Scotch Bonnet Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, And Pairings

Scotch bonnet peppers are a type of chili pepper hailing from the Caribbean and known for their intense heat and unique fruity flavor. Named for their resemblance to the traditional Scottish tam o’ shanter hats, these peppers are a staple in Caribbean cuisine, adding a distinctive kick to dishes such as jerk chicken, hot sauces, and stews. They typically measure between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making them one of the hotter varieties of chili peppers and a spicy equivalent to its close cousin, the habanero.

Aside from their heat, scotch bonnet peppers are prized for their sweet, fruity taste with notes reminiscent of tomatoes and apples. They thrive in warm, tropical climates and can be found in colors ranging from green to bright red and orange as they ripen.

Red scotch bonnet peppers on the vine

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
OriginCaribbean
UseCulinary
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 same heat range (100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units or SHU) as its cousin, the habanero. Let’s also compare it to the jalapeño, our 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 level of 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.

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

What does it look like and taste 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 is reminiscent of Scotland about this pepper, but it has a name that’s hard to forget. It has other names, too, including the Bonny pepper, 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. The common version of this chili ages from green to red and showcase multiple green and orange shades in-between as it matures.

This typical scotch bonnet has a sweet, tropical 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. Just add in more sweetness.

Common types

There are a lot of variants of this chili out there. 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, and the colors will range from mustardy-yellow to chocolate-brown. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Scotch Bonnet Chocolate (Brown): This variety has a rich, brown color when mature. It has a slightly different flavor profile with a hint of smokiness and earthiness, and it can be a bit hotter compared to the regular scotch bonnet.
  • Scotch Bonnet Yellow (Mustard): Characterized by its bright yellow or mustard color, the yellow version tends to have a bit more sweetness and a slightly milder heat level, adding a fruity yet less intense kick.
  • Tobago Scotch Bonnets: This variety hails from the island of Tobago. The fruit itself is slightly elongated compared to the common squat tam o’ shanter shape. It comes in multiple colors and shares the same overall level of heat, but the sweetness, while there, tends to be slightly less.

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 many 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 uses go well beyond Caribbean cooking. From extra-hot salsas and spicy marinades to use as a cocktail ingredient, the scotch bonnet is a terrific fit.

More 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.
  • The best scotch bonnet substitute is the habanero. They are often easier to find in grocery stores. If neither are around, look at our scotch bonnet substitutes post for more ideas for alternatives.

Common scotch bonnet ingredient pairings

As mentioned, this is one versatile chili that sits at the heat pinnacle of common culinary peppers. So you’ll see the scotch bonnet paired with a wide variety of ingredients. The best, though, complement this chili’s delicious tropical sweetness or act as a more neutral base by which the scotch bonnet’s natural flavors shine.

  • Mango: Mango’s natural sweetness and juiciness complement the fruity heat of scotch bonnets, creating a balanced and tangy flavor perfect for salsas and marinades.
  • Pineapple: Similarly, the tropical sweetness and acidity of pineapple enhance the pepper’s fruity notes and reduce the overall heat. It’s ideal for using in chutneys and grilled dishes.
  • Tomato: Tomatoes’ acidity and garden-fresh sweetness balance the chili’s heat. Their juiciness provides a perfect medium for blending into hot sauces and stews.
  • Bell Peppers: This is a common ingredient to pair with hotter culinary chilies, simply because it’s an easy way to lessen the heat by cutting the amount of scotch bonnet needed with bells. The colors, too, work well here. It’s a common pairing in stir-fries to lessen overall spiciness.
  • Pork: The rich, fatty nature of pork balances the heat of scotch bonnets, allowing the pepper’s fruity flavor to shine in dishes like jerk pork or spicy sausages.
  • Chicken: Chicken’s relatively neutral flavor acts as a canvas that absorbs the complexity of scotch bonnet’s heat and fruitiness, perfect for dishes such as jerk chicken or pepper chicken stew.
  • Thyme: The earthy, slightly minty flavor of thyme pairs well with the fiery and fruity notes of this chili, commonly used in Caribbean dishes to add depth and complexity.
  • Ginger: Ginger’s warm, spicy flavor complements the heat of scotch bonnets and adds a zesty, aromatic quality to dishes, particularly in marinades and sauces.
  • Garlic: Garlic’s pungent and savory flavor enhances the fruity heat here, making it a staple in various hot sauces and spice rubs.
  • Allspice: The sweet, peppery taste of allspice matches so well with scotch bonnet peppers, adding a rich, warm layer of flavor commonly found in Caribbean jerk seasoning and spice blends.

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.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 12, 2024 to include new content.
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