Rooster Spur Pepper: Extremely Rare Southern US Peppers

rooster spur pepper
Rooster spur peppers are famous for their extreme rarity, beauty, prolificacy, and equally rare rooster spur pepper sausage. The family heirloom pepper is grown in the US by the Ainsworth family.

What Is A Rooster Spur Pepper?

A rooster spur pepper is a Capsicum annuum cultivar and scarce family heirloom pepper variety grown in Laurel, Mississippi, by the Ainsworth family for over 100 years. They are a key ingredient in the family’s equally rare rooster spur pepper sausage.

Rooster spur peppers once came to the limelight during President Jim Carter’s reign when Judge Griffin Bell secretly brought him the hard-to-find rooster pepper sausage, which he liked and wanted more of.

Controversy rose around the pepper and its sausage for their rarity and the fact that even a recipe for the rare sausage couldn’t be found. The legendary sausage mixes pork, rooster spur chili peppers, and a secret mixture of spices.

The rooster spur pepper doubles as an ornamental pepper because of its massive green bush and showy peppers that grow upright in clusters atop the plant.

What’s In The Name?

Rooster spur peppers get the name because they resemble a rooster’s spur—the protruding hook off of the leg of a rooster.

Beyond the US, rooster spur peppers are called takanotsume (hawk claws) in Japan because of their claw-like shape. In China, they are called Hahong Kocho or poinsettia pepper.


Rooster spur peppers are like other hot or sweet peppers that start green before ripening to different colors. The peppers ripen from green to orange, and finally fire engine red.

The flashy colors and upright growth behavior of the peppers make them a favorite ornamental pepper, although growers raise them more for culinary purposes.

Rooster spur pepper plants are short and bushy, with dense green foliage and white flowers. They usually have different color combinations on the same plant when green and red pods dot the top of each plant.

Size And Shape

At only two inches long and 0.25 inches wide, rooster spur peppers are rather small, like Thai chilis. The thin peppers have a curved tapered profile that resembles Thai peppers.


Rooster spur peppers have smooth, firm, and crisp skin. The flesh beneath is thin, making them ideal for dried chili powder and pepper flakes.

dried rooster spur pepper
Dried rooster spur pepper.

What Is The Taste Of A Rooster Spur Pepper?

Like other ornamental peppers, the taste profile of rooster spur peppers is second to their ornamental merit, much like an afterthought.

Rooster spur peppers have a neutral peppery flavor propped by their tabasco-level spiciness. 

How Hot Is A Rooster Spur Pepper?

Rooster spur peppers score 30,000-50,000 Scoville Heat Units, the same heat level as cayenne, tabasco peppers, NuMex twilight, and filius blue pepper.

For reference, rooster spur peppers are much hotter than other red peppers like red jalapeno peppers, which register 2,500-8000 SHUs on the Scoville Scale.

How To Use Rooster Spur Peppers In Cooking

As mentioned, the Ainsworth family traditionally uses rooster spur peppers to season their legendary, secret-recipe rooster spur pepper sausage.

Besides the elusive sausage, rooster spur peppers are ideal for drying and grinding into hot chili powder and hot pepper flakes.

The peppers’ thin skin also makes them ideal for pickling to preserve them as a snack or garnish.

You can use rooster spur peppers like Thai chilis to spice Asian dishes, stews, Cajun foods, and soups.

The peppers are also suitable for seasoning other hot sauces to add heat rather than flavor.

Rooster spur peppers make an excellent substitute for tabasco and cayenne peppers because of their matching heat level.

If you love to eat raw or fresh peppers, you can eat rooster spur peppers in salsas and salads.

Where To Buy Rooster Spur Peppers

Though rooster spur peppers have become more popular, they are still scarcer than hen’s teeth. You won’t find the peppers at grocery stores or online outlets. Your best option will be to grow your own crop from heirloom seeds.

Can You Grow Rooster Spur Peppers?

Rooster spur peppers are moderately easy to grow and can be established from cuttings and pepper seeds. The latter is available online from seed catalogs and Amazon.

To establish your rooster spur pepper crop, sow seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Germination occurs in 10-14 days.

Once the danger of frost has passed, transplant the young pepper seedlings outdoors in full sun with a garden spacing of 18-24 inches. Ensure the plants get at least six hours daily and summer shade in extreme heat.

The peppers can be transplanted in greenhouses, open gardens, large containers or hanging baskets, flowerbeds, or edible landscaping projects.

The open-pollinated rooster spur peppers are cultivated as annuals that produce for only one season and then die off.

Despite the annual growth setback, you’ll love the peppers as they adapt well to moist and dry growing conditions. They are also resistant to urban pollution to some extent.

The bushy plants are highly prolific as hundreds of green and red peppers grow off the highly-branched plants. Some growers have reported harvesting up to 3,000 red peppers from a single plant!

Substitutes For Rooster Spur Peppers

You can substitute rooster spur peppers with equal-heat peppers like tabasco and Cayenne peppers.

You can also try milder alternatives like serranomanzano, and chile de arbols at 10,000-23,000, 12,000-30,000, and 15,000-30,000 SHUs, respectively.


Peppers have become the meeting point for three of Alex's greatest passions—gardening, cooking and writing. He is happiest watching small plants grow big and heavy with produce, and he can't wait to harvest self-grown fresh produce for his kitchen. When he is not taking care of his pepper plants, you'll find him busy cooking and sampling different peppers as he seeks the next hotter pepper.

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