There’s a mythology around chili that can be difficult to overcome. The lore of it—beans or no beans? Tomatoes? Beef? Ground, or in stewing chunks?—is copious, and vigorously defended by aficionados. And what spices do you use to flavor chili? We know, there’s a lot to consider. Crafting a great bowl of great-tasting chili, thick and hearty with chunks of meat and vegetables, richly flavored by the classic spices and spicy with chile peppers, doesn’t have to be daunting. Here’s a list of what we think are the best spices for chili; when you’re done looking over the spices, you can check out the chile peppers we like to use, too, and start dreaming of the perfect pot of comforting chili that will keep winter’s bite at bay.
What Are the Best Chili Spices?For classic chili flavor, these spices are perfect.
- Ground Cumin is wonderful for adding a nutty, earthy flavor to your chili. Add early in the cooking time to create a base for the chili flavor.
- Granulated Onion and Granulated Garlic give great flavor dimensions that are easily recognizable to any consumer, whether they are a casual eater or a chili connoisseur. They can be added at the beginning, and then added again about half-way through to boost their pungency.
- White Pepper can be used with or in place of black pepper. It has less of a bite than black pepper, making it optimal for people who enjoy a less zingy chili. Use toward the end of cooking time to add a peppery boost.
- Mexican Oregano is slightly citrusy, while it also offers up that earthy, grassy aroma which is common in many good chilis. Add it about half-way through cooking time. It can withstand longer cooking times, but you also don’t want the unique flavors of Mexican Oregano to dissipate out of the dish.
- Ground Bay Leaf tastes vaguely of nutmeg and pine, and it has a slightly camphor like fragrance. Ground bay leaves can also taste slightly lemony. Ground Bay Leaves provide an excellent base of flavor, so add early.
- Cinnamon is a sweeter spice, perfect for creating a gracious chili with minimal heat and robust flavors. Add with cumin at the beginning of cooking time so any brash edges cinnamon has can smooth out in the dish.
- Ground Coriander has a lemony, citrusy flavor that is also vaguely reminiscent of oranges. Add toward the end of cooking time so it can lift the flavor of the chili.
- Paprika of the domestic variety is slightly sweet, while Hungarian paprika is the choice of cooks who are eager for something a little spicier. The sugars in paprika can burn easily, so add this spice toward the end of cooking time.
If you're feeling like an adventurous chili maker and want to give your chili a more complex flavor profile, you could add these spices, though don't overdo it and add all of them. These provide unique, intense flavors so keep that in mind while you experiment.
- Achiote, or Ground Annatto, will give a distinctly dark color to your chili, but it will also give a noticeably earthy flavor. This seasoning works very well with chile peppers so add at the beginning of cooking time and allow Achiote and peppers to mingle in the pot.
- Cacao Powder works because of the chocolatey flavor it lends to the chili. Chocolate and chiles are a tried and true combination. Including a cacao powder in your recipe isn’t common, but it is delicious, and it gives real depth to vegetarian chilis. Add early.
- Ground Fenugreek is nutty and bittersweet. This can easily overpower a dish so use judiciously. Can be sauteed in at the beginning, but can also be used to add a bittersweet tang in the last twenty minutes of cooking.
- Sumac is tart, and some have described it as being akin to a vinegary flavor. This is an excellent compliment to tomato based chilis. Sumac needs time to process and can be almost dusty if it’s not given enough time to cook. Add early.
- Turmeric is woody with citrus, ginger, and floral undertones. Add early in the cooking time. It would be good with a red chili, though it could put a whole new spin on a cream-based chili if used sparingly.
Using Spices in Chili
Write down everything you do. Deciding when and how much of a spice should be added to your chili to make it just right may take dozens of attempts. Do you like to add oregano at the beginning of cooking, or at the end? Do you like to add garlic during the early prep? Do you like to add it later? Or maybe you prefer to use both? Test and document, and test and document, and test and document some more. The best blend of spices is right there at your fingertips, you just have to find it.
The best tip we can give you for making out of this world chili is to take your time and taste as you go. Enjoy the cooking process, spice it up using whatever you think tastes best and treat yourself to some quality time with a steamy bowl of the most perfect chili you have ever tasted. Bonus: Revel in the fact that you made it yourself.