The scotch bonnet is a prized chili pepper known for its fruity, citrusy flavor. It is also quite spicy, between 100,000-250,000 SHUs, making it much hotter than a jalapeño or cayenne.
While scotch bonnets are easy to find if you live in the Caribbean of West Africa, they can be hard to find elsewhere. So, in this article, I’ll share 7 scotch bonnet pepper substitutes.
What does a scotch bonnet taste like?
The most important factors to get right when choosing a scotch bonnet alternative are flavor and heat level. Scotch bonnets are special in the world of peppers, and do not taste anything like your standard bell or jalapeño (hence why these are not included as substitutes).
- Fruity and citrusy – Scotch bonnets taste sweet and fruity, with an aroma similar to lemons. There is also a touch of floral aroma and flavor.
- Spicy, spicy, spicy – Most peppers you buy from the grocery store are not as hot as a normal scotch bonnet. So, you may need to use more than your recipe calls for to match the heat appropriately.
With this firework of the culinary world, it is no wonder that it is a key ingredient in dishes like jerk marinades, spicy seasonings, and delicious hot sauces. So since there isn’t a perfect alternative, I’ve made some recommended combinations of ingredients where applicable.
Scotch bonnet pepper substitutes
In this section, I’ll start with the best substitutes, and work down to less-ideal, but still workable alternatives for scotch bonnets.
- Habanero peppers. The absolute best scotch bonnet substitute is the habanero pepper. Not only are these very similar in flavor and heat level to scotch bonnets, but they are also much easier to source. Use habanero peppers as a 1:1 substitution.
- Jamaican hot sauce. At your local supermarket, check the international aisle for Jamaican or Caribbean hot sauce. It is fairly common to find a simple scotch bonnet pepper sauce on the grocery store shelves. If you can’t find any at the grocery store, Eaton’s scotch bonnet sauce is a great option for a sweet, spicy flavor.
- Dried scotch bonnets. If you’re not in a hurry, you can order dried scotch bonnet peppers (whole or powdered) online. Dried peppers still have plenty of heat and flavor, so you won’t be missing much!
- Ghost peppers. Ghost peppers (and other super-spicy peppers like Carolina reapers or scorpion peppers) are also a good substitute for scotch bonnet peppers. However, ghost peppers are actually spicier than scotch bonnets, so consider scaling down the amount used in your recipe by at least half.
- Thai chilies. While the flavor profile doesn’t match perfectly, Thai chilies do offer respectable heat and a punchy flavor. They are more readily available at specialty grocery stores, though may still be challenging to track down.
- Cayenne powder + lemon zest. While this may sound like a stretch, the heat of cayennes combined with a touch of bright, lemony flavor does a pretty good job of filling in for fresh scotch bonnets. If you are really in a pinch, this duo of ingredients will work as a substitute.
- Cachucha pepper. If you happen to grow your own peppers, the cachucha pepper (sometimes called aji dulce) is a non-spicy scotch bonnet. These peppers are used for adding flavor, but no heat to meat rubs, soups, marinades, and sauces. This is the ideal alternative to scotch bonnets if you want to take away the heat. Another similar variety is the habanada pepper.
Tip: While other sites may recommend using jalapeños, poblanos, and even bell peppers, these are not good scotch bonnet substitutes. Just because it is a “pepper” does not mean it tastes anything like the scotch bonnet pepper!
Habanero vs. scotch bonnet peppers
Since habaneros are by far the best alternative to scotch bonnets, let’s discuss the differences between the two.
Both pepper varieties come from the Caribbean, with habaneros originating in Cuba, and scotch bonnets in Jamaica. Both have a fruity flavor, though habaneros tend to have more of a floral taste, while scotch bonnets carry more citrus notes.
Heat level is about the same as well, with both scotch bonnets and habaneros ranging from 100,000 – 250,000 SHUs. Red habaneros are known to be particularly spicy, often surpassing 500,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale.
Since both peppers have natural origins in the same region, it is not surprising that they are comparable in so many ways. If you need scotch bonnets, habaneros will be your best option to mimic the overall flavor.
Where can I get real scotch bonnets?
If you want to taste the real thing (and you should), there are many good sources for authentic flavor. I have my preferred method, but any of these are options:
- Grow your own. While this takes time, effort, and some money, nothing beats growing your own scotch bonnets from seed. They are easy to cultivate in containers, or directly in the ground, giving you a huge harvest that can be frozen and used throughout the year.
- Buy dried scotch bonnets. Dehydrated peppers store both heat and flavor. Since scotch bonnets are primarily used to add these two components to food, dried peppers or powder make a perfect substitution for fresh.
- Shop at local farmer’s markets. If you’re lucky, one of your local farms or coops will grow scotch bonnets nearby. During the mid and late summer months, browse around at the street markets for anyone selling chiles. If they don’t have what you need, chat with the owner and express an interest – maybe they’ll grow them next season!
I hope you found this article useful in your search for the perfect alternative to scotch bonnets. Scotch bonnets are one of my all-time favorite hot peppers, with amazing flavor, perfect heat level, and a beautiful shape. So, try to find the real thing next time, it is worth it!