5 Secret Ingredients That’ll Take Your Chili to the Next Level

Most of them are probably in your kitchen right now.

September 12, 2021
Instant Pot Chili

Instant Pot Chili

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

There are a lot of ways to make chili, each one as delicious as the next. And, while purists might disagree and say that the true recipe is made with just a handful of very specific ingredients, my taste buds would argue that the best batches often have one thing in common: a surprising twist. Whether it’s a flavor-boosting liquid, an unexpected seasoning or a genius add-in that gives the chili a nice, thick texture, there are so many simple ways to enhance your go-to recipe.

Better yet, a great secret ingredient doesn’t have to be difficult to source or cost a fortune. In fact, when it comes to chili I can think of five common grocery items (most of which are probably in your kitchen right now) that will effortlessly upgrade this classic comfort food.

Cocoa Powder

Chocolate might not be the first thing you think of when you’re making a batch of chili but it pairs perfectly with peppers. Adding just a teaspoon or two of unsweetened cocoa powder like we do in our Instant Pot Chili (pictured above) will make your go-to recipe rich and flavorful.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael


Why use water or stock as your liquid when you could add beer? Depending on which type you choose you’ll layer notes of toast, malt or even spice into your chili. For our Quick Spicy Chili we use a lager because it’s smooth, clean flavor doesn’t distract from the smokiness of the chipotle peppers.

Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin


Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin ,Food Stylist: Rebecca JurkevichProp Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Con Poulos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Con Poulos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855


A cup of strong, brewed coffee will work wonders for your pot of chili, imparting a deep, roasted flavor that will make the chili taste like it simmered away all day long. For maximum flavor, reduce the coffee along with a blend of tomato paste, aromatic veggies and spices like we do in our Spicy Vegetarian Chili.

Vegan Lentil Chili

Vegan Lentil Chili

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher


The beauty of ground cinnamon is that it brings a warmth to your chili, without being spicy. It works well with other flavors commonly found in chili (like tomato, cumin and chile powder) so you only need a little bit to achieve the desired balance. In our Vegan Lentil Chili we use one half of a teaspoon for the entire batch.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Masa Harina

If you’re not adding masa harina to your chili, you’re missing out! Its purpose is two-fold: it lends a subtle corn sweetness and it helps thicken the chili. If you’re looking for a recipe to show you how to incorporate it, try Ree’s Simple Perfect Chili — it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

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