Rooster Spur Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are rooster spur peppers?

In the world of chili peppers, sometimes the tiniest chilies pack some of the bigger punches. The rooster spur pepper fits this bill. Its short, slim shape belies a cayenne pepper level spiciness (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units). It’s one beauty of a pepper, too, growing upright in clusters, making it exceptional as an ornamental pepper. The rooster spur is an heirloom pepper popular in the Southern United States, though it’s grown around the world under different names: for instance Takanotsume (hawk claws) in Japan and Hahong Kocho (poinsettia pepper) in China.

rooster spur pepper
Rooster spur peppers

Table of Contents

Rooster spur pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 50,000
Median heat (SHU)40,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 20 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginUnited States
SizeApproximately 1.5 to 2 inches long, claw-shaped
FlavorNeutral (peppery)

How hot are rooster spur peppers?

There’s a surprise factor here. These chilies may be small, but they have a sharp bight. At 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units, the rooster spur is at the upper end of medium-heat chilies, equal to the popular cayenne and tabasco peppers in spiciness. Against our jalapeño reference point, it’s four to twenty times hotter than a jalapeño pepper, depending on the peppers tested.

This is normal for most ornamental peppers. They tend to carry surprising spiciness since they are bred to optimize a certain look, not to control their heat.

What does it look like?

Let’s first discuss the individual pepper; then, we’ll review the plant. A single rooster spur pepper is small, slim, and curved – much like Thai peppers – growing no more than two inches in length and 1/4 of an inch wide. Its shape small, claw-like shape is how this chili gets its name. It looks much like a rooster spur – the slim, sharp growth on the inner leg of a rooster used to fend off predators and competitors. Though, it’s also easy to see how the Japanese landed on “hawk claws” for this chili (Takanotsume).

The peppers age following a typical color pattern, from green to red – with one plant containing shades throughout the spectrum.

The plant itself and how it grows takes this pepper’s individual look and creates something highly ornamental. Rooster spur plants grow their fruits (and plenty of them) in thick clusters, and the chilies reach upwards. The overall look is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why this plant is often sought for edible landscaping projects. It’s also easy to see where its other Asian name – poinsettia pepper (Hahong Kocho) comes from – it’s a colorful plant that presents clustered like the poinsettia plant.

What does the rooster spur pepper taste like?

Flavor-wise, there’s a sharp, quick bight here, with a fresh peppery flavor. It is overall neutral in taste, but it does have more flavor than other ornamental peppers (where often the taste, like the heat, is secondary to the look), so growing rooster spur peppers, whether in containers or in gardens, can really benefit both your yard and your kitchen.

–> Learn More: Can You Eat Ornamental Peppers?

How can you use this chili?

Rooster spur peppers have a long history of being the namesake pepper behind rooster spur sausage. This is a sausage known in parts of the Southern United States made by the Ainsworth family in Mississippi (also the first growers of the rooster spur.) This isn’t an easy-to-discover ingredient, so don’t search for it at your local grocer. It gained some national notoriety in the late 1970s when then-President Jimmy Carter, who was given some rooster spur sausage by his Attorney General Griffen Bell, sought more out (without a lot of success.) The sausage’s (and the pepper’s) elusiveness became a national story.

Otherwise, think of using rooster spur peppers similar to Thai chilies. Their thin walls make these chilies perfect for drying and crushing in homemade chili pepper flakes and powders. Or chop them up fresh for use in salads, Asian dishes, and breakfast foods (they are delicious in eggs as well as sausage.) And, no surprise – Cajun food and rooster spurs work very well together, too. Try them instead of cayenne or tabasco peppers. There’s more heat here than most are comfortable with, so use them sparingly.

Where can you buy rooster spur peppers?

These are not easy chilies to find fresh. Your best option is to consider their use as an ornamental pepper and grow them yourself. Rooster spur pepper seeds are available online. These chilies work just as well in containers as they do in gardens, so no matter your space, you can experience this pepper, both its flavor and its beauty, yourself.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on February 10, 2023 to include new content.
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My Grandmother used to pickle these with Green Grinch cherry tomatoes and vinegar. We ate the tomatoes with scrambled eggs and sharp cheddar cheese then used the vinegar and peppers to sprinkle on greens to add some kick to them. Great pepper, great food.