The Great Chili Debate

Staff Writer
Beans or no beans -- which side of the line do you fall on?
The Great Chili Debate
Marité Acosta

15-Minute Chili

Why is chili so important to people? Nobody really knows why the feelings run so deep on the subject, but they certainly do. Billy the Kid is quoted as saying, “Anybody who eats chili can’t be all that bad.”

There are many stories and legends surrounding the origins of chili: They range from stories on the silk route in the Orient in the 14th century, a beautiful nun from Spain in the 17th century to the life of the gauchos on the Pampas trails in Argentina and of course Mexico, the country and cuisine best known for the chili pepper. Instead of trying to pinpoint one origin we can focus on the history of chili in this country, placing it in the Southwest. And by Southwest, I mean Texas!

Since the 1880's, women would gather at the San Antonio town plazas setting up seating and warming pots of chili over open fires, they were known as the Chili Queens. These were stories of real women who made the chili in their homes then loaded it up in colorful chili wagons to set up shop in the Military Plaza Mercado. More than forty years later there are historic re-enactments of the chili queens and to this day there is a "Return of the Chili Queens Festival" held annually at Market Square in downtown San Antonio.

The ‘debate’ itself is not really so much an actual debate, but passions run deep and Texas has taken it so far as making chili the official "state food" in 1977. While no other state makes this claim, how to make a 'bowl of red' becomes an issue of regional debate. In Central Texas it is considered a sin to put beans in the pot while in Ohio Cincinnati-style chili includes beans and a number of unusual ingredients such as cinnamon and cloves. Then there’s the green and white chili varieties, substituting turkey for beef with white beans for red beans, or tomatillo and green chili in place of red tomatoes and red chili. Whichever you favor, generally not disputed though are the main ingredients: meat, peppers and herbs and spices.

Alas, beans or no beans, that is the question. You can decide for yourself. Try out one of our chili recipes and see which you prefer.

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