Buddha's Hand

Other names:

Buddha's Hand citron, Fingered citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus

General information:

For over a millennium, the Chinese and Japanese have prized the bizarre Buddha's Hand Citron, which looks like a cross between a giant lemon and a squid, and can perfume a room for weeks with its mysterious fragrance. Normal citrons (Citrus medica L.) resemble big, rough lemons, their thick yellow rinds often used for candying. A hybrid, though some say a mutant form of this citrus, the Buddha's Hand (var. sarcodactylis), splits longitudinally at the end opposite the stem into segments that look remarkably like long thin gnarled human fingers.

Buddha's Hand is a fragrant citrus fruit. It grows on a shrub or small tree with long, irregular branches covered in thorns. Its large, oblong leaves are pale green and grow about four to six inches. Its flowers are white or purplish and grow in fragrant clusters.

The fruit itself is a type of citron and is often described as lemon-like. The fruit is segmented into finger-like sections. It has a thick peel and a small amount of acidic flesh and is seedless and juiceless. It is very fragrant and is used predominantly by the Chinese and Japanese for perfuming rooms and personal items, such as clothing.

The peel of the fruit can be candied. In Western cooking, it is often used for its zest. The inner white pith is not bitter as is usually the case with citrus, so the fingers may be cut off and then longitudinally sliced, peel pith and all, and used in salads or scattered over cooked foods such as fish.

The fruit may be given as a religious offering in Buddhist temples. It is preferred when the "fingers" of the fruit are in a position where they resemble a closed hand rather than open, as closed hands symbolize the act of prayer.

The origin of Buddha's Hand is traced back to Northeastern India and is believed to be the first citrus fruit known in Europe. It is speculated that the Greeks and Romans brought them back from Asia.