Scotch Bonnet Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are scotch bonnet peppers?

A scotch bonnet pepper may sound timid, but it is nothing of the sort. It’s one of the spicier peppers (100,000 to 350,000 SHU, same as a habanero) that you may potentially find at a supermarket, especially in geographic areas high in Caribbean residents. Why the Caribbean? Because this is THE pepper of the region. In fact, if you say you want a hot pepper in most of the Caribbean islands, the scotch bonnet pepper is what you are handed. Scotch bonnet is used in all sorts of Caribbean cuisine, including the well-known jerk chicken (or jerk pork). Its sweet, tropical flavor pairs perfectly well with island tastes.

Scotch bonnet peppers on the vine

Table of Contents

Scotch bonnet pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)100,000 to 350,000
Median heat (SHU)225,000
Jalapeño reference point12 to 14 times hotter
Capsicum speciesChinense
SizeApproximately 1.5 to 2 inches long, squashed
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Tropical, Earthy

How hot are scotch bonnet peppers?

The name may sound harmless enough, but the scotch bonnet packs plenty of punch. It’s an extra-hot chili with the exact same spice range (100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units) as its cousin, the habanero. For a deeper comparison between the habanero and the scotch bonnet, both in heat and flavor, take a look at our showdown that highlights the similarities and differences between these two chilies.

Let’s also compare it to our jalapeño reference point. The scotch bonnet ranges between 12 and 140 times hotter than a jalapeño. It’s also 2 to 12 times hotter than that cayenne pepper you have on your spice rack. That’s a significant heat upgrade.

But of course, there are many hotter chilies above the scotch bonnet on the Scoville scale. Super-hot ghost peppers, for instance, sit 3 to 10 times hotter. And Carolina Reapers range from roughly 4 to 22 times hotter. So while, they have significant heat, it’s not a spiciness that rivals the current hottest peppers in the world.

In fact, the scotch bonnet’s spiciness is often considered the highest you’d typically go among true culinary chilies. It’s a range that is not for the timid, but it’s also not so hot that flavor becomes an afterthought and prolonged pain is a guarantee.

What does it look like?

The shape of this famous pepper is what inspired its name. In shape, the pepper, with its squashed look, appears like a Scotsman’s bonnet (called a Tam o’Shanter hat). Simple as that. Nothing else reminiscent of Scotland about this pepper, but it does have a name that’s hard to forget. It has other names, too, including the Bahama Mama, the Jamaican Hot, the Bahamian, and the Martinique pepper.

Scotch bonnets range from one and a half to two inches long, with a bulbous appearance, thanks to that squashed “bonnet” look. They age from green to red and showcase multiple green and orange shades in-between as it matures.

scotch bonnet pepper
Scotch bonnet peppers in a bowl, showcasing its multiple colors

What does a scotch bonnet pepper taste like?

This typical scotch bonnet has a slightly sweet taste to it, sort of like a tomato with a slight hint of apples and cherries. Again, it’s very closely related to the habanero, so if you’ve tasted a habanero you’ll have a decent idea of what a Scotch bonnet has in store for you in terms of heat. Just add in more sweetness.

But, there are a lot of variants of this chili out there, from the Tobago scotch bonnet to the scotch bonnet chocolate, among others. The flavor and heat, as with any chilies, will adapt to the region and soil it’s grown in, so these varieties will slightly differ in spice and sweetness. You’ll also find some that are more elongated than squat in shape, and the colors will range from orange-pink to chocolate-brown. There’s a whole world of options out there for this pepper, and that makes it a fun one to explore in terms of eating.

Cooking with scotch bonnets

The sweetness of this hot pepper makes it a very popular chili for Caribbean cooking and tropical hot sauces. It’s a really distinct fruity, sweet flavor that a lot of people love, and it pairs well with tropical fruits and spices of the Caribbean region. For instance, for true authentic flavor in your Jamaican jerk chicken or pork, be at the ready with fresh scotch bonnets.

But its use goes well beyond Caribbean cooking. Anywhere you’d use a habanero, you could sub-in a scotch bonnet and it’d be a good fit. From extra-hot salsas and spicy marinades, to use as a cocktail ingredient — the scotch bonnet can be just as versatile.

More scotch bonnet cooking tips:

  • Play into the tropical flavor. Scotch bonnets are known for their deliciously sweet, tropical flavor. Choosing ingredients with flavors that compliment that are one way to approach pairings. Another is to choose ingredients that are culinary opposites. Scotch bonnets work surprisingly well with earthy ingredients, adding a surprising sweet when none is expected.
  • Respect the heat. Scotch bonnets sit at the upper-end of spiciness for commonly used culinary chilies. You can also find them in many supermarkets (just like habaneros) right next to those jalapeños. Just because they are produce section neighbors, doesn’t mean you treat them equally. If you’ve decided to try a scotch bonnet in a recipe that expects jalapeños, significantly decrease the amount used. It’s very easy to over-spice here and ruin a meal.
  • Use kitchen gloves and (recommended) kitchen goggles when cutting them open. Yes, you can get chili burn simply by handling some scotch bonnets, but the true potential for pain comes from chopping these chilies. Then, the capsaicin oils (particularly in the white membrane) are exposed and a simple touch can lead to an uncomfortable burning sensation. Using gloves helps keep a barrier between you and those oils. And goggles keep you from mistakenly rubbing your eyes while working with these chilies.
  • Know how to handle chili burn prior to handling scotch bonnets. All the prep in the world won’t stop chili burn from still happening from time to time. Know how to handle it prior to working with these chilies. Read our post on treating chili burn, as well as our post on handling chili burn in the eye area. A hint: Water is not your friend here. Keep milk at hand.

Some of our favorite scotch bonnet recipes

  • Simple Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce: This is our favorite homemade hot sauce using this chili. Why? It lets the natural sweetness of the pepper star. No tropical fruits that’ll take center stage.
  • Jamaican Jerk Chicken: Of course, you can’t ignore the Jamaican staple when you’re talking scotch bonnet recipes. It’s such a good mix of earthy, fiery, and sweet.
  • Raspberry Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce: The versatility here is amazing. It’s just as good over grilled chicken as it is ice cream.
  • Brazilian Coconut Chicken Curry: The pairing of coconut and this chili is so good, creamy and earthy sweet meets that tropical fire.

What’s a good substitute?

The obvious is, of course, using a habanero. They are often easier to find in grocery stores. If neither are around, take a look at our scotch bonnet substitutes post for more ideas for alternatives.

Where can you buy scotch bonnet?

You may be able to find these chilies in supermarkets if you live in areas with high Caribbean populations or are close to a higher-end store. Otherwise, you may need to search out local farmer’s markets and chili farms to see what they have available. Of course, you can buy many related products online, from scotch bonnet seeds to dried chilies, hot sauces, and more.

  1. Dried Scotch Bonnet Peppers

    Dried, this chili starts to take on some more earthiness, to go along with its delicious sweetness. And the bold heat is still there.

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  2. Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Seeds

    This seed packet from Sherwood Seeds grows beautiful Jamaican yellow scotch bonnets.

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    02/18/2024 11:19 am GMT
  3. Eaton's Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce

    There are so many delicious (and authentic) Jamaican scotch bonnet hot sauces out there. Eaton's is one -- and it's delicious and certainly spicy! They don't hold back on the heat.

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    02/18/2024 02:19 am GMT
  • The Hot Pepper List: The scotch bonnet is only one of over 150 chilies we profile in our list. We cover heat, flavor, usage, and much more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Many hot sauces on the market use this chili, and for good reason — plenty of heat and flavor. It’s constantly growing, so bookmark it to find your next favorite hot sauce!
  • Does Cooking Peppers Make Them Hotter? Understanding what happens to a chili during the cooking process is important, especially for chilies where the heat is really a big part of the story.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 12, 2023 to include new content.
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