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.
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 Names||Bahamian, 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 Species||Capsicum chinense|
|Days To Harvest||120 days|
|Size||1 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|
|Flavor||Sweet, fruity, tropical, citrusy|
|Culinary Uses||Caribbean or West Indian pepper sauces, dry rubs, marinades, salsas, soups, curries|
- What Is A Scotch Bonnet Pepper?
- Scotch Bonnet Scoville
- What Does A Scotch Bonnet Pepper Look Like?
- Scotch Bonnet Flavor
- Where To Buy Scotch Bonnet Peppers
- Growing Scotch Bonnet Peppers
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper FAQs
- Wrapping Up
Let’s dive deeper into the world of Scotch Bonnets!
What Is A 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
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!
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?
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.
- 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
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
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?
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 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
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.
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When To Pick
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?
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.
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!