What Is a Scotch Bonnet Chile Pepper?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Scotch bonnet peppers with parsley and thyme

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The Scotch bonnet is the pepper of choice in the Caribbean—it's the most widely used hot pepper in the region's cuisine. It develops on a quick-growing plant that first produces flowers and then the fruit. You might see Scotch bonnet peppers labeled in stores and markets as "hot peppers" or "big peppers." These peppers have a heat rating of 80,000 to 400,000 on the Scoville scale and range in color from yellow to green to red, with some varieties ripening to shades of orange and brown. Scotch bonnet peppers are mostly grown in Jamaica, and the peppers are the main ingredient in pepper sauce, a typical Caribbean condiment. They are sold both fresh and dried.

What Is a Scotch Bonnet Chile Pepper?

Scotch bonnets got their name because of their appearance. They grow in an odd, flattened shape that resembles a tam o’ shanter or a "Scotsman's bonnet." Depending on what area of the Caribbean you're visiting, these peppers may also be called "Bahama mamas" or "Jamaican hots." In some regions, this pepper grows longer with less of a squashed appearance, but it is still the same, spicy hot pepper used in Caribbean cooking.

The Scotch bonnet is one of the hottest peppers out there, ranking side-by-side with the habanero on the heat scale; in fact, it's a close relative of the habanero. It's considered spicier than the comparatively mild jalapeño. This is especially the case if you purchase them in areas of the U.S. with high Caribbean populations who like their dishes hot. The peppers can be used whole, sliced, or chopped. Scotch bonnets are expensive, priced several times higher than jalapeño peppers.

How to Cook With a Scotch Bonnet Chile Pepper

Scotch bonnet peppers are used to make the famous Caribbean or West Indian pepper sauces. Pepper sauce is traditionally used as a condiment, as well as to season meat, fish, and poultry. The Scotch bonnet is also used whole to impart flavor without the full impact of its heat. In some preparations, it's simply chopped or minced and added to the food in the early stages of cooking.

You can reduce a lot of the heat from the Scotch bonnet (and any pepper, as a matter of fact) by removing its seeds as well as the membrane found inside the pepper—this is where most of the heat is stored. The more finely the pepper is chopped or minced, the more heat is spread in the dish. And be sure to take care when you're chopping the pepper; you'll definitely feel the effects when it comes in contact with your skin, and make a note not to touch your eyes or mouth. You might want to consider wearing cooking gloves.

When using dried Scotch bonnets, rinse them first with warm water. Then let sit in hot water for 10 minutes to rehydrate, and add whole to dishes or chop before adding to a recipe.

Red ripe Scotch bonnet hot spicy peppers still on the plant
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Scotch bonnet peppers on a blue plate
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A glass jar of hot chili pepper sauce on garden table
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Jamaican patty on a plate
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Jollof rice with chicken and plantains
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What Does It Taste Like? 

Scotch bonnets are hot peppers—very hot—but they can have an almost sweet, vaguely fruity taste underlying the spice. This can vary somewhat from region to region, however, because it depends on the soil conditions in which they're grown. 

Scotch Bonnet Chile Pepper Recipes

You will find variations in recipes for Caribbean hot pepper sauce, but one ingredient most have in common is the Scotch bonnet pepper. Whether in someone's home in the Islands or at a local restaurant, you're most likely to be served the pepper sauce on the side of almost any dish. Scotch bonnets are also a star ingredient in jerk preparations, heavily spicing meats and then cooking them on the grill.

Where to Buy Scotch Bonnet Chile Peppers

It's unlikely you'll find fresh Scotch bonnets in your local produce market or grocery store (you might find Scotch bonnet sauce, however) unless you happen to live in an area with a significant Latin American population. If so, the peppers will be in the produce section along with other types of peppers and sold loose; they should be firm and shiny without any soft spots. Dried Scotch bonnets may be easier to find and are sold in cellophane packages by weight.

If you're intent on getting your hands on the genuine pepper for a recipe you've been dying to try, look for an online vendor where they will be sold by weight. Seeds and plants are also available online so you can try growing them yourself, which is best done in warm climates. The pepper can be started from seed or plant and planted directly in the garden or in a large container. 

Storage

For short-term storage, place the Scotch bonnets in a zip-top bag and put in the refrigerator where they will remain fresh for two to three weeks. If you need to store for several months, you can freeze them. Place peppers on a baking sheet in a single layer and keep in the freezer until firm, then place in a zip-top bag. A third alternative is to brine the peppers by putting them in a jar with water and salt; they will last for about one month in the refrigerator.

Nutrition and Benefits

If you can handle the heat, you will be able to reap a few health benefits from these little, spicy chile peppers. Scotch bonnets are a good source of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B, as well as iron, niacin, riboflavin, and magnesium. They are also high in dietary fiber, phytochemicals, carotenoids, and flavonoids.

The chemical capsaicin not only makes these peppers spicy but also has been shown to offer medicinal properties. Capsaicin can be used to treat different types of pain such as headaches, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid pain, and painful diabetic neuropathy. It can also relieve chest congestion and prevent sinusitis. Researchers have also found capsaicin may help prevent and block the growth of cancer cells and reduce the onset of cardiovascular diseases.