It could have been called the tam o’shanter pepper because that’s the proper name of the flat hat worn by Scottish men from which the Scotch Bonnet Pepper takes its name.
It does look like a tam o’shanter, but that’s not even close to what has given the Scotch Bonnet a prominent place in the world of peppers. Its claim to fame — or maybe infamy — is the heat it brings.
Ranked at a median of 225,000 Scoville heat units, the Scotch Bonnet is a dozen times hotter than the jalapeño. If you go to a Caribbean restaurant, the Scotch Bonnet is the pepper you’ll be eating.
Read on for a more detailed look at the Scotch Bonnet Pepper, including how you can grow it at home — if you dare.
Looking for Scotch Bonnet Pepper seeds? Check availability.
Characteristics of the Scotch Bonnet Pepper
There are many varieties of the Scotch Bonnet, ranging in color from light yellow to orange to red or brown. Whatever variety you choose to eat or grow can be traced back to peppers native to the area around the Amazon River in South America.
From their original range, the predecessors of the Scotch Bonnet were taken to the islands of the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, where various new varieties, including the Scotch Bonnet, were developed.
Today, most Scotch Bonnet peppers are grown on the island of Jamaica for both local use and export.
Specifically, the Scotch Bonnet is part of the habañero family of peppers. It grows between 1.5 inches and 2 inches in length and is typically 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Eating the Scotch Bonnet Pepper
If you’re a Jamaican cuisine fan, you already know that the Scotch Bonnet pepper can play a prominent role in your diet. There are numerous recipes for sauces incorporating the Scotch Bonnet, and it can also figure prominently in dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken, various stews, and even soups.
With a taste described as tomato-based with hints of fruit like apples and cherries, the Scotch Bonnet can be a versatile ingredient in your kitchen adventures, but its extreme heat merits some special care when using it.
For instance, if you’re substituting Scotch Bonnet peppers for jalapeño peppers in a recipe, remember to reduce the number of peppers significantly.
Also, if you’ll be chopping your Scotch Bonnet peppers, wear kitchen gloves to avoid contact with the capsaicin oils. You also may want to wear goggles to avoid accidentally rubbing your eye with a capsaicin-infused hand.
Health Benefits of the Scotch Bonnet Pepper
Because they contain capsaicin, the molecule in all chili peppers responsible for their trademark heat, Scotch Bonnets have a number of health benefits.
Capsaicin is an ingredient in any number of pain relief medications, and the Scotch Bonnet, like other chili peppers, is credited with having some pain relief properties of its own.
More specifically, consuming Scotch Bonnets can reduce pain from headaches, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and diabetic neuropathy.
Additionally, research has shown that capsaicin may be helpful in reducing excess body fat. According to some studies, capsaicin increases metabolism, which speeds up the body’s use of energy and its burning of stored fat. Capsaicin also may decrease appetite, according to some studies.
Growing Your Own Scotch Bonnet Pepper
No matter which variety of Scotch Bonnet you decide to grow at home, you should plan to start them from seed. Plant the seeds indoors around two months before the last frost in your area is anticipated.
Transplanting Scotch Bonnet Pepper Seedlings
As the end of their time indoors winds down, introduce your pepper plant seedlings gradually to outdoor conditions. When you do transplant them outdoors, place them into loosened soil enriched with organic fertilizer. Also, be sure that they’re in a place where they will get the fullest possible sun exposure.
Place your seedlings about 18 inches apart, and if you’re planting them in more than one row, space the rows 3 feet apart.
In terms of watering your Scotch Bonnet plants, be sure to keep the soil moist, especially as your plants begin to flower and the peppers begin to grow.
Pruning Scotch Bonnet Pepper Plants
It’s not strictly necessary to prune your Scotch Bonnet plants, but doing so likely will boost their yield. In general, you should prune any inward-growing branches of your pepper plant because there won’t be enough room for peppers to form inside the plant fully.
You also should consider removing at least some flowers from every other branch of your plant to ensure that the remaining flowers have ample room to develop into good-sized peppers.
Finally, you should prune the bottom branches from your plants to help deter pests and diseases.
Harvesting Your Scotch Bonnet Peppers
The most important thing about harvesting your Scotch Bonnets is to wait until they have fully changed into the color of their final ripeness. Typically, a Scotch Bonnet will start out green, changing to orange, red, or in some cases, brown when they become fully ripe.
Leaving your Scotch Bonnet peppers on the plant until they are fully ripe will ensure maximum heat and will also ensure the sweet and fruity taste notes for which they are known.
Pests and Diseases
Like other pepper plants, Scotch Bonnets are susceptible to a range of diseases, including bacterial leaf spots, mosaic viruses, and verticillium wilt. Preventing disease among your Scotch Bonnet plants can be as simple as keeping them well-fertilized so that they are healthy enough to deal with infestations.
In terms of pests, Scotch Bonnet plants are susceptible to damage from aphids, spider mites, and thrips, among many others. Generally, the best way to address pests is to spray your plants with water or neem oil. Water will knock pests off your plants, while neem oil will kill pests and deter future infestations.
Where to Buy Scotch Bonnet Pepper
Ready-to-use Scotch Bonnet peppers should be available in your local grocery store, and you’re also likely to be able to find them at farmers’ markets.
If you’d like to grow your own Scotch Bonnets, order online from True Leaf Market, which has seeds available for a number of varieties of Scotch Bonnet peppers.
Wrapping up the Scotch Bonnet Pepper
The sheer heat of the Scotch Bonnet has earned it a special place in the world of chili peppers. You owe it to yourself to try eating it, and even to try growing some of your own. Love peppers? Keep reading more about peppers!