Rocotillo Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are rocotillo peppers?

Like a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper in shape, the rocotillo pepper comes in much lower in overall heat. It’s really a mild pepper − just a wee bit hotter than the poblano on the Scoville scale (1,500 to 2,500 Scoville heat units), but sweeter and more tropical in taste, much like habaneros and scotch bonnets as well. The rocotillo is an excellent (though harder to find) alternative to those spicier peppers. And there’s a bit of confusion out there surrounding this chili, making it an intriguing entry on the Scoville scale, with two different Capsicum genuses using the rocotillo name.

rocotillo pepper
Rocotillo peppers have a squished shape, like a Tam o’Shanter hat, similar to scotch bonnets.

Table of Contents

Rocotillo pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)1,500 – 2,500
Median heat (SHU)2,000
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat to 5 times milder
Capsicum speciesBaccatum/Chinense
SizeApproximately 1 inch long, squished shape
FlavorSweet, Tropical

Rocotillo confusion: one name, many varieties

There is confusion surrounding the rocotillo. It begins with the fact that there are two different hot pepper varieties that share the same name. There’s a Capsicum baccatum variety that originates from Peru and a Capsicum chinense variety of unknown descent. Yet, the two different varieties look nearly identical and are very similar in overall heat.

To add to the confusion, there are also local variations to the names of rocotillo peppers in different areas of the world (not uncommon with chili peppers), and the term rocotillo has actually been used to describe different peppers altogether in some regions. Add it all together, it’s a real recipe for confusion.

We’ll stick to describing the Capsicum baccatum variety here, especially since both varieties really share a lot of the same characteristics.

How hot are rocotillo peppers?

As mentioned, if you can handle a poblano pepper, you can handle a rocotillo pepper. Its range is a mild 1,500 to 2,500 Scoville heat units, whereas the poblano runs 1,000 to 1,500. It’s just a small bump in heat.

Compared to our reference point, the jalapeño, the rocotillo can range from equal heat to five times milder. This hot pepper sits right on the line between mild and low-medium, so it’s a very eatable level of spiciness.

What does a rocatillo pepper taste like?

In terms of taste, it’s again a very mild heat with a decent amount of sweetness, very much like a toned-down scotch bonnet pepper or habanero.

The heat/flavor combo makes it somewhat unique on the Scoville scale. Few chili peppers have the tropical sweet flavor the rocotillo delivers at a mild level of spiciness. You typically need to move into extra-hot chilies like those habaneros to get this flavor.

What does it look like?

The shape is very similar to the habanero pepper or maybe even more so to the Caribbean scotch bonnet, sort of like a Tam o’Shanter hat. It appears slightly squished with a bulging center. While young, these chilies appear yellow or green in color, but they ripen into many different hues, particularly orange, brown, and red.

Cooking with rocotillo peppers

These are very popular peppers in the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico. In fact, some people call them Puerto Rico peppers because of how often they’re used there. They are used a lot in popular Puerto Rican meals, and they are a staple for jerk meat dishes (like jerk chicken or jerk pork).

Rocotillo peppers are an excellent substitute for the spicier scotch bonnet or habanero in Caribbean and Mexican dishes where less spice is preferred. It’s a terrific chili for salsas, hot sauces, and spicy tropical cocktails.

Tips to remember when handling:

  • It’s recommended to wear gloves when cutting into any chili pepper. Yes, rocotillos are mild, and it’s common for people to handle them without gloves, particularly when just picking them up whole. But when you cut into the chili, you’re releasing its oils and its capsaicin (the compound that provides the heat.) Even a mild chili can lead to uncomfortable chili burn.
  • Know how to combat chili burn prior to cooking with rocotillo peppers. You don’t want to have to figure it out while experiencing the uncomfortable burn. Here, milk is your best option, but there are others. See our post on treating chili burn, before you start cooking.

Where can you buy rocotillo peppers?

It’s a tough chili to find. You won’t typically see them at grocery stores unless you live in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, or areas with high concentrations of Caribbean and Puerto Rican residents (like Miami or New York City.)

You will find them in specialty stores in urban areas, but it may take some searching. You can buy rocotillo pepper seeds online if you have a green thumb for growing hot peppers. You’ll find the seeds as either baccatum or chinense when purchasing.

But if you have it in you for the search, you will surely be rewarded with a very tasty and mild chili. Since rocotillo pepper works so well with Mexican and Caribbean dishes, opt for it if you want a small zing without the intense heat of the typical peppers used in those dishes.

  • The Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 chilies at PepperScale. Search our list by name, heat level, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Looking for your next new favorite hot sauce? We review and rank over 100 hot sauces by flavor, heat balance, usability, and collectibility.
  • Genus Capsicum – Learn All About It: DIscover the different types of chili peppers available by Capsicum classification.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on August 27, 2022 to include new content.
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