Scotchies in Montego Bay is widely celebrated as the best jerk chicken pit in Jamaica. And its name is derived from the potent pepper that imbues jerk meats with their kick.
The Scotch Bonnett pepper that is the foundation of jerk chicken spices has a heat rating of between 100 thousand and 400 thousand Scoville units. The Jalapeño measures 25 hundred to 8 thousand units, so the Scotch Bonnet is fifty times hotter than a Jalapeño.
The Scotch Bonnet is almost never eaten whole and raw by anyone who is not on spring break, when such an act is typically performed after speaking the words, “Watch this. Hold my beer.” And you can “watch this” on dozens of instructional YouTube videos using the search words, “moron eats hot pepper.”
From a distance Scotchies gives the appearance of a house that is on fire, with smoke pouring from the roof. It’s the result of slow-roasting half-chickens by the dozens on a bed of pimento wood beneath sheets of corrugated tin.
Jerk chicken spices include Scotch Bonnets and locally-grown allspice; the dried berries from the pimento tree. Also scallions or green onions, fresh ginger and thyme. Different cooks will add soy sauce or vinegar, cinnamon or nutmeg, brown and white sugar, and marinate for either a long time or a long, long time. Just two or three Scotch Bonnets can spice up several pounds of chicken, drizzled with lime. You smash all the components with mortar and pestle and massage them into the chicken and your hands will feel the burn. Keep them away from your face. As the essential but not overpowering element in jerk marinade, the Scotch Bonnet ultimately delivers more flavor than heat.
Mr. Scoville was a pharmacologist who invented the hotness scale for a big drug company in 1912.
It turns out that the perceived heat of a pepper is different things to different people so he created the scale by feeding multiple human testers every pepper he could find. He knew full-strength fiery peppers could ruin taste buds so he diluted all the peppers in the same solution of sugar water. A team of five tasters ranked the peppers for heat until three of them could no longer detect any heat in the mildest peppers.
I once ate a Habanero in Mexico with a heat unit rating equivalent to the Scotch Bonnet on a dare and barely escaped requiring CPR. I could not breathe for thirty seconds and could not speak for several minutes. Those who have made the same mistake will not repeat it. Except for the man in a YouTube video titled, “Moron eats Scotch Bonnet pepper…again!”
The Carolina Reaper is currently the hottest pepper and is a bright red pepper which is a crossbreed of a Ghost Pepper and a Red Habanero. Its heat level is 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units. One who has bitten it says the taste starts sweet and then turns to molten lava.
And so, to review. The Pepperoncini in your antipasto packs a mild 100 Scoville Heat Units. A Banana pepper is the same. A Green Bell pepper has zero heat. The Jamaican Scotch Bonnet flavoring jerk chicken tops out at 400 thousand heat units. Hot as a blacksmith’s apron. Hotter’n a tongue in Tabasco. Hotter’n the hinges in Hades. Hot as summer on the sun. Hot as a fire-eater’s tonsils. Hotter’n a hiccup in Hell.