Grab a Buddha’s Hand

Fragrant Asian citrus can be candied, tossed in salads or stir-fried

Every Buddha's Hand is a different shape and they can weigh up to a kilo.

Sightings of a bizarre new citrus flew through the local Twitter-verse last month.

What to make of the Buddha’s Hand with its lemon-yellow fingers, some downright creepy, beckoning from the produce section?

After an initial batch from Colombia, the current crop of Buddha’s Hand hails from California, where intrepid producers like Doug Phillips and Susan Caughey grow the fingered citron for fun.

Phillips, whose 4-acre (1.6 hectare) orchard in the San Joaquin Valley may be the largest in the U.S., says every hand is a different shape, and they can weigh up to a kilo.

Cut one open and you’ll discover this fragrant Asian citrus is all rind and edible white pith (albedo) with no seeds or juice.

Caughey, who grows pink zebra lemons for Sunkist, says she couldn’t resist planting a few trees after spotting the weird fruit in a nursery.

 “A lot of people treat it as a decorative object,” she says, “and it’s gorgeous added to a fruit bowl.”

She says Buddhists use the fruit as an offering, or as a good-luck gift for the New Year.

Her farmers market customers in Santa Paula grate the rich citrusy zest, candy it, add slices to salads or stir-fry them with vegetables.

Phillips says California florists are incorporating Buddha’s Hand in unusual flower arrangements, and a distiller in Oakland is using it to infuse vodka.

The fragrance is so strong, “a little goes a long way,” he cautions.

While both growers enjoy cleaning the intricate hands, the work involved ensures the fruit will remain rare and expensive.

“You can’t run water on them or they’ll rot,” says Caughey, “so they have to be hand-cleaned, which can take 10 to 15 minutes apiece.”

She uses nail and watercolour brushes, Q-Tips and toothpicks to clean her hands, while Phillips shines up his fruit with a soft cloth sprayed with PAM.

I’m thinking Buddha’s Hand is the perfect hostess gift for a foodie this Christmas. If nothing else, it makes a great conversation starter.

California Buddha's Hand tree
California Buddha’s Hand tree

Buy and store

  • Look for bright, fresh-looking hands with no soft spots or withered bits.
  • Keep on the counter to enjoy its exotic perfume and use within a week or so.
  • Buddha’s Hand from Phillips Farms ($3.99 at Metro) is at its peak this month. Loblaws plans to offer the fruit in select stores until the end of February.
  • Though expensive, the hand is completely edible so there’s no waste.

History mystery

  • Known as “fo-shou” in China and “bushukan” in Japan, Buddha’s Hand is a symbol of happiness, longevity and good fortune. Buddhist monks may have carried it from India to China around the fourth century A.D., or it may have developed naturally in the Yangtze River valley from another citron variety.

Open or shut?

When the hands are used as a temple offering, Buddhists, Hindus and other groups all have a preference, says Loblaw’s senior category manager Dan Tukendorf. Some prefer open hands, which symbolize the granting of good fortune, charity or wishes, while others prefer a closed hand to symbolize prayer.

“Unfortunately the hands start out closed and open as the fruit ripens,” says Tukendorf, “so it’s not always available in both forms.”

strips to be candied
strips to be candied


  • Infuse vodka with slices of Buddha’s Hand or make Limoncello by adding lots of zest to grain alcohol for about a month and then diluting with water and sweetening with sugar.
  • Candy zest in strips for gifts.
  • Chop candied zest and add to fruitcake, ginger cookies or any recipe calling for candied citrus or citron peel.
  • Cocktails: Save the simple syrup from candied peel for cocktails.
  • Grate it: Grate the tender hand over risotto, steamed asparagus, buttery green beans … any recipe that calls for lemon zest.
  • Gremolata: Add zest to finely chopped parsley and garlic and sprinkle over cooked roast lamb or osso buco.
  • Slice it: Add thin strips to a salad or vinaigrette.
  • Stir-fry strips with vegetables or sauté with garlic and olive oil and serve with chicken.
candied citron zest
candied citron zest

Candied Citron

Give these festive, fragrant strips as gifts or serve with espresso after dinner.

1 Buddha’s Hand (approx. 8 oz./250 g)

2 cups (500 mL) water

2 cups (500 mL) granulated sugar plus 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar for coating

Rinse hand and pat dry. Cut off stem end and any wilted tips.

Cut into strips 2 inches (5 cm.) long by 1/4 inch (1 cm.) wide, working around fingers so you get a strip of rind in most slices. Since the white part isn’t bitter, don’t worry if you have a lot of pure white strips.

Place strips in medium saucepan, cover with lots of cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Repeat two more times. Drain.

In same pan, combine 2 cups (500 mL) each fresh water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add citrus strips and lower heat to a simmer. Cook gently 30 minutes, until translucent. Remove from heat and let cool in syrup.

If using peel for cookies, drain and finely chop.

For candied peel, drain well, spread extra 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar on a plate and toss with citrus strips in batches. Transfer to wire rack to dry.

If desired, dip half of each candied strip in melted white or dark chocolate and let dry.

Makes about 2 cups (500 mL) candied citron.

candied zest and molasses cookies
candied zest and molasses cookies

Ginger Citrus Cookies

I’ve adapted these moist, chewy and fragrant cookies from New York chef Marcus Samuelsson’s book Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine (Houghton Mifflin). Take a run to the bulk store for fresh spices and baking soda before you begin.

3 1/2 cups (875 mL) sifted all-purpose flour

1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger

1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves

1/2 tsp (2 mL) each ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cardamom

2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

1/2 tsp (2 mL) white pepper

5 oz (150 g/1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 cup (180 mL) molasses

1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped candied citron peel

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift flour, spices, baking soda, salt and pepper into a bowl or onto a sheet of wax paper.

In large bowl, beat butter and white and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl. Beat in molasses. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in candied peel.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough, 2 inches (5 cm.) apart, onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until tops feel firm when lightly touched. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies. Store in airtight containers up to a month.

Published in the Toronto Star Dec. 12, 2013


  1. Hi Cynthia,

    I really enjoyed reading about this weird and wonderful ‘thing’! Remember The Adam’s Family?

    Happy holidays to you and all the best for the New Year!


    Sent from my iPhone


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