Scotch Bonnet Vs. Jalapeño – How Do They Compare?

Scotch bonnets and jalapeños are two spicy peppers that come from different parts of the Americas: the scotch bonnet from the Caribbean islands and jalapeños from Mexico. But both have global popularity. So which is hotter than the other? How does their flavor and shape differ? How easy are they each to find? Let’s compare. 

Which is hotter, the scotch bonnet pepper or the jalapeno?

Scotch bonnets are unquestionably the hotter of these two peppers. The scotch bonnet’s heat range runs from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), putting it solidly in the extra-hot category of chilies. It’s the same heat range as its cousin, the habanero pepper. That’s a heat level that will be uncomfortable for many, but it’s certainly not among the hottest peppers in the world that run to 1 million SHU (like ghost peppers) and well above.

The scotch bonnet and habanero both sit at the maximum spiciness many chefs feel comfortable cooking with and serving. That’s evidenced by these two chilies typically being the hottest that you’ll find fresh in chain supermarkets. 

The jalapeño pepper is quite a different story heat-wise. It sits at the lower end of medium heat, a mere 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units. It’s a spiciness that many eaters can enjoy. It’s well below even the (also very common) cayenne pepper powder sitting in your spice rack (30,000 to 50,000 SHU.)

When comparing the two, the scotch bonnet is 12 to 140 times hotter than a jalapeño, depending on the chilies compared. 

Which chili is more popular?

Let’s compare these two chili peppers by how often they are searched globally online. “Jalapeño” and variants are searched more that 600,000 times monthly, making it arguably the most popular chili on the planet. 

The scotch bonnet certainly is popular, but nowhere near the jalapeño’s enormous scale. “Scotch bonnet” and variants are searched more than 140,000 times monthly. It’s among the most popular chilies in the world, but it’s eclipsed by the popularity of the jalapeño. 

How do they differ in shape and colors?

The standard Scotch bonnet shape is squat (one and a half to two inches long) and round with a wrinkled exterior and distinctive lobes. The squat look often takes the shape of a tam ‘o shanter bonnet, which is where the chili pepper then gets its name. Scotch bonnet peppers typically age from green to red, but there are variants to this chili , like the chocolate scotch bonnet (chocolate-brown in color.)

The standard jalapeno shape is oblong that has a bulbous end towards the stem and that tapers slightly to a blunt point on the blossom side of the fruit. They measure from two and a half to three inches long. Jalapenos have a smooth, glossy exterior.

Common jalapeños also age from green to red, but there are many different types as well. The purple jalapeño, for instance, is one of the more unique shades on the Scoville scale. And the chipotle pepper is a dried, smoked jalapeño. 

–> Learn More: Jalapeño Vs. Chipotle

How does each pepper taste?

Scotch bonnets are usually eaten when they are ripe, which is when they are at their most flavorful. Ripe scotch bonnets offer a uniquely aromatic and fruity flavor profile. Their sweet flavor is beyond a fruity taste – think more tropical and citrusy. It’s a perfect enhancement (in both heat and flavor) for Caribbean cuisine of all types. 

Jalapenos typically get eaten while still unripe (green), and their flavor is vegetal and grassy similar to the flavor of green bell peppers. There’s a brightness to the taste. Ripe red jalapenos will have a sweetness similar to that of ripe bell pepper. It’s more fruity than citrusy. And chipotles take on an earthy, smoky flavor. 

Where did each pepper originate?

Scotch bonnet peppers began with the Taino people in South America’s Orinoco River Valley who migrated north to the Greater Antilles — islands like Jamaica — and brought their peppers with them. The peppers would be integrated into the food cultures of these Caribbean islands and mixed with both African and European traditions. Today, you can see the effects of scotch bonnets in island favorites, like jerk dishes and Jamaican curries. It’s the chili you want for an authentic flavor to these dishes.

Jalapenos come from a different part of the Americas where they were cultivated by the Aztecs and then named Cuaresmenos to indicate their connection to the Roman Catholic Lent season. Before the modern agricultural era, Lent is when jalapenos would traditionally start producing. Later on, they would be renamed after the city of Xalapa where they first became popular.

Can you substitute one for the other?

While these are both chili peppers and can provide heat, the jalapeño and scotch bonnet are different enough that neither make great substitutes for one another.

If you’re looking to make a dish milder, you could opt to substitute those scotch bonnets for jalapeños. It would certainly lessen the heat, but you also lose that authentic tropical, citrusy flavor.

And substituting a jalapeño for a scotch bonnet at a 1:1 ratio will bring blistering spiciness to a dish. You’d need to cut back on the amount used by an amount that could change the overall eating experience. 

Better options for each:

  • Scotch bonnet substitute: Habanero peppers (equal heat, also fruity and tropical)
  • Jalapeño substitutes: Serrano peppers (slightly spicier with a similar bright, grassy flavor) or banana peppers (if looking at pickled options, much milder)

–> Learn More: What Are Good Scotch Bonnet Pepper Substitutes?

Which is easier to find fresh?

Outside of the West Indies, fresh scotch bonnets are mostly popular in communities that have large West Indian communities, but, again, their popularity is nowhere near that of jalapenos. Look to specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets that would feature ingredients for Caribbean cooking. 

Fresh jalapeños are available in nearly every grocery store produce section. The jalapeno’s low-medium heat level makes it an excellent on-ramp to the world of hot peppers, so it’s a common site even at smaller grocers. 

A hot sauce recipe for each chili pepper

Simple Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce
The tropical sweetness of those scotch bonnets is the star of this recipe.
Check out this recipe
Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce

Basic Jalapeño Hot Sauce
Plenty of flavor as-is, but perfect as a hot sauce base for culinary play.
Check out this recipe
Basic Jalapeno Hot Sauce

Which is used most often in commercial products?

Scotch bonnets show up in a range of sauces (particularly jerk sauces), salsas, purees, and flakes but fewer than jalapenos. Though, among hot sauces, the scotch bonnet tends to hold its own more. Many hot sauces that use tropical ingredients lean into that tropical flavor by using scotch bonnets or habanero peppers.

Jalapenos are available in many commercial products, from pickled jalapeños and hot sauces to flavored nuts and salad dressings. It’s among the most popular flavor additives on the market for anything using hot peppers that will be labeled “spicy.”

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