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A Scotch Bonnet Pepper Guide – Colors, Uses, Origins, and More

Don’t be fooled by the innocent-sounding name, or their small size. The Scotch Bonnet pepper is savagely spicy. Hot pepper fans may be familiar with this Caribbean kicker. It may not be hot enough to be in the top 10 spiciest peppers in the world. However, the Scotch Bonnet is not far behind the pack with up to 350,000 SHU.

Named for a hat, Scotch Bonnet Peppers rank high on the Scoville scale. They can range in heat from 100,000-350,000 Scoville units. They are related to the Habanero pepper. The flavor profile of the Scotch Bonnet is sweet and fruit, as is the Habanero. Used in Caribbean cooking, salsas, and pepper eating contests. Colors vary from red and yellow, to the brown Chocolate Scotch Bonnet, from Jamaica.

Let’s take a closer look at the Scotch Bonnet, its origins, how it’s grown, and how to eat it. Is it a Habanero? Let’s find out.

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Various colored Scotch Bonnet Peppers – Photo by j0gar

What do Scotch Bonnet Peppers Look Like?

Scotch Bonnet peppers vary in color but are most commonly red or yellow, when ripe. The common Scotch Bonnets are 1.5-2 inches. About the size of a golf ball.

While other strains of the Scotch Bonnet will be more elongated, rather than a squished appearance, making them look more like a Jalapeno shape.

They are shaped like a type of bonnet style hat, from which they get their name. From the bottom, they can look like a belly button. From the top, they look almost like a tiny gourd. That’s the beauty of produce.

What do Scotch Bonnet Peppers Taste Like?

What do Scotch Bonnet peppers taste like? Spicy! Very spicy. This hot pepper is actually sweet(ish). Not to say it is sweet like candy.

But, rather than having a savory flavor profile, there are fruity, sweeter notes. That is if you can get past the burn of the pepper to actually taste any flavor.

The sweet tones are tropical, and earthy notes go well with Caribbean style cuisines. Popular in jerk seasoning, and sauces. Salsas with fruit taste great with Scotch Bonnets.

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Where do Scotch Bonnet Peppers Come From?

The name may be misleading as Scotch Bonnet originated in Brazil, not Scotland. Now they are available all across the globe, with new strains being bred all the time.

While some peppers like The Carolina Reaper (the world’s hottest pepper) are crossbreeds, the Scotch Bonnet is a purebred pepper. The original pepper has now been made into different strains such as the Chocolate Scotch Bonnet, from Jamaica.

How did Scotch Bonnet Peppers Get Their Name?

These fierce colorful peppers get their name from the shape. The shape of the Scotch Bonnet Pepper is similar to the shape of a Scottish hat which is like a sort of floppy beret.

Now the Scotch Bonnet has many nicknames like “Bonney” pepper, and “Caribbean Red” pepper. Can also be labeled simply as “spicy peppers,” and that they are.

Are Scotch Bonnet Peppers Safe to Eat?

The Scotch Bonnet Pepper is edible. It depends on your own personal taste buds, and how much heat you can handle if you consider it to be edible, or not.

Nevermind taste buds, some groups should never have Scotch Bonnets like kids, dogs, and those with allergies to spicy food. Though it is not common, someone can be allergic to spicy peppers. The allergy is not fully understood (as with most allergies).

Generally speaking, the Scotch Bonnet will not kill you, though you may feel like you will die. Assuming that you survive the act of eating a Scotch Bonnet, here are some things that could happen:

  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Burning the esophagus

Quick Facts About Scotch Bonnets

There are many varieties, and colors of Scotch Bonnet peppers. As they vary in strain, they vary on the Scoville scale. However, the colors do not dictate heat. Ripe Scotch Bonnets pack the same amount of kick whether they are red, yellow, or orange.

Scotch Bonnet100,000-350,000 SHU
Jamaican Yellow50,000-350,000 SHU
Jamaican Chocolate100,000-200,000 SHU
Fatalii-Long Scotch Bonnet125,000-325,000 SHU

What Are Scotch Bonnet Peppers Good For?

The health benefits of spicy foods may shock you.

  • Excitement- The experience of eating spicy food awakens your entire body, especially your taste buds.
  • Disease fighting- Spicy peppers pack a punch of antioxidants with the heat. Can also help with headaches, and weight loss. Hot peppers have many health benefits.
  • Clear the sinuses- Capsaicin reduces inflammation of sinuses and gets mucus flowing.
  • Lower blood pressure- Again, thanks to the capsaicin. The blood vessels relax when capsaicin is present, therefore lowering high blood pressure.
  • Vitamins- The nutritional value of Scotch Bonnets includes Vitamins A, B, and C. They are also high in iron and magnesium.

Flavor-wise, the Scotch Bonnet peppers pair well with Caribbean and Jamaican cuisines.

  • Salsa and hot sauce- Especially paired with fresh fruit. Also popular in pepper sauce.
  • Jerk meats- Chicken, pork, goat.
  • Jollof rice- Rice cooked down with Scotch Bonnets, tomatoes, onion, stock, and seasonings.

How to Cook with Scotch Bonnet Peppers

To cook with Scotch Bonnets, the first step is to prepare yourself. When working with such a spicy pepper, you will want gloves to prevent the spread of the spicy juice. Take the gloves off, and wash your hands before touching your face or anything else.

Even the oils on the exterior of the Scotch Bonnet can irritate your skin, and burn if you get it into your eyes, or an open wound. To remove oils from the skin try vinegar, dish soap, baking soda, or rubbing alcohol. To cool your mouth from capsaicin, drink, or swish around acidic liquids in your mouth such as milk, tomato juice, lemon, or vinegar.

Wash the pepper, and remove the stem. Deseed the pepper to reduce the heat, or leave it in for an extra fiery kick. You can eat the entire pepper whole, if you dare. However, the peppers are best when cooked into a dish, or used in salsa or sauce.

Pro tip: To infuse pepper flavor with little, to no heat transfer, boil the entire Scotch Bonnet in your stew, or dish without piercing the pepper. Remove, and discard the pepper once the dish has taken on the flavor.

How do Scotch Bonnet Peppers Rank vs Other Chili Peppers?

The hottest pepper in the world (Carolina Reaper) is over 2,000,000 SHU. The Scotch Bonnet can range from 100,000-350,000 SHU. There is a huge difference in the hottest pepper in the world and the Scotch Bonnet. Yet, it is ranked as very hot.

A pepper that it is commonly compared to is the Jalapeno. Many people are familiar with the Jalapeno, and how hot they can be. Jalapenos range 2,500-8,000 SHU. This means that Scotch Bonnets can be over 100 X hotter than the spiciest Jalapeno you have ever had.

Which is Hotter Scotch Bonnet Peppers or Habanero Peppers?

Scotch Bonnet peppers are ranked the same as their relative the Habanero on the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale is used to rate the heat level of peppers. The abbreviation SHU stands for Scoville Heat Unit.

They are always grouped together because of their similar sweet and fruity flavor notes, in addition to their spice level. The Habanero and Scotch Bonnet both rank between 100,000-350,000 SHU.

Are Scotch Bonnet peppers and Habanero peppers the same?

The Habanero and the Scotch Bonnet are related. They often get mistaken for the same pepper, though they are a completely different plant. The Habanero pepper is a bit longer, and not as stout at the Scotch Bonnet.

Because of their similar flavor profiles and spice, they are often interchanged in recipes. The substituting one pepper for another has led to further confusion between the two. Scotch Bonnets can be described as having a slightly sweeter taste.

Which Climates are Best for Growing Scotch Bonnet Peppers?

Overall, Scotch Bonnets are happiest in subtropical climates. Since they originated in Brazil, they love hot weather, and plenty of sunshine.

Ideal temperatures for Scotch Bonnet pepper plants is 75-95 (F). PH balance should be just right for the temperamental pepper plants. They like it between 6-6.8 PH.

You can buy a PH tester kit for soil at your local garden center. For soil that tests lower than 6, you can try adding some limestone to bring it up. For soil that tests higher than 6.8, you can try adding sulfur to bring it down.

The Best Time to Plant Scotch Bonnets

For best results, plant Scotch Bonnets during the hot months, midsummer is perfect for fruiting. Therefore, May is a good time for areas that experience frost. As long as the nights don’t get too cool. (above 60 F)

Scotch Bonnets can be grown in a large-sized pot, or in your garden bed. For potted pepper plants, water daily. For those planted directly in the ground, less often. Scotch Bonnet pepper seeds come in a wide variety, check them out.

How Long Does it Take to Grow Scotch Bonnet Peppers?

From seed to table, Scotch Bonnets should take up to 90 days, total. However, they could take up to 4-5 months. For the Scotch Bonnet Chocolate pepper, it could take up to 200 days. To successfully grow a pepper plant from seed takes a super green thumb.

Here’s a cool time-lapse video of a Scotch Bonnet plant growing.

Seed germination time is 7-12 days. Once the plant has grown 5-6 weeks, or 5-6 inches high. Gradually harden them off by watering them every other day, instead of once a day.

Once the soil is firm, the shock of transplanting will be less of a risk. Therefore giving your plant a better chance at surviving the transplant to your garden.

Most people would rather buy a sprouted plant that they can take home and plant in their gardens. Not everyone has the time, patience, or ability to grow a plant from seed. The sprouted ones at your local nursery are a safer bet.

Availability may be one reason to choose to grow your garden from seed. Though Scotch Bonnets are growing in popularity, not every nursery carries them. Ask your local store if they can special order them.

Delaware State University’s Scotch Bonnet Growing Guide.

Pro tip: Do not overwater your seedlings and plants.

How to Pollinate Scotch Bonnet Pepper Plants

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a male plant, to a female plant. However, pepper plants are self-pollinating. Meaning that they don’t really need the assistance of bees or other pollinators. 

To improve your chances of having a plentiful pepper harvest, you may wish to hand-pollinate the plants. There is a peak time of day for pollen which is from noon-3pm. Hand pollinating pepper plants is when you take a fine paintbrush or cotton swab, and transfer the pollen from male to female.

The shakedown is simple. Giving your pepper plant a gentle shake to help transfer pollen from one flower to another is not as effective as hand pollination, but can be helpful in a pinch.

A face covering, and gloves are strongly recommended for this job. Pollen can be sticky, and tricky to get off. If you are sensitive to seasonal allergies, the pepper plant pollen could irritate your sinuses.

How Tall do Scotch Bonnet Pepper Plants Grow

A Scotch Bonnet pepper plant matures into a small bush. Two feet tall, and one foot wide. Spacing is key when growing more than one hot pepper plant. Give them at least 3-5 between each plant.

It is also recommended to keep Scotch Bonnet plants away from other vegetables, especially nightshades. If different varieties of pepper plants are grown close to one another, they could spread their spiciness around the garden. So, keep your sweets, and your spicy peppers apart.

How many Scotch Bonnet Peppers Will I Get From One Plant?

The number of hot peppers that you will get from one plant can vary greatly. You should get at least 20 peppers per plant. At most, you can get up to 50 peppers from one plant.

Healthy Scotch Bonnet plants will yield more than one that is neglected. Pruning your pepper plants will give the plant the best opportunity for healthy growth.

Using a fertilizer that has a high nitrogen count can result in lower-yielding plants. To get more peppers per plant, use organic fertilizer like fish emulsion. Try adding a few tablespoons of Epsom salt to a spray bottle filled with water. Use to water your plants once a week for higher yield.

Are Scotch Bonnet Pepper Plants Perennials?

The difference between annual, and perennial plants is that perennials come back every season. Whereas an annual plant one lasts for one season. Thankfully, Scotch Bonnets are perennials.

Year after year your Scotch Bonnets will return. However, for most areas, crop rotation helps control pests that feed on pepper plants.

When Scotch Bonnet Peppers Should be Picked

For most heat, and best flavor/texture, it is best to wait until pepper pods have grown from green to their mature color. They should be healthy-looking and have a high gloss.

Harvest peppers by hand with a pair of garden shears. Snip about 2 inches above the pod, so that you leave a bit of the stem on the pepper.

In order to get the most heat out of your Scotch Bonnets, the trick is to stress the plant. Stressing a pepper plant produces more capsaicin. To stress a plant simply means to refrain from watering, until the soil is dry, and the leaves begin to dry out. Then start to water it, again.

WARNING:Do not harvest peppers without proper protection.

How do you Store Scotch Bonnet Peppers?

Fresh peppers are best stored in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. There they will last several weeks. Specialty products can help lengthen the life of your produce.

Frozen peppers will obviously be stored in the freezer. Simply placed fresh, whole, washed peppers into a freezer-safe bag. Store for several months. This will result in a texture change in the pepper, giving you mushy veg. Consider this when deciding how to store peppers long term.

Dried peppers should be stored in a dry place, preferably dark, too. Your spice cabinet is the perfect place.

Jarred peppers should be stored in a cold basement, or in the fridge. If properly canned, peppers can last over 1 year.

How Long Scotch Bonnet Peppers Last

The method in which you store your peppers can be due to lack of storage space, or the way that you intend to use the vegetable.

A dried Scotch Bonnet will last up to 6 months. Drying is the best way to preserve peppers. They can be brought back to life by rehydrating them. Drying can be done in a dehydrator, or outside in the sun.

Canning is preserving food in liquid-filled sealed jars and has nothing to do with cans. Canning spicy pepper is a smart way to preserve them. Plus, you get a bonus of the spicy pickling liquid. Canned peppers last up to 6 months in regular storage, but can last over 1 year if stored in cold storage like the fridge.

Final Thoughts

The Scotch Bonnet pepper is so beautiful, yet so fierce. It is easy to see why spicy food lovers hold this pepper close to their hearts. Go out and try a Scotch Bonnet, today! Or, try growing a couple of your own pepper plants.