Chinese jiaotou is an economically important crop that is widely cultivated in East Asia. The lack of simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers has been a major obstacle for genetic studies of this crop. In the present study, SSR markers were developed for Chinese jiaotou on a large scale, based on the crop's transcriptome assembled de novo by a previous study. A search for SSR loci in the transcriptome's expressed sequence tags (ESTs) revealed 2157 SSRs, of which primer pairs could be developed for 1494. Among these resulting SSRs, trinucleotide repeat motifs were the most abundant type, with GAA/TTC motifs occurring most frequently. Analysing the annotated function of SSR-containing ESTs revealed that they enriched into the GO categories involved in transcription regulation, oxidation–reduction, transport, etc. The quality and transferability of these markers were also assessed using 100 randomly selected EST–SSRs, and the result showed that these markers were of good quality and possessed high cross-species transferability. In addition, the developed SSR markers were used to analyse the genetic diversity of 19 cultivated and four wild accessions, resulting in three distinct groups, cluster I, II and III. Interestingly, all four wild accessions were assigned to cluster III, and two local varieties from northern Hunan, China, were closely related to the wild genotypes. These results provide new insights into the origin of Chinese jiaotou. The EST–SSRs developed herein represent the first large-scale development of SSR markers in Chinese jiaotou, and they can be widely used for genetic studies of the crop.