The Secret Ingredient That Kicks Martha Stewart's Chili Up A Notch

Though most people can agree that it calls for some variation of meat, chili peppers, tomatoes, chili varies from region to region. Some recipes call for beans, while others are majority meat, and the consistency ranges from soupy to stew-like. 

Detroit-style chili, for example, resembles more of a gravy and includes paprika and oregano. Indiana or Hoosier chili, on the other hand, uses tomato in the form of juice, rather than sauce or paste. The chili served in Kansas city, meanwhile, usually has either pulled pork or chopped brisket, rather than ground beef.

The kind of chili Martha Stewart makes closely resembles Cincinnati chili (per What's Cooking America). As the celebrity chef shared in an Instagram post, she makes her chili with a combination of ground beef, fire-roasted tomatoes, chili powder, and no beans. Her recipe also includes a key ingredient that may be surprising to anyone who didn't grow up eating traditional Cincinnati chili.

Martha Stewart adds cocoa powder to her chili

Cocoa powder is an ingredient most commonly used in desserts, but Martha Stewart swears by using it in her Cincinnati-style chili, too. Cincinnati chili typically calls for a handful of other dessert-forward spices, such as cinnamon, cumin, and allspice, What's Cooking America shares. Stewart, however, only includes cocoa powder, in addition to chili powder, black pepper, and jalapeño.

You might assume that adding cocoa powder would make your chili sweet, but there's nothing inherently sweet about cocoa powder (unless you get the sweetened kind). Per MasterClass, when chocolate and chili are combined, they bring out the smoky and earthy flavors in each other, adding a distinct richness to the dish. This is particularly beneficial in vegetarian chilis, which tend to lack a savory element. But it can also amp up the flavor of any other chili, as Martha Stewart's recipes proves.

How much cocoa powder should you add to chili?

Chocolate has a strong flavor, so even if your chili is packed with a lot of different spices, you still want to be judicious about the amount of cocoa powder you add. Martha Stewart uses equal amounts of chili powder and cocoa powder in hers, or two tablespoons of each. Her recipe calls specifically for Dutch-process cocoa powder, the kind that has a lower acidity and lighter chocolate flavor with more earthy notes (per King Arthur Baking). To incorporate this cocoa powder into her chili, Stewart adds it in along with the spices, after sautéing the onion, garlic, and jalapeño.

If you don't have any cocoa powder on hand, according to the The New York Times, you can also use chopped dark chocolate. Instead of adding it in along with the spices as you do with cocoa powder, you mix it in with the beans, stirring until melted into the broth. Whether you use this method or stick with Stewart's, the addition of chocolate in any form will still yield an extra-flavorful chili.