The One-Ingredient Pantry Upgrade Your Chili Is Missing

updated Jan 10, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

It’s hard to beat the comfort of a steaming bowl of chili — especially when it’s cold out. Serve it piled with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some chopped scallions and it’s a hearty, satisfying meal.

It seems everyone has their favorite version, whether it’s loaded with beans or eschews the beans altogether. Over the years, I’ve dabbled with a variety of spices and ingredients in my own version, trying to achieve a deeper flavor. I’ve tried everything from hot sauce to chipotle in adobo, but there’s one ingredient that I now always add, and it gives my chili the richest, deepest flavor: cocoa powder.

Cocoa Powder and Chili Go Very Well Together

Cocoa powder might seem like an odd choice, but the combination of chocolate and chilis is actually quite old. Both chili peppers and chocolate are native to Mexico and Central America — and they were often combined, as they are in Mexican mole sauce.

Adding chocolate to chili lends depth and richness to the spicy dish, making it both more savory and more satisfying. That’s especially the case for vegetarian and vegan chilis, when the hearty flavors from meat aren’t part of the equation.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The key is to reach for unsweetened cocoa powder and use it judiciously — for a typical batch, you’ll only need a tablespoon or two. Start by stirring in a tablespoon to your favorite recipe when you add your dry spices like chili powder and cumin. Let the pot simmer, then taste the chili. If you want a touch more richness, add up to a tablespoon more.

3 Great Chili Recipes to Try with Cocoa Powder