it will mostly stay that way when it ripens," he says. During the maturation process, the fingers of some fruit will "spread out" as they grow thicker and longer—"but that is mostly due to the fruit growing in size, rather than the hand actually opening up like a flower," says Marquez.


"These citrons are very robust," says Penny Nicholas of Nicholas Family Farm; she has grown Buddha's hand organically since 1989, and sells the fruits at farmers' markets and via the farm's Instagram. Despite being a sturdy fruit, however, Buddha's hand must be harvested carefully to avoid snapping the tips off those famous fingers, she explains.


Like most other citrus, Buddha's hand is native to Asia. It is thought to have originated in India, before traveling west and east. Citrons are the oldest citrus fruits in cultivation, possibly on account of their very thick skin, which helped them travel well.


These fruits ripen from November through early February, which is when they are available from growers and at some grocery stores. The timing is perfect: A Buddha's hand makes an auspicious New Year's gift.

Flavedo and Fragrance

The Buddha's hand's fragrance resides in its fingers: They provide more surface area and are covered in oil-rich yellow skin. Like round citrons, their rind is exceptionally thick and is made up of two parts. There's the colorful outer layer of skin called the flavedo, where the fruits' flavor and aroma are concentrated. When fully ripe, a Buddha's hand is brightly floral (think lemon blossom!) and can light up a room. "The citron can be left out in a fruit bowl in a home for months and continues to give a remarkable fragrance," says Nicholas.

How to Use the Buddha's Hand Citrus

Because of its strong fragrance and mesmerizing shape, the fruit—symbolizing long life and happiness—is often left whole and used to adorn or refresh a room. Left out on the counter, a Buddha's hand will gradually turn a deeper yellow in color, and can be used at any stage until it begins to shrivel. Even then, you can submerge it in water, which will amplify the last bit of its perfume.

Culinary Applications

For culinary use, you want to get as much zest from a Buddha's hand as possible. Use a narrow microplane to rasp it off. When tossed with melted butter (or walnut oil) and hot strands of pasta, it creates a flavor profile you will never forget.

If you cut away a finger, you will see only solid white pith, which is called albedo (citrons have less bitter pith than some other citrus fruits). In all types of citrus, this pith is where the most pectin resides. Buddha's hand is rich in it, so it makes a great marmalade, says Marquez. Slow poaching or preserving in sugar-syrup will also infuse that spongy albedo layer with flavor from the yellow flavedo, resulting in an entirely edible confection. Or try slicing it and infusing it in vodka. Nicholas cans Buddha's hand to preserve their flavor and recommends it in tea.

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