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Too Hot To Handle: A quick look at Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

The scotch bonnet pepper is named after a Scottish beret called a Tam O’Shanter although it has nothing to do with Scotland and is definitely not grown there. In fact, the pepper is grown in warm and tropical climates and typically found in Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad, and many other Caribbean islands, from Haiti to countries on the African continent. It’s just named after the hat because of its similarity in shape! It is also known as the Bonney pepper (it still sounds as if it’s still on the Scottish theme) or Caribbean red pepper.

I have had a fascination with scotch bonnet peppers far before I started making pepper Jelly. I love the way they can be used to enhance cooking, but before I go there, I’d like to talk about how important it is to handle these pretty little berries with care. Although they are so very colourful and attractive, here’s the warning…don’t play with them! You may be interested to know that I wear PPE when prepping my scotch bonnets for pepper jelly. That includes wearing a double layer of gloves and a mask, as the fumes from the oils (known as capsaicin) are released from the cut peppers and can cause coughing, sneezing or if rubbed onto the skin can burn ferociously. You must be mindful not to rub your eyes. If you are unlucky enough to get it on your skin, watch out!

Now I’m not wanting to scare you, but of course, you don’t need to go to the extremes of wearing protective clothing as I do when prepping a vast amount of scotch bonnets. If you are just doing your general home cooking with one or two, although, it might be advisable to wear rubber gloves if you are going to cut the peppers up. Use a glass chopping board or plate rather than a wooden one. Then when cleaning up after cooking with peppers, always clean and rinse well with cold water rather than hot, as the heat of the water makes the pungency of the capsaicin rise up into the air and you will certainly feel it’s effects! Here’s a tip! Strangely, I find that rubbing banana or plantain on the place that is burning will neutralize it quickly! So maybe using banana could be a solution to that cleaning problem. Just try eating plantain with hot food and you will see the effect! How do you fancy rubbing a banana in your eyes? I’m telling you, you won’t care who sees you if you find yourself with scotch bonnet in you eyes.

Scotch bonnets have such a range of delicious picante and flowery flavours depending on the stage of ripeness of the peppers. The greener the pepper, the less hot it is, and the more leafy and plant-like the flavour. As the pepper ripens and becomes more orange the heat of the pepper intensifies as it goes through to ripened red. The yellow scotch bonnet peppers have a particular flowery sweetness, but also carry an intense heat. The Scoville Heat Unit or SHU of a scotch bonnet, (that is the measurement by which the heat of a pepper is absorbed by a sugar solution) is SHU 80,000 - 4,00,000. That’s as hot as 500 Jalapenos! (As we mentioned in our What is Pepper Jelly Blog.) Unsurprisingly, scotch bonnets come pretty high on the Scoville heat scale!

The scotch bonnet pepper has already found its home in many Caribbean and African dishes and sauces we know, such as Curry Goat, Jollof Rice, escovitch fish, suya and of course Jerk Chicken.

Thanks for checking in!

Jenny x

Published 28th May 2021

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