Ajicitos vs. Scotch Bonnet Peppers

by Chef Zee

Knowing the difference between your peppers is crucial because it can mean the difference between a sweet rice and a spicy rice! Now I’ll admit, I know the difference between MOST of my peppers, but definitely not all. I’ve been known to mix up sweet peppers and habanero peppers all the time… and the mistake sometimes leave me with a dish that unexpectedly sends me flying! In fact, one of the easiest peppers to confuse are Ajicitos and Scotch Bonnet Peppers (Jamaican Peppers). If you look at them side-by-side then you would understand why.

To start off, Ajicitos (little peppers in spanish) and Scotch Bonnet Peppers are really similar because they are in fact cousins. They’re also related to Habanero peppers, which as you probably know pack a meannnn punch. Now Ajicitos and Scotch Bonnet Peppers grow in the Caribbean and they’re popular in many Caribbean foods. The difference between the two is that one is sweet and the other is spicy. Yet, the spicy ones– Scotch Bonnet Peppers– have a sweet undertone, which makes it different from its other cousin, the Habanero Pepper.

Ajicitos, Scotch Bonnet Peppers, and Habaneros are all small peppers that vary in color. They also vary in shape but the differences are so small that it would be pointless to even mention them. At first glance, they all really do look alike. Although, I have noticed that Scotch Bonnet Peppers, which are also called Jamaican Peppers tend to be slightly bigger and puffier while Ajicitos are smaller and wider. Habanero are a toss up and a mix of both. All three peppers come in different shades of red, green, yellow, and orange.



The easiest way to tell the difference between Ajicitos and Scotch Bonnet Peppers is by labeling. (Duh!) But if you’re like me and have both on hand, another way to tell the difference without actually tasting a seed and seeing if has a spicy surprise is by smelling them. Scotch Bonnet Peppers smell spicy. It’s a weird to scent to describe other than it just smells spicy and even tickles your nose when you smell it. It’s also important to be careful when handling these peppers. Rub your eyes after you’ve touched them and you’ll end up crying in the emergency room. I typically use gloves when I’m cooking with these spicy bad boys so that I don’t have an accident.

Ajicitos are sweet and smell much more aromatic. Both of these peppers remind me of home because they’re staples in Caribbean cuisine. Habaneros are also tasty, but I don’t use them as much since it’s a pepper that I didn’t  grow up eating.

If you’ve never use Ajicitos in your cooking, I encourage you to try it. The taste is subtle but different and presents a new level of freshness that you may otherwise not be used to. A close relative to this pepper is the Cubanelle Pepper, aka an Italian Frying Pepper. Ajicitos are hard to find if you don’t live in an area with a large Caribbean population. Whenever my local store is all out of Ajicitos, I typically grab Cubanelle Peppers instead. In fact, I typically use of mix of bell peppers, ajicitos, and cubanelle peppers whenever I’m making a dish that doesn’t require a spicy pepper. The flavors are all exciting and it’s a great way to mix it up.

If you’d like to learn about the different in these peppers and how I use them in various recipes, then feel free to check these videos. Hope you like! Buen provecho!

Recipes Featuring Ajicitos:

Chef Zee Tips: Ajicitos vs. Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Moro de Gandules Dominicano | Dominican Style Rice & Peas 

How to Make Authentic Sofrito

How to Make Pollo Guisado | Dominican Style Stew Chicken 


Recipes Featuring Scotch Bonnet Peppers:

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