Scotch Bonnet Vs. Habanero – How Do They Compare?

Scotch bonnet vs. habanero. Two close cousins that spice up the upper end of the Scoville scale. But how do they compare? How often can you find them at a supermarket? And how often do you see them in hot sauces and other spicy products? Let’s compare these two giants to discover their similarities and differences. Want to dig deeper? Be sure to read our posts that dive even deeper: the scotch bonnet pepper and the habanero pepper.

Which is hotter, the scotch bonnet or the habanero?

Both of these chilies sport the same amount of overall heat – from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units (SHU.) These are true extra-hot peppers with significant heat. But they don’t reach the heights of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Carolina Reaper, and others among the hottest peppers in the world.

Though some varieties of habaneros that do cross over into the lower end of super-hot spiciness, like the chocolate habanero (425,000 – 577,000 SHU) and the Red Savina (350,000 to 577,000 SHU.)

Both scotch bonnets and habaneros are considered by many foodies and chefs to be the upper end of true culinary chili peppers. For many, except the most extreme eaters, any hotter, and you can’t enjoy the nuances within the flavor. Yes, they are much hotter than the spice rack staple, cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU.) And they are 12 to 140 times hotter than a jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), but if you enjoy a bolder spicy flavor, you get that plus flavor in both scotch bonnets and habaneros.

Which is more popular?

Let’s compare these chilies by how often they are searched online globally. Both the scotch bonnet and the habanero are quite popular, but one is no doubt more popular. “Habanero” is searched nearly 263,000 times monthly on Google, while “scotch bonnet” is searched roughly 80,000 times monthly.

That ratio also holds true here on PepperScale, with the habanero being three times more popular in internal searches compared to scotch bonnets.

How does each taste?

As these chilies are cousins, they have a similar fruity, sweet tropical taste. But scotch bonnet peppers are typically sweeter overall.

For some dishes (like Caribbean meals), this additional sweetness is important to the overall flavor, but a habanero could be used in a pinch. For both, this sweetness makes them exceptional hot peppers to pair with fruits, especially tropical fruits.

What does each look like?

Habaneros grow from one to three inches in length, with a smooth pod-like shape. The most common habanero variant matures to orange, but there are many colors here. For instance, the Caribbean red habanero matures (obviously) to red. And the Peruvian white habanero to white.

Scotch bonnets have a more unique shape, sort of like a squished Tam o’Shanter hat. It’s typically an inch and a half to two inches in size. And they age into beautiful hues of orange and red.

Which is easier to find fresh?

The habanero is becoming more prevalent in general supermarkets. In fact, it’s a common sight even outside of regions with high Caribbean populations.

The scotch bonnet, on the other hand, is harder to find, unless you live in an urban area that caters to Caribbean residents, as it’s a staple of Caribbean cooking. In locations like South Florida, you’ll sometimes see scotch bonnets carried while there’s not a habanero in sight.

Still, if they are going to carry anything this spicy, most supermarkets will carry the better-known habanero.

Which is more commonly used in products?

Habanero-based products (salsas and hot sauces) are more prevalent on store shelves. That’s again because of their overall popularity, but also because the habanero – being slightly less sweet – tends to pair better with a wider variety of ingredients.

But a favorite for many are products for both peppers that play up that fruity sweetness.  There are many tasty hot sauce and salsa options out there that mix in fruits like mango, passion fruit, and pineapple with both habaneros and scotch bonnets.

Overall: Similar, yet different

You aren’t going to find two peppers on the Scoville scale with as much similarity as the scotch bonnet and the habanero. They are close cousins with similar heat and similar flavors. The differences do lie in availability, with the habanero typically edging out scotch bonnet in both fresh pepper availability and total products on the store shelves.

If you have a recipe calling for a scotch bonnet and there’s none available near you, a habanero works quite well as a scotch bonnet substitute. But don’t overlook the scotch bonnet if you have access to them. Its increased sweetness is a nice twist, particularly when you’re exploring fruity hot sauce and salsa recipes.

Must-read related posts

  • The Hot Pepper List: Explore our list of over 150 chilies. Search for chilies by name, flavor, heat level, and origin.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: We rank over 100 hot sauces to help you find your next new favorite.
  • Simple Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce: We let the scotch bonnet’s delicious natural fruitiness star, without putting tropical fruits front and center.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 16, 2022 to include new content.
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When I was in Panama I was introduced to the Caribbean pepper sauce. I have really taken a liken to this pepper sauce and found that the pepper used was the scotch bonnet pepper. I was able to find some Caribbean pepper sauce in some specialty markets but it isn’t too common. Habanero pepper sauce is more common but just isn’t at all the same. I bought some peppers that were labeled as scotch bonnet peppers but they ended up tasting exactly like the habanero pepper sauce I made. I think I was sold habanero peppers labeled in correctly as… Read more »