It's Not a Mutant Lemon! Demystifying Buddha's Hand
What is this gnarly fruit? Buddha's Hand is an extremely fragrant type of citron that's divided into finger-like sections and only consists of rind -- there's no pulp, juice, or seeds. Also known as fingered citron, Buddha's Hand is believed to have originated in India and been brought to China by Buddhist monks. The fruit has long been prized in East Asia because it symbolizes happiness and longevity, and it's often given as an offering in temples and served during Lunar New Year.
Buddha's Hand wasn't commercially grown in the U.S. until the 1980s, and according to Sunkist director of communications Joan Wickham, it's still a "pretty special, niche program. We don't even market Buddha's Hand because the quantity grown is so small." Even so, the curious-looking fruit seems to be popping up in more and more farmers' markets and grocery stores across the country.
Similar to other citrus, Buddha's Hand trees take five to six years to come into production and are relatively low-maintenance. The fruit itself, however, is a different story. According to Wickham, before Buddha's Hand makes it to a vendor, the fruits have to be hand-cleaned with a brush, a process that takes 15 to 20 minutes each, because cleaning the peel with water would cause them to spoil. The labor involved, plus the rarity of the fruit, means that Buddha's Hand can get a little pricey once it hits stores -- we've seen it run anywhere between $8 and $20 per pound. But the good news is that a little goes a long way!
BUYING AND STORING
Buddha's Hand peaks in the winter months. When it first comes into season, the hand is closed, and the fingers look like the tentacles of an anemone. As the fruit matures, the hand spirals out like an octopus. No matter when you encounter them, always choose fruits with bright, fresh-looking skin and avoid any that have soft spots or weathered bits, which can be a sign that they've been on the shelf for a while. Buddha's Hand can be stored on the counter for up to two weeks and should only be washed just before use.
TO USE AND COOK
The fruit works well in pretty much anything you would use lemon zest for, from pastas and salad dressings to alcohol infusions and cocktails (a Buddha's Hand twist would elevate a Manhattan, Sazerac, French Martini, you name it!). Or try candying the fruit-- the intense flavor will blow you away. Buddha's Hand can also be used outside of the kitchen -- it would make a dramatic addition to a fruit bowl or even a floral arrangement, and as a bonus benefit, perfume the whole house!