Looking like a creepy cross between a sotong and a lemon, the Buddha’s Hand – aka Fingered Citron – is actually a citrus fruit that you’ll see a lot of during the Chinese New Year season, sold at markets all over Singapore at about $10 per fruit!
The Chinese word for the fruit is often mistranslated to “bergamot,” which is actually a hybrid of sour orange and limetta, while Buddha’s Hand is a cross between Yuma ponderosa lemon and citremon.
It’s so called because it looks like resembles the idealised fingers of the Buddha – there are actually different variations, from “open-hand” types with outward-splayed segments to “closed-hand” types with the fingers kept together.
A fruit for the altar
The “closed-hand” variant of the citrus is popular as a ceremonial offering for Chinese New Year as it’s supposed to resemble hands in prayer. People would pray and then place the fruit on the altar at home or at Buddhist temples.
Its name in Chinese, 佛手柑 (foshou), has almost the same sound as the words for “fortune” (富, fu) and “longevity” (寿, shou), which is perfect for CNY wishes as it’s believed to symbolise happiness, wealth, and longevity.
It’s so revered that Chinese artists classically depicted the fruit in jade and ivory carvings, in prints, and on lacquered wood panels.
A fragrant fruit
The fruit is also very fragrant, with a heavenly lavender-citrus scent, which is why a lot of people tend to leave the fruits out as air fresheners. A few slices can scent a whole home. In China, Malaysia and Japan, they’re also used for perfuming personal items such as clothing.
The Buddha’s Hand is also popular as an ornamental plant, thanks to its decorative fruits and white/lavender blossoms.
A warm fruit for TCM
The Buddha’s Hand is also touted to have health properties, and is sometimes prescribed in TCM – cut into thin slices and dried at low temperatures – to regulate the flow of Qi in the liver and stomach, specifically for ailments like abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and vomiting. It’s also prescribed to people who have too much “cold” in their body.
Using the fruit
Although it’s a citrus fruit, the Buddha’s Hand looks like it’s entirely made of lemon rind and skin, and even so, it’s not bitter. They usually don’t contain juice or pulp, and are seedless (which is why it has to be hand-cultivated).
Much like a lemon, the fruit isn’t eaten raw on its own – it’s usually zested, preserved, or infused. Here’s some ways to enjoy the fruit:
Zested: shave thin slices of Buddha’s hand and use it the same way you’d use lemon zest.
Candied: since it’s seedless and not bitter, it’s perfect for making candied citrus, which you can eat by itself or use in baked goods. There are plenty of candied citrus recipes out there. You can also make jam out of them.
Infused: the aroma makes it fantastic for making infused vodka or flavoured simple syrup for cocktails. To infuse, simply add sliced Buddha’s Hand into an alcohol base (preferably something clear and strong, like vodka or gin) and infuse for a week in an airtight jar. You can also use it to infuse your salt or sugar by placing the fruit in the jar with them.
Now that you know why the fruit’s so popular, why not bring one home?