For me it is always exciting to come across something I have never heard of, eaten or seen. This week Buddha’s Hand citrus fulfills those criteria.
Citrus is ancient. Fossilized leaves discovered in China’s Yunnan Province in 2009 and 2011 suggest citrus has existed since the late Miocene epoch, as many as seven million years ago. Citrus taxonomy is complex, too complex for me to satisfactorily account for here. But Wikipedia, the National Geographic and Speciality Produce all have interesting accounts.
Buddhas Hand, though, is a mutation from Citron (C.medica) which is one of the five ancestral species.
Varieties of true citron (C. medica) have distinctly different forms. Genetic analysis of citrons has shown that they divide into three groups. One cluster consists of wild citrons that originated in China and produce non-fingered fruit with pulp and seeds. The second cluster represents the Mediterranean citrons, thought to have originally been introduced there from India. A third cluster, also native to China, consist of the fingered citrons, most of which are seedless and must be propagated artificially.
Varieties of a Buddha’s Hand:
Buddha’s Hand citron, says Speciality Produce, ‘is a tree citrus with a deep lemon yellow color when mature. Throughout maturity, the fruit morphs from small and purple, to green, and then yellow, splitting at the opposite end of the tree’s stem forming segments that have a wild finger-like appearance. Each fruit will have its own unique shape and can range in size, from a large lemon to a small melon. Buddha’s Hand citron features an oily rind with a fragrant sweet lemon scent. Its flesh is void of juice, pulp, and seeds, and is inedible in its raw form. Buddha’s Hand citron is commonly utilized for its zest and has a flavor that is described as a blend of bitter and sweet acidity, similar to kumquats, with lavender undertones’.
Some fingered citron, such as Buddha’s hand, are used in Buddhist offerings. In China the Buddha’s Hand citron symbolizes happiness and long life and is often used in displays at home and temple altars. In Japan, the Buddha’s Hand citron is a favorite gift for New Year as it is believed to bestow good fortune on a household.
I have never seen a market stall, vegetable shop or supermarket fresh produce department hold any of these for sale. Garden centers, however, in New Zealand do advertise this tree as available to grow. You can try, Fronds, New Zealand, or Copperfield Nurseries.
Highly prized for Thai cooking, since Buddha’s Hand contains no pulp or juice it is used for its fragrant zest. This zest is used to infuse light spirits such as vodka, or to flavor sugars and salts for use in other recipes. Buddha’s Hand can be substituted in any recipe calling for standard lemon zest. The zest can also be used in salad dressings, on pasta, in compound butters, marinades, or tossed with root vegetables before roasting. When the peel is candied it can be used in cakes and biscuits, ice-cream, mousse, and cream fillings.