Chili is the ultimate comfort food to keep us warm through the dark and cold winter months. Whether you already have a family recipe you usually whip up or are looking for inspiration, these surprising ingredients will bring your chili to the next level.
Header image and recipe for Rocky Mountain Chili from CHOW

1. Chocolate

You probably have heard of Cincinnati having their own legendary chili, but did you know their traditional recipes have cocoa in them? Try it for yourself with Epicurious’s Cincinnati Chili.
Photo and recipe from Epicurious

2. Pasta

One-pot chili mac is a standard recipe in the Midwest, but people outside of those states might be surprised to find that pasta makes a great addition to chili. Usually made with macaroni or spaghetti noodles, the end result is a cross between filling chili and creamy macaroni ‘n’ cheese.
Photo and recipe from Where Your Treasure Is

3. Soda

Many chili enthusiasts swear by swapping out a portion of the broth with soda. It adds just a touch of sweetness and gives the chili a caramel color. Try out Oh, Sweet Basil’s recipe (pictured), which features Dr Pepper, or Lemons for Lulu’s version with cola.
Photo and recipe from Oh, Sweet Basil

4. Booze

No soda on hand? No problem! Adding booze is also a popular choice to create a more intriguing recipe that has a hint of your favorite craft brew or liquor.
Photo and recipe from End of Pain

5. Fruit

Another way to add a hint of acidity and sweet tones is to throw in a handful of fruit. Country Living uses orange juice in Brian’s Bourbon Chili, and Two Healthy Kitchens uses fruit in this intriguing pineapple chili made in a slow cooker.
Photo and recipe from Country Living

6. Grains and Seeds

Not only do grains add an interesting texture to chili but they also give it an extra fiber boost to keep you full longer. Life Made Simple makes a hearty version with quinoa, and EatingWell makes a zesty wheat berry chili.
Photo and recipe from Life Made Simple

7. Coffee

Coffee adds a subtle depth to your chili that your guests will have trouble putting their fingers on. The trick is to add just enough so that it mixes perfectly with the rest of the ingredients but not so much that it overpowers the other flavors.
Photo and recipe from MoreStomach

8. Curry

Adding curry creates an international flair and completely changes the flavor of the dish. Try Some the Wiser’s Vegetarian Thai Chili, which uses curry paste and coconut milk.
Photo and recipe from Some the Wiser

9. Cornbread Variations

How about mixing up your cornbread recipe instead of the ingredients in your chili for a new twist on dinner? We recommend trying What We Had For Dinner’s Cornbread Donuts or She Knows’ Cornbread Waffles.
Photo and recipe from She Knows

Shelly Westerhausen is the founder of Vegetarian Ventures, a food blog that focuses on planet-based recipes and healthy eating habits. In her free time, you can find her rocking a wolf T-shirt, sipping on hibiscus tea, and working on her magazine, Driftless.

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