Are habanero and Scotch bonnet chiles the same?
While both habanero and Scotch bonnet chiles are among the spiciest chiles sold at grocery stores, and they come from the same genus and species of pepper (Capsicum chinense), there are significant distinctions between the two, particularly regarding their heat levels. (We've commonly seen them mislabeled at the grocery store, so it's important to know the difference.)
Chiles get their fire from a class of spicy compounds called capsaicinoids, the most prominent of which is capsaicin. The Scoville scale measures chile spiciness in Scoville Heat Units (SHU); the larger the number, the spicier the chile. Scoville scores are often presented as ranges because even within the same type of chile, some specimens will be hotter than others. Habaneros and Scotch bonnets share the same range—from 150,000 to 350,000 SHU—but Scotch bonnets are typically hotter (for reference, a jalapeño is about 1,000 to 4,000 SHU).
As for other differences, the habanero (“from Havana” in Spanish) was named for the pepper trade that once flourished in Havana, Cuba. Habaneros are bulbous, with wavy indentations and waxy, firm skin, and they average about 2 inches in length. They are usually orange, orange red, or red in color and are grown around the world and used in salsas, marinades, and hot sauces.
The Scotch bonnet is named for its resemblance to the traditional Scottish Tam o' Shanter cap. These peppers are squatter and have more prominent gnarled ridges than habaneros. Similar to habaneros in size, they also have waxy, firm skin. As they mature they turn from green to yellow, orange, and then red. Scotch bonnets are popular throughout the Caribbean but are especially prominent in Jamaican cuisine.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Scotch bonnet chiles have a squatter shape—and a hotter bite—than habaneros. Both are significantly hotter than jalapeños.