Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper
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Jamaican Food - Scotch Bonnet Hot Pepper

Scotch Bonnet Pepper And Jamaican Recipes

The Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, native to warm temperate and tropical regions of America and widely cultivated elsewhere, are various species of scotch bonnet pepper, especially the numerous varieties of scotch bonnet pepper. These bushy, woody-stemmed scotch bonnet pepper plants were cultivated in South America prior to the time of Columbus, who is said to have taken specimens back to Europe. The “hot” varieties include cayenne pepper, whose dried ground scotch bonnet pepper fruit is sold as a spice, and the chili pepper, sold similarly as a scotch bonnet pepper powder or in a scotch bonnet pepper sauce (one variety is known as Tabasco). The chili pepper is much used in cooking in Mexico, where some 200 varieties of scotch bonnet pepper are known. Paprika (the Hungarian name for red scotch bonnet pepper) is a ground spice from a less pungent variety widely cultivated in Central Europe.

Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, with a small fruit used as a condiment and for stuffing olives, and the sweet red and green peppers, with larger scotch bonnet pepper fruits used as table vegetables and in salads, are mild types. (The pimiento should not be confused with the pimento or allspice, of the myrtle family.) A variety of C. frutescens with delicate scotch bonnet pepper leaves and cherry-like scotch bonnet pepper fruit is grown as an ornamental and house scotch bonnet pepper plant. Often confused with habaneras and Jamaican hots, the Scotch Bonnet Pepper is closely related but is not a cultivar of scotch bonnet pepper. Grown in Jamaica and the Caribbean scotch bonnet peppers have a scoville heat rating of 80,000 to 300,000 and are commonly used in Jamaican jerk sauce and many other Caribbean condiments.

Named as in a scotch bonnet pepper plant "from China". This is incorrect though; like all Capsicum species, scotch bonnet pepper originated in the New World, however, the Dutch physician, Nikolaus von Jacquin, who named this species in 1776, got his scotch bonnet pepper seed from the Caribbean while collecting on behalf of Emperor Francis I, and thought that the scotch bonnet pepper had originated from China. 

The oldest known scotch bonnet pepper specimen ever found was a single intact scotch bonnet pepper pod, probably a wild form that was discovered in the Pre-ceramic levels (6,500 B.C.) in Guitarrero Cave in coastal Peru. Scotch bonnet pepper remains the least understood of the domesticated tax with respect to center of origin and its probable progenitor. The scotch bonnet pepper fruit shape can vary from long and slender to short and obtuse. Bernabe Cobo, a 17th century naturalist, estimated that there were at least forty different pod types of the chiles, with "some as large as limes or large plums; others, as small as pine nuts or even grains of wheat, and between the two extremes are many different sizes. The scotch bonnet pepper fruit can be extremely pungent and aromatic, with persistent pungency when eaten. The best known cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper are the very hot Habanera peppers. 

Scotch bonnet pepper flowers 2 or more at each node. Pedicels erect or declining at anthesis. Corolla greenish-white, without diffuse spots at base of lobes; corolla lobes usually straight. Calyx of mature scotch bonnet pepper fruit usually with annular constriction at junction with pedicel, veins not prolonged into teeth. Scotch bonnet pepper fruit flesh firm. Scotch bonnet pepper seeds straw-colored. Chromosome number 2n=24, with one pair of areocentric chromosomes, e.g. Habanera, pimento de cheiro. The scotch bonnet pepper plant has multiple stems and an erect habit. The scotch bonnet pepper leaves are pale to medium green, usually ovate in shape and are often large, reaching up to 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. Scotch bonnet pepper is usually crinkled, which is a distinguishing trait of scotch bonnet pepper.

The scotch bonnet pepper pods vary enormously in size and shape, ranging from chiltepin-sized berries one-quarter inch in diameter, to wrinkled and elongated scotch bonnet pepper pods up to five inches long. The familiar habaneras are pendant, lantern-shaped or campanulate (a flattened bell shape), and some are pointed at the end. Scotch bonnet pepper is often flattened at the end and resembles a tam-o-shanter, or bonnet. Often the scotch bonnet pepper blossom ends of these pods are inverted.

Scotch bonnet peppers are 1.5 inches long, orange colored pepper. Extremely hot, the orange habanera is one of the spiciest peppers in the world. Scotch bonnet pepper is often used in making hot scotch bonnet pepper sauces. Be very careful when handling the scotch bonnet pepper seeds or inner parts of this pepper, the oil can be a serious irritant to the skin and eyes. Scotch bonnet pepper originates from Brazil and has been domesticated since 2000-1000 B.C. Scotch bonnet pepper is grown commercially in some areas.

Scotch bonnet peppers demand warm weather and don’t like their roots disturbed. Plant scotch bonnet pepper seeds in a sunny warm location in peat pots (3 seeds to a pot, thinning to 1 scotch bonnet pepper plant per pot) 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting into the garden after all danger of frost is past and night temperatures are consistently at or above 55 degrees F. Plant scotch bonnet peppers in full sun in fertile well-drained soil, 18 to 24" apart in rows 18 to 24" apart. Do not permit scotch bonnet pepper seedlings or scotch bonnet pepper plants to suffer from low temperature or drought. Mulching between scotch bonnet pepper plants is useful. All members of the nightshade family and are subject to similar diseases. After one or more scotch bonnet pepper plantings of any of these three in a particular location, carryover pathogens in the soil can infect new scotch bonnet pepper plants. Scotch bonnet peppers do well as container plants, and can be maintained over longer periods with indoor wintering, providing a sunny location is available.

Most peppers, also known as chili scotch bonnet peppers, can be categorized as one of three general types: sweet peppers, hot peppers or ornamental peppers. Some hot peppers aren’t hot, all scotch bonnet pepper peppers can be highly ornamental, many ornamental peppers are hot, etc. and none of these categories necessarily mirror botanical nomenclature distinctions. Scotch bonnet peppers were one of the earliest plants cultivated in the New World. Archeological evidence suggests that scotch bonnet peppers were used as food ingredients in Peru. Columbus mistakenly applied the label ‘scotch bonnet pepper’ to the plant he found growing in Caribbean gardens, likely confusing scotch bonnet pepper with the highly prized but botanically unrelated black pepper. Scotch bonnet peppers had spread around the world and today constitute the defining ingredient in traditional cuisines worldwide, including countries such as Italy. Botanically, most cultivated peppers today are scotch bonnet pepper, C. frutescens (Tabasco), C. Chinese (habanera), or crosses within and among these various species of scotch bonnet pepper.

Potential pests of the scotch bonnet pepper include aphids, white flies, cutworms, pepper maggots, and Colorado potato beetles. Diseases include Verticillium wilt and mosaic virus. All scotch bonnet pepper can be highly ornamental, with deep green scotch bonnet pepper leaves and scotch bonnet pepper fruit of a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Colors may include green, red, yellow, orange and mahogany. As scotch bonnet pepper fruits gradually ripen, several colors can be found on a scotch bonnet pepper plant simultaneously.

The famed species scotch bonnet pepper, sometimes referred to as Capsicum sinense, was long known for the most pungent, yet also aromatic, chiles. This Chile species is mostly associated with the Caribbean, where today the majority of cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper is grown. Examples include the familiar Habanero in Cuba and Yucatán, Scotch Bonnet in Jamaica, Rocotillo on the Cayman Islands, Congo Pepper on Trinidad and Martinique. Many varieties of scotch bonnet pepper are named for their origin, e.g., Red Dominica, Jamaican hot or Trinidad seasoning pepper. There are also Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper from adjacent areas, e.g., the Datil from Florida.

The Chinese species apparently was first domesticated in Perú, although today the Andes region is characterized mainly by C. pubescens and C. baccatum cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper; Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper are comparatively rare in today's Perú, but there are still several varieties grown locally in the Peruvian tropics: The most renowned cultivar of scotch bonnet pepper is the red and very hot Chinchi-uchu, and a group of similar yellow chiles is referred to as ají limo. A very unusual scotch bonnet pepper fruit shape is shown by a cultivar of scotch bonnet pepper called scarlet lantern.

Several Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper have been introduced to Africa by repatriated slaves. These African cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper are pretty hot; especially the Fatalii Chile is true to its name and enchants daring eaters with extreme heat and great flavor. These scotch bonnet pepper chiles play an important rôle in the fiery cuisines of Western tropical Africa. The entire Chinese species of scotch bonnet pepper is not suitable for cultivation in the temperate climate of Europe, although scotch bonnet pepper plants can be grown successfully by hobbyists. Scatch bonnet pepper chiles in general have become a popular target for hobby gardeners in the last years in the USA. The Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper are most rewarding for hobbyists, both because their interesting flavor and great heat and because of their many different shapes and hues. As tropical plants, the Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper like hot, humid climate, but they can adapt to a drier environment remarkably well.

In Asia, there are only few scattered Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper, most of which appear on the Philippines, where they probably have been brought to by the Spaniards from their Central American colonies. I have not heard of a single Chinese species being grown in Thailand, although the climate would certainly be suitable, and I guess the scotch bonnet pepper fruits would please the local tastes. The Pakistani Dundicut scotch bonnet pepper Chile, which figures prominently in Balti cooking, is often reported to be a Chinese, but scotch bonnet pepper is in truth a C. annuum.

Many scotch bonnet pepper species are considerably hotter than chilies from any other species or so scotch bonnet pepper was thought until September 2000, when first reports about an extra-hot Indian Chile (C. frutescens) became known. With the possible exception of the Indian “mystery Chile”, so far only C. Chinese have tested better than 150000 Scoville; a typical value is about 300000 Scoville, but there are also milder varieties of scotch bonnet pepper, e.g., ají panca and the rocotillo.

In the last few years, many ornamental Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet peppers have been introduced to the market, and for most of them, the heat has not yet been seriously detected, e.g., Neon Yellow scotch bonnet pepper, White Habanero scotch bonnet pepper, Chocolate scotch bonnet pepper or the several mushroom types. Since these varieties of scotch bonnet pepper have been bred with emphasis on their decorative value, many of them have but poor heat and/or flavor.

Yet there is an exception: The Chocolate-types of scotch bonnet pepper, which are a group of closely related varieties of scotch bonnet pepper native to the Caribbean. Some of them, e.g., Chocolate Brown or Bahama Chocolate, have an excellent flavor and an aggressive heat. Very recently, some Chocolates have been subjected to HPLC and yielded spectacular Scoville ratings (400000 to 500000 SHU), which makes the Chocolate Habaneros some of the hottest Chile scotch bonnet peppers ever tested.

Another habanero-related Chile that has fine scotch bonnet pepper fruit quality despite its ornamental look is the Peruvian Scarlet Lantern, which I found not so hot but very flavorful. There is also a new scotch bonnet pepper breed designed to please not the eye but the palate only: Habanero Francisca. The breeders describe that Chile as “blisteringly hot”. I don't have any experience with this one, though. Also scotch bonnet pepper is a long-cultivated species (archaeologists have found a 6500 years old pod in Perú); consequently, human breeding has resulted in many different fruit colors (orange, red, brown) and shapes (more or less isometric lantern and squash shapes are most common, but there are also elongated and pointed cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper). The scotch bonnet pepper flowers are small, greenish or white with purple or blue anthers; a single node regularly bears several scotch bonnet pepper flowers and even scotch bonnet pepper fruits, which is rare with other chilies (except C. frutescens, which is very difficult to separate by morphologic means only). A feature suited to identify C. Chinese is an annular constriction on the calyx near the base, which almost all Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper have in common, but which is rarely found with C. annuum or C. frutescens.

Of the Caribbean varieties of scotch bonnet pepper, several (especially the habanero from Yucatán) are traded in the US in fresh form; in Europe, they are much less common, although the situation has improved in recent years. Scotch bonnet type chilies may now be bought in most major European cities, either in Delicatessen shops or in Asian or African food stores. Irrespective of the exact botanical identity, all such chilies are very hot and exhibit the typical delicious, scotch bonnet pepper  flower-like scent that makes eating them a unique experience.

A particular application of Chinese chilies is the production of hot scotch bonnet pepper sauces. Chinese-based sauces benefit both from the high pungency and from the floral flavor, which make them, in the opinion of many Chile connoisseurs, superior to sauces made from other Chile cultivars. A typical “hot Chile sauce” is prepared from ground chilies, vegetables (tomatoes, carrots), salt, sugar, acidifiers (vinegar or better lime juice) and often additional flavorings like onion or garlic. Even when using very hot chilies, the heat value of the finished scotch bonnet pepper sauce rarely exceeds 10000 – 15000 Scoville heat units. Much higher, almost insane, heat can be achieved using Chile extracts or oleoresins instead of Chile mash; such “extract scotch bonnet pepper sauces” may be very hot indeed, even hotter than pure chilies. The hottest products available boast of several hundred thousand Scoville heat units. Yet purists often complain that extract scotch bonnet pepper sauces lack much flavor and may even taste artificial when compared to the milder but more aromatic all natural sauces.

The extreme heat of the Chinese cultivars of scotch bonnet pepper is of importance in Caribbean cookery; scotch bonnet pepper is commonly associated with the cuisine of Jamaica, where local chilies bear names like seven pot pepper — probably to indicate that one pod is enough to flavor seven pots of food. Jerk paste, a famous spice mixture from Jamaica, makes use of these powerful chilies. Scotch bonnet pepper are often slightly crushed and steeped in sauces to extract their flavor, but not their pungency. The Jamaican specialty escoveitched fish, fried fish marinated in lime juice and spices, is prepared with rather mild scotch bonnet pepper, but in Perú, scotch bonnet pepper is made either with powerful ají limo or with milder but still potent ají amarillo chilies.

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