Chili connoisseurs often speak in hushed whispers about secret ingredients: barely-noticeably additions to their chili that set it far apart from other blends. While these secret ingredients may no longer be quite so secret, thanks to widely available information on the internet, they are still uncommon, and provide the potential to set your chili apart from the status quo.
Whether used apart or together, each of these special, secret ingredients can be added to standard recipes for a flavorful and unique experience.
Beer is a common secret ingredient in chili. With its low alcohol content and slightly bitter, starchy flavor, beer offsets the strong flavors of chili while also complementing it. Although most people can not directly taste the beer in chili prepared with this secret ingredient, they never fail to notice that there’s something different about it.
Historically, dark chocolates and cocoa were more often used in savory dishes and stews than in sweet desserts. To people who are accustomed to chocolate’s exclusive use in sweets, the idea of using it as a secret ingredient in chili may seem bizarre. However, the addition of baker’s chocolate or loose cocoa to a pot of chili is delightful, setting the chili apart from the others with a smoky, rich flavor.
Nopales, cactus vegetables made from the stems of prickly pear, are sometimes diced and seasoned, and later sold as nopalitos. With their crisp but juicy texture and tart, spicy flavor, they are an ideal secret ingredient to be added to chili. Like chili con carne itself, nopalitos hail from Mexico, making them a pleasant, tangy, and authentic secret ingredient for the stew.
Dark buckstrap molasses can be a flavorful addition to any chili recipe. Because it has a strong, thick, slightly bitter quality offset by its natural sweetness, it is a welcome surprise in chili of all kinds. It adds depth and richness to chili without its sweetness becoming overpowering, and the slightly bitter aftertaste blends seemlessly with the spicy flavors of chili with meat.
In general, people who are new to chili experimentation may prefer to begin with very small amounts when adding these secret ingredients to their own dishes. When you adjust these ingredients, alone or individually, to suitably complement your own spice blend, you’ll find that they can create a wonderful and unique taste experience.