What Is a Scotch Bonnet Pepper?

If you’re a fan of Jamaican cuisine or Caribbean cooking, you’ve likely tasted the fruity, fiery flavor of a Scotch Bonnet. But what is a Scotch Bonnet pepper? And how can you grow these delicious chilies at home? Read on for answers to your burning (pun intended) questions. 

Scotch Bonnet peppers

With 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units, the Scotch Bonnet chili packs a punch. When I first sampled the pepper, I was surprised by the sweet, tropical flavor. Then I started sweating. A lot.  

If this spicy pepper sounds like a good time to you, you may wonder where to buy Scotch Bonnets or how to grow them yourself. Here’s some info to get you started. 

Scotch Bonnet Pepper Facts:

Common NamesBahamian, Bahama Mama, Jamaican Hot, Martinique pepper, Bonney pepper, Boabs Bonnet, Scotty Bon, Goat pepper
Scoville Heat Units (SHU)100,000 to 350,000 SHU
Capsicum SpeciesCapsicum chinense
Days To Harvest120 days
Size1 to 2.5 in (2.5 to 6.4 cm) long peppers; 1 to 1.5 ft (0.3 to 0.5 m) tall plants
FlavorSweet, fruity, tropical, citrusy
Culinary UsesCaribbean or West Indian pepper sauces, dry rubs, marinades, salsas, soups, curries

Let’s dive deeper into the world of Scotch Bonnets!

What Is A Scotch Bonnet Pepper?

what is a scotch bonnet pepper
Scotch Bonnet Pepper

The Scotch Bonnet origin story is an interesting one. According to historians, this chili can be traced back to the lowland jungles of the western Amazon basin [source]. It was here that the Taíno people first discovered the spicy pepper.

Later, in the 15th century, an enemy tribe forced the Taíno to migrate. They eventually arrived in the West Indies, but not without their Scotch Bonnets. 

Today, the Scotch Bonnet remains a staple of Caribbean cooking. Because the chili pepper has a sweet and tropical taste, it’s traditionally used to make pepper sauce. This popular condiment is used on everything from chicken to casserole.   

You might be wondering: How did the Scotch Bonnet get its name? In the 1800s, about one-third of slave plantations in the Caribbean were owned by Scots [source]. Because of this, the Scotch Bonnet’s unique name refers to its resemblance to the “tammie” – a traditional bonnet worn by Scottish men.

Scotch Bonnet Scoville

Scotch Bonnet Scoville chart

Since this chili is a cousin of the orange Habanero, you can expect a similar heat level. On the Scoville scale, Scotch Bonnets rate between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). That’s 40 times hotter than your average Jalapeño pepper

On the flip side, Scotch Bonnets aren’t as hot as super spicy chilies like Ghost peppers (1 million SHU), Trinidad Moruga Scorpions (1.2 to 2 million SHU), and Carolina Reapers (2.2 million SHU).   

And, much like a Habanero, the heat from a Scotch Bonnet hits you right in the back of the throat. Depending on your tolerance, this fire can linger anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. 


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What Does A Scotch Bonnet Pepper Look Like? 

what does a scotch bonnet pepper look like
Scotch Bonnet Pepper Varieties

Scotch Bonnets are relatively petite peppers ranging from 1 to 2 ½ inches (2.5 to 6.4 cm) in length and 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter. Because of their squat dimensions, these fruity firecrackers look like tam o’ shanter caps. 

Most hot pepper fans are familiar with the bright Yellow Scotch Bonnet (seeds) and the fiery Red Scotch Bonnet pepper (seeds). However, there are three other common subvarieties: 

  • Chocolate Scotch Bonnet (seeds): The Chocolate Scotch Bonnet has a milk chocolate appearance and offers an earthy flavor with notes of smokiness.  
  • Sweet Scotch Bonnet (seeds): The Sweet Scotch Bonnet has just a hint of heat with a sweet, tropical taste.
  • Jamaican Scotch Bonnet (seeds): The Jamaican Scotch Bonnet is the spiciest cultivar commonly used in jerk sauces. 

» Related: 30 Places to Buy Pepper Seeds Online

Scotch Bonnet Flavor

Scotch Bonnet flavor in jerk marinade
Scotch Bonnet Jerk Marinade

Bright, citrusy and spicy as hell, the Scotch Bonnet is the star of Caribbean cooking, specifically Jamaican, Haitian, Trinidadian and Grenadian cuisine. 

Traditionally, these spicy peppers are used to make jerk marinade. But they can also be used to make dry rubs, salsas, curries and soups. Traditional Scotch Bonnet recipes include:

You can add Scotch Bonnet chili peppers to just about any dish that needs a kick of spice!

Where To Buy Scotch Bonnet Peppers

where to buy Scotch Bonnet peppers on Etsy
Scotch Bonnet Peppers on Etsy

Scotch Bonnets can be tricky to find. These spicy peppers are so sought after that in 2018, supply only met 55 percent of demand [source]!

You may be able to find Scotch Bonnets in grocery stores like Sprouts, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. (Tip: Search Instacart to see what pops up.)

Another option is to check your local farmer’s market during the summertime. You can also buy fresh Scotch Bonnet peppers on Etsy.

If all else fails, you may have better luck finding dried Scotch Bonnets online. In their dried form, the chilies typically come in pods, flakes or powders. 

What Can I Use Instead of a Scotch Bonnet Pepper?

Habanero peppers as a Scotch Bonnet substitute
Habanero Peppers Are A Good Scotch Bonnet Pepper Substitute

So, what if you can’t get your hands on a Scotch Bonnet pepper? Or, what if you want the sweet, citrusy taste without all the fire?

Fortunately, there are plenty of Scotch Bonnet substitutes. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Habanero peppers: Since Habaneros are a not-so-distant cousin of the Scotch Bonnet, they offer a similar flavor and heat profile. Plus, these chilies are easy to find in grocery stores.
  • Jalapeno peppers: If you’re new to the world of spice, Jalapenos are a great introduction. These peppers are moderately hot with a bright, vegetal taste. 
  • Cayenne pepper powder: If you can’t get fresh peppers, Cayenne powder is a great alternative. This spice won’t add the nuanced flavors of a fresh Scotch Bonnet, but you’ll definitely get some heat.

Growing Scotch Bonnet Peppers

growing scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch Bonnet Pepper Plant

Growing Scotch Bonnet pepper plants takes some patience. (Like, around seven months of patience!) Here are all the steps to get you started.

When To Start: Start Scotch Bonnet pepper seeds indoors about eight weeks before your last expected frost

Germination: Plant Scotch Bonnet seeds in moistened, seed-starting media, add a cover, then put your containers on top of a plant heat mat to give seeds a warm environment (between 80 to 90°F or 27 to 32°C). Scotch Bonnet seeds typically take two to three weeks to germinate. 

» Related: Recommended Pepper Growing Supplies

Indoor Seedlings: After germination, your pepper seedlings need light. Use a grow lamp for the best indoor growth. (Here are my light recommendations).

Moving Outdoors: When Scotch Bonnet seedlings outgrow their containers, transplant them to a mid-sized container. Once outdoor temperatures creep towards a regular 55°F (13°C), you can harden your plants off before moving Scotch Bonnet pepper plants outside. 

Fruiting Plants: Position your plants in full sun (more than 8 hours is best) and keep a regular water and fertilizer schedule. It typically takes seven months to grow a Scotch Bonnet pepper plant. 

First time growing peppers from seed?

Learn to grow peppers with my step-by-step, illustrated ebook. It’ll help you skip a lot of beginner mistakes so that you can enjoy harvesting your own chilies!

When To Pick

when to pick Scotch Bonnet peppers
Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper

Scotch Bonnet peppers are ripe when they are firm to the touch and have a mature color. The fruit should be about 1 to 2 ½ inches (2.5 to 6.4 cm) in length and 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter.

You’ll typically get up to 50 peppers per Scotch Bonnet plant, but this may be more or less depending on the length of your growing season, pot size and if the plant is getting full sun (about 8 hours) each day.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper FAQs

Are green Scotch Bonnets hot?

Yes. At 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, Scotch Bonnet peppers are 40 times hotter than Jalapenos. However, they’re not as spicy as super hot peppers like the Carolina Reaper and Ghost pepper.   

What is the difference between a Habanero pepper and a Scotch Bonnet pepper?

Though these chilies have similar spice levels, they offer slightly different flavor profiles. Habaneros are floral, fruity and a tad bitter. Scotch Bonnet peppers are a bit sweeter and fruitier with no bitterness whatsoever.  

How do you store Scotch Bonnet peppers?

If you plan on eating your Scotch Bonnets over the next two weeks, toss the dry, unwashed peppers into a sealable bag and stow them in the vegetable drawer of your fridge. You can also place washed peppers in a freezer bag and store them for up to eight months in your freezer. 

Are Scotch Bonnet pepper plants perennials?

Scotch Bonnet plants, like other peppers, are perennial as long as you overwinter them during the colder season.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know what a Scotch Bonnet pepper is, I hope you’re empowered to give these sweet and spicy chilies a try. Your jerk sauce will be next level!

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AUTHOR

Jenny is the creator of Grow Hot Peppers as well as the writer of the gardening guides and many recipes on this site. She’s been growing peppers and all kinds of veggies for over 10 years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she loves eating spicy foods, hiking and going to the ocean.