Scotch bonnets are hot pepper plants. They are included in the Capsicum chinense species along with datils, habaneros and rocotillos. These are one of the hottest of the hot peppers, although the flavour intensity can be slightly influenced just prior to picking. Whether you like them extremely hot or just hot, they should be used fresh for fullest flavour.
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Scoville Heat Units
The level of hot flavour in hot peppers is determined by the number of capsaicin units contained in the pepper. Pure capsaicin is equal to 16,000,000 Scoville heat units. Habanero hot peppers contain between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville heat units. Scotch bonnet peppers contain between 100,000 and 325,000 Scoville heat units. Jalapeño peppers contain between 2,500 and 5,000 Scoville heat units. While scotch bonnet peppers are extremely hot, they also have hints of fruit flavours that can be tasted in the pepper flesh. When the seeds and pith are removed and only a small amount of the flesh is eaten, hints of apricot, coconut, mango and papaya are often discernible. They have a sweet, fruity fragrance as well.
Scotch bonnet pepper plants grow to between 1 and 4 feet tall with a width of 1 to 3 feet. The flowers are single-form with five petals. They are normally produced in clusters of two to six. This is a trait specific to C. chinense varieties. The peppers are rounded, resembling a somewhat wrinkled Scottish tam-o'-shanter. Mature fruits are usually between 1 1/2 and 2 inches in diameter. They can be a variety of colours, including orange, purple, red or yellow.
Scotch bonnet peppers are herbaceous perennial plants that are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. They are generally grown as annuals, however, even within these zones. Seedlings should not be planted in the garden until two or three weeks after the last spring frost, when the soil is at or above 18.3 degrees C. Seeds may be started indoors six to eight weeks prior to planting time. They may also be grown in containers either indoors or outdoors. An 8-inch container is large enough for one pepper plant.
Scotch bonnet peppers should be planted in organically rich soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. The soil should drain well, but also retain water well enough to remain consistently moist. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the pepper plant may lose its flowers before it can produce any peppers. Adding aged compost to the soil prior to planting and in the middle of the growing season will make it more fertile. A tomato/pepper-type fertiliser may also be used. Plant them where they will receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Multiple plants should be spaced 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart, with rows spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. These peppers take between 80 and 120 days for the fruit to ripen. For milder peppers, water the plants generously four to eight hours prior to picking. Allowing the top of the soil to dry slightly before picking will result in hotter peppers.
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