Scotch Bonnet peppers are among the most intensely hot of all peppers, with a Scoville rating that starts out around 150,000 and can climb as high as 300,000 in carefully cultivated specimens. They are used primarily in Latin American cuisine, although they can be used to spice up dishes from all cultures by daring cooks. The peppers have a unique earthy and slightly apricot-like flavor which is delightful, assuming the tongue can discern it beyond the intense heat. The fiery peppers are available in some markets, as well as from specialty houses, in fresh and dried forms.
These peppers are one of several edible subspecies in the group of peppers known as Capsicum chinense, thanks to erroneous information about the origin of the peppers. They do not, in fact, originate in China, although some observers have pointed out a marked resemblance between them and Chinese lanterns. Scotch Bonnet peppers are usually less than 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) in length, and are yellow to red in color with an irregular shape.
Like all extremely hot peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers should be handled with care, as they can cause skin and eye damage. Ideally, gloves should be worn when handling them, especially when deseeding the peppers, as the seeds have the highest concentration of capsaicin. Capsaicin has a crystalline structure that causes irritation to the skin, and it is not water soluble; if a pepper is causing you pain, eat something sugary or fatty, as the capsaicin will resolve in these substances. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling hot peppers to avoid damage to your skin.
To reduce the heat of Scotch Bonnet peppers, you can remove the spicy seeds and the white ribs in the middle of the pepper, where the capsaicin is concentrated. This will not only make the peppers more bearable to eat, but it will also bring out the subtle flavors that are sometimes buried by the heat. You can try using them in a wide variety of foods. Many people enjoy contrasting them with dark chocolate or fresh fruit, as the sweet, hot, and earthy flavors blend together very well. You can also eat them in a more traditional format, such as added to Indian and Mexican food, along with Thai and Chinese cuisine.
Scotch Bonnet peppers thrive in USDA Zones 8 through 11, as long as they are grown in somewhat dry, neutral to acidic soil. They must be protected from frost: most gardeners start them indoors and then move them outside when the danger is over, and the plants will yield fruit in approximately three months. They take well to container gardening, or they can be planted directly in the soil, at a distance of 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 centimeters) apart. Make sure to keep them away from curious pets and children, however.