Chili is the kind of food that makes my job as a recipe developer fun. Cooking up a pot of chili from scratch is not only familiar and comforting, it also feels more like an interesting science experiment than cooking. (Can you tell that I love my job?)
I’m always thinking about different ingredients to add—there are so many kinds of beans!—or a new cooking technique to make it better. I’ve made a lot of tweaks to my chili over the years, but I never leave out one key ingredient: chocolate. It’s an essential upgrade that takes chili to the next level. Here’s everything you need to know about adding chocolate to your chili.
The Best Chocolate for Chili
Chocolate is often thought to be too sweet for savory cooking; however, cultures from around the globe have been using some variation of it in their cooking for centuries. What would a mole from Mexico be without cocoa?
While bittersweet, semi-sweet, and milk chocolates may lend themselves to sweeter applications thanks to their higher sugar content (hello, chocolate chip cookies!), dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder are the perfect complement to hearty soups, stews, sauces, and many beef or bean recipes. They are the perfect match for chili peppers and warm spices, and their earthy, nutty, caramel flavor add depth to dishes like chili. The chocolate offsets the acidity of the tomatoes and chili powder and ups the chili’s rich, earthy flavor. That’s why this trick applies to all chili pepper and tomato-based chilis.
I typically use unsweetened cocoa powder—natural or Dutch-process—since I always have it stocked in my pantry. Dark chocolate bars or chips can also be used. Choose something in the 75% cacao or higher range to ensure you’re getting that deep, chocolate flavor without the extra sweetness.
How Much Chocolate To Add
If you’re new to adding cocoa powder or chocolate to your chili, I recommend starting with a small amount and adding more after tasting. For a pot of chili that feeds six people and calls for one pound of ground beef, start with a tablespoon of cocoa powder or a couple of ounces of dark chocolate. Chocolate can be on the bitter side thanks to its natural polyphenolic compounds and its slightly acidic pH, so more chocolate isn’t necessarily better. After stirring it in and letting it simmer, taste and add more if you’d like.
When To Add the Chocolate to Your Chili
I like to add the cocoa powder right after toasting the spices with the cooked onions, and just before adding the wet ingredients like canned tomatoes, beans, and stock or water. Adding it at this point allows it to “marry” with the other spices without getting burned. Once the wet ingredients are added, allow it to simmer to give the chocolate some time to impart its flavor throughout the chili.
If in bar form, chop the chocolate into bite-size pieces and toss it into the chili after adding your wet ingredients and just before the final stage of simmering the chili. Stir it well to ensure it’s fully melted and evenly distributed throughout.
Our Favorite Chili Recipes
- Chili Con Carne
- Cincinnati Chili
- White Chicken Chili
- Easy No-Bean Chili
- Best Beef Chili
- Easy Vegetarian Chili