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Credit: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

It’s safe to say that most people have a go-to chili recipe that they can fall back on time and time again for the ultimate bowl of comfort. So, why fix something that isn’t broken, right? Look—if you keep your homemade chili as near and dear to your heart as your own religion, then by all means, keep doing you. I respect your loyalty to your OG recipe. However, if you’re wanting to give your next go-around an added kick of unexpected flavor, we gathered some non-traditional ingredients that are sure to fend well in such a hearty concoction. Before you’re quick to dismiss these unlikely chili additions as straight-up sacrilege, step outside your chili comfort zone and give them a whirl.


Spruce up your next bowl of vegetarian chili with some chunks of, yes, pineapple. It adds a hit of sweetness (which makes for a great counterpart if you’re adding a ton of heat to the chili) and a surprising textural component, to boot. Look, if you’re opposed to some savory pineapple action (pineapple pizza haters, we’re looking at you), we get it. Fine. Carry on with your ways. But if you’re up for a tropical burst of flavor, what are you waiting for?

Watch Now: How to Make Beefy, Bacon, and Beer Chili


Going along with the fruity theme here, go ahead and toss in some peeled, cored, and chopped apple bits. Like the pineapple, the apple bits will soften up (but not so much that it’s legitimate baby food) and release a seasonal, sweet flavor throughout the dish. Apples and chili are both fall staples, so why not marry the two? No? Does that logic make no sense at all? Well, I’m sold on it. #SorryNotSorry.


Yes, you read that correctly, and no, this was not written by a pregnant woman with obscene cravings. A dash of unsweetened cocoa powder or a couple ounces of bittersweet chocolate can add a richness to that bowl of chili that you probably never saw coming. The earthy, cacao flavor against the smokiness of the rest of the chili just so happens to be a match made in low-and-slow cooking heaven.


While we’re on the subject of caffeinated beans, let’s bring some coffee into the discussion. Similar to the chocolate in that it adds a subtle tang of earthy sweetness, a cup of strong-brewed coffee or a couple tablespoons of finely ground espresso beans add a playful zing to play up the aromatics of the chili. If breakfast chili wasn’t a thing before, it definitely is now.

Peanut Butter

I know, I know. It’s a bowl of chili, not that weird bouncy toy that you give your dog to gnaw on when they’re bored. But hear me out. Peanut butter works just as well in a savory dish as it does sweet, and when paired with a hefty dose of spices and flavorful meat, well, the rest is history. Not to mention, your dog will definitely be into these leftovers (and so will you!).

Fish Sauce

Your chili has got to achieve its salty flavor somehow, right? If you feel like straying from the typical pinch of kosher salt, add a subtle punch of umami with fish sauce, soy sauce, or even anchovies. The distinct flavors of each will disperse throughout the chili, and your fellow chili-eating comrades will have no idea where that indistinct savory-salty goodness is coming from.


Dark, rich stouts or a couple glugs of red wine have an extremely welcome place in any chili situation. The alcohol will cook off, leaving behind a rich, deep flavor that will pair up nicely against the heat and smoke of the surrounding ingredients. Plus, you’re going to need something to do while that chili cooks for hours on end. How convenient, you’ve now got an open bottle of red.

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane