The Sweet Ingredient You Should Be Adding To Homemade Chili

Every home cook seems to have their own special ingredient for their signature chili recipe. While beer, red wine, and soda make Houston Press' list of the most unexpected ingredients you can add to any homemade chili, there are some base ingredients most chili varieties include. MasterClass defines chili as a hearty stew-like mixture of beans and meat but most recipes also incorporate a plethora of spices, a liquid base, and tomatoes.

According to What's Cooking America, the history of this American dish is rumored to have been created by one Spanish nun in the 1600s. This legend has no real backing, yet throughout the 1800s, various additional versions of who created chili as we know it today popped up in and around the state of Texas. Fast forward to 2022, and now you can even find a specific guide to regional chili styles depending on where you're located in the U.S. Even though most chili recipes follow the same guidelines to a certain degree, there is one ingredient that some home chefs add while others choose to leave out, yet this sweet addition may serve another purpose besides adding a unique flavor component.

Add some sugar to balance the heat and acidity of your chili

With all those beans, meat, and spices, you can easily make a chili that feels out of balance with too much salt or heat. When cooking with tomatoes specifically, Cook's Illustrated suggests adding either sugar or baking soda to decrease the acidity of the tomatoes you're cooking with–yet sugar also provides a multi-dimensional complexity of flavors. Since most chilis are made with a tomato base, you may want to consider adding a small amount of sugar to see if you like the taste.

Among the many ingredients that will take your chili to the next level, sugar may be one addition your chili needs, not only to balance the acidic component of your tomato base but to also add some overall complexity to your dish. Sprinkle Some Sugar adds sugar to her crockpot chili to balance all the additional flavors in the mix.

Beyond standard white sugar, feel free to try different sweeteners to add a completely different flavor variation. J. Kenji López-Alt not only adds marmite, coffee beans, and anchovy filets, but he also uses two tablespoons of dark brown sugar in his favorite chili recipe (per Shipt). Bobby Flay shares his chili for a crowd with Bloomberg which includes the addition of pure maple syrup. While sugar is an ingredient a lot of famous chefs and home cooks alike swear by, it's not the only ingredient some chili lovers choose not to use.

The wide range of chili additions

As you cut up your onions and garlic in preparation to make slow cooker chili, you may be in the camp of strictly using meat only or in contrast, loving the idea of loading your pot with beans. Southern Living claims the notion of adding beans to chili has been a highly contentious debate for years, with most Texans scoffing at the idea of beans added to "traditional red" chili which according to ICS is a cooked blend of meat and spices with no beans allowed.

Whether you're in the pool of choosing beans, meat, or both in one pot, for present-day chefs, there is no limit to what can be added to a 21st-century pot of chili. Greatist runs through some of the most unusual secret ingredients to add to your next pot of chili that will actually elevate the overall flavor of your favorite recipes including soy sauce, chocolate, and sweeter spices like clove and cinnamon. Even Martha Stewart is a fan of adding cocoa powder to her classic beef chili recipe. At the end of the day, however, you need to choose add-ins that sound exciting to your taste buds. If you're looking for a way to dress up your favorite homemade recipe, you might want to start small and give a teaspoon or two of sugar a try and see how one small addition can balance the flavor of your favorite chili.