They’re not from Scotland. And they’re certainly not hats. But with their seriously spicy dispositions, Scotch Bonnets are truly fiercer than any fashion accessory!
For those who don’t know, Scotch Bonnets are, in fact, a type of hot pepper. And when we say hot, believe us – we really mean it.
These capsicums are particularly notorious for their mind-boggling amount of capsaicin – the naturally-occurring chemical compound that gives chili peppers their kick.
Technically a cultivar offshoot of the also-legendarily-spicy habanero pepper, Scotch Bonnets are routinely ranked among the world’s hottest hot peppers. They regularly rate on the Scoville scale – the official measurement of chili pepper hotness – at anywhere between 100,000-350,000 Scoville heat units, or SHUs.
What, exactly, does that mean?
Well, from a scientific standpoint, a 100,000 SHU score translates to a capsaicin count that must be diluted 10,000 times before its heat is no longer detected.
Comparatively, a jalapeno pepper can rank anywhere from 2,500 to 10,000 SHUs – making the mildest Scotch Bonnet pepper around 10 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno.
Still, it isn’t all blinding heat. Scotch Bonnets actually pack an impressive amount of flavor into their fiery flesh.
The peppers are actually known for their fruity taste, making them a popular ingredient across the Caribbean islands, where they’re often found tucked away into pepper sauce, jerk sauce and any number of other mouth- and eye-watering fare.
The fruity firecrackers also picked up their official nickname in Jamaica, thanks to their peculiar shape.
Scotch Bonnets are short and squat, measuring typically between 1 – 2 ½ inches long and 1-2 inches in diameter. Combined with their pointier stems, the blunted dimensions give them the look of a tam o’ shanter hat, a traditional Scottish fascinator that would’ve likely been more recognizable to the European sailors that descended upon the Caribbean in the Age of Exploration.
Still, Scotch Bonnets didn’t get their start in Jamaica – or even the Caribbean at all. In fact, the hot peppers are natives of Western Africa, and likely found their way to the tropical islands aboard those same European ships.
Yet, their popularity seemed to spread right along with their seeds, and today, there’s nearly a dozen different varieties of this hot sauce-favorite chili pepper to choose from.
The Bahama Mama. The Bahamian. The Jamaican Hot. The Capsicum Chinense. The Martinique Pepper.
The Scotch Bonnet has gone under all of these aliases – and more.
In general, the peppers all tend to rock their patented short, squat and strange shape – and Scotch Bonnets broadly come in categories of red, pink, orange and yellow.
Still, over the years, a number of specialty cultivars have developed, including:
True to its colorful name, this Scotch Bonnet varietal matures into a lovely canary yellow, after starting out its life as an unripe green.
Burkina Yellow Scotch Bonnet peppers are pretty rare, and still grown almost exclusively in Africa. Still, they’re a favorite among hot sauce aficionados, thanks to their especially fruity and sweet flesh and unusual – for Scotch Bonnets – shape, which turns out looking more like a lantern than an old, traditional head-topper.
Another true-to-name cultivar, this type of Scotch Bonnet has the true look of delicious milk chocolate, rocking a deep brown color when fully ripe.
But its taste comes in just a bit different, with the Scotch Bonnet’s notorious heat coupled with a fruity-yet-earthy and smoky flavor. All of this is packed into particularly thick flesh on a fruit shaped more like a traditional sweet pepper than an oddly-proportioned Scotch Bonnet.
An absolute favorite for culinary artists looking to make anything from hot sauce to pasta sauce, these types of Scotch Bonnets are truly unique.
Why? Because, as their name may indicate, this cultivar is especially sweet. So much so that they’re hardly considered spicy at all, with the pepper’s supremely fruity flavor clearly winning the day.
On the other side of the spice spectrum sits the Jamaican Scotch Bonnet, one of the hottest types of this hot pepper.
This varietal usually matures to shades of yellow or red and rocks the perfect strange shape the pepper is named for. And their high Scoville scale scores make them a favorite to eat fresh (in small doses, of course!), and also popular for pickling, especially in their native Caribbean.
So the next time you get the chance to try some delicious Jamaican food made with these special chili peppers, you can decide how much of a jerk you want to be!