The Unexpected Ingredient That Will Majorly Upgrade Your No-Bean Chili

Chili is one of those dishes that can be defined (and made) a multitude of ways, making it difficult to get down into the real, nitty-gritty truth of chili. Some will argue that chili must only consist of ground beef, spices, and tomatoes. Others say that beans are a must in any chili recipe. 

Some say that chili originated in the Canary Islands, while others argue that a mysterious nun appeared to the Southwest's indigenous populations in the 1600s and taught them how to make one of the first versions of chili, per What's Cooking America.

No matter where chili came from, though, we can all agree that it's delicious, and every home cook puts their spin on it. Even if two home cooks both make their chili bean-less or both strictly go vegetarian, they can still produce wildly different bowls of chili, depending on what spices and seasonings they throw into the pot. However, there's one unexpected ingredient that will majorly upgrade your chili that you'll be hard-pressed to find many home cooks adding, even though it's one you'll want to start using in your favorite chili recipe ASAP.

Add cocoa to your chili

Recipe developer Catherine Brookes shared her no-bean chili recipe with Mashed, detailing how to still make a delicious, veggie-packed bowl of chili, sans beans. Her recipe includes the normal suspects, such as onions and peppers, cumin, tomatoes, ground beef, and tomato paste. However, it also includes two teaspoons of something very unexpected: cocoa powder. 

"Cocoa powder adds a richness and depth of flavor that compliments the spice amazingly without there being a noticeable taste of chocolate," she says.

The addition makes sense. After all, chocolate and cocoa are frequent additions to many Mexican-style recipes, such as certain moles. As The Washington Post reports, all-natural cacao beans contain more than 600 aroma molecules, meaning they can impart a wide variety of flavors beyond the typical chocolate flavor. Often, chocolate can be, when used the right way, an enhancing agent to help bring out other flavors in a dish. Paired with tomatoes, cheese, red meat, and, yes, chili, chocolate can bring new depth to your favorite foods.