What Is Chili Made Of?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 08, 2022
4 min read

Chili is a hearty soup or stew that’s quite unique. There are many different recipes and variations of ingredients. 

Seemingly every mom has their own chili recipe, so chances are that the chili that you know and love is a little different from everyone else’s. One thing that everyone can agree on, though, is that it’s one of America’s favorite comfort foods, so much so that the fourth Thursday in February is designated as National Chili Day.

So, where does chili come from? While it’s not certain exactly when or how chili originated, many historians believe that this dish was first created in Texas and was influenced by the Spanish, Mexican, and Native Americans who were all living there at the time. 

At the time, it was a stew made from meat and chili peppers and had the name “chili con carne,” meaning “chili peppers with meat” in Spanish. It grew in popularity among cowboys and frontier settlers and was a star dish at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

During this time, chili was especially popular in San Antonio, Texas, and the city’s recipe was seen as somewhat of the standard until chili began to spread in popularity all over the country. So, what does chili taste like? Today, Texans believe that chili should only have chili peppers, meat, and spices. However, many modern recipes also call for beans, veggies, and even noodles thrown in. At chili cook-offs across the US, you’ll see recipes with all kinds of ground meat, including:

  • Beef
  • Sausage
  • Turkey
  • Venison
  • Chicken

Other recipes are completely vegetarian or vegan and use veggies and a number of different legumes. 

Chili can range from mild to extra spicy depending on the mix of spices used.

As mentioned, there are seemingly limitless ways to prepare chili depending on your taste. However, one popular variety that you’ll find in casual restaurants and in many kitchens across the country includes ground beef and beans.

Chili is usually made in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Diced vegetables like onions, bell peppers, and garlic are sauteed within until they are soft. Spices like cumin, oregano, and chili powder are then added in, though you can also buy pre-mixed chili spice packets if you’re making chili at home. Next, ground beef is added to the mix and cooked through, mixing with the spices and vegetables.

As chili is a soup, next come the liquids. Diced tomatoes, either fresh or canned, are added in with water or sometimes even stock. Extra spices or salt and pepper are added before the heat is lowered to let the chili simmer. Depending on the recipe and type of pot used, chili can simmer anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.

Since chili is so diverse, some recipes are healthier than others. In general, chili is seen as a healthy food since chili contains ingredients from key food groups.

If you want to build a healthier bowl of beef chili, choose lean ground beef. Reducing the fat content in the meat is important for heart health and can lower your risk of developing diabetes. If you want to go healthier, try ground turkey or chicken, which are both lower in fat. Vegetarians can use bulgur wheat or barley as a substitute that still has a meaty texture.

Another key ingredient in chili is beans. Chili recipes usually include kidney, black, or pinto beans, but you can play around with different kinds to see which ones you like best. Some beans are very healthy, since a one-cup serving has 15 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, and essential nutrients like folate and potassium.

People who regularly eat beans usually have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and more stable blood sugar and insulin levels. Beans can also help you maintain a healthy weight since they are a good source of lean protein. Legumes are so good for you that it’s recommended to get three servings a day.

Tomatoes and other veggies used in chili can provide you with plenty of other health benefits. Adding in extra vegetables increases the antioxidant and fiber content, along with all of the nutrients that various vegetables provide. Besides tomatoes and peppers, consider adding these vegetables to your next bowl of chili:

  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Sweet potato
  • Parsnips 

While there are so many ways to prepare chili, this is the nutrition information you can expect if you were to order a bowl at a casual restaurant. A 100-gram portion of chili made with meat and beans has 157 calories, 9.8 grams of fat, and 12.6 grams of protein. While not considered to be a low-fat meal, chili is relatively low in calories and provides a great serving of protein, thanks to the meat and beans it contains.

A serving of chili is also low in carbs, sugar, and sodium. Together, all of these things make getting a bowl of chili a good option if you’re deciding what to order at a restaurant.

Besides the health benefits, chili is so popular today because the recipe is flexible and it’s easy to prepare. While it’s most commonly eaten as a soup, it’s not unusual to see thicker chilis served as a topping on hot dogs, baked potatoes, or fries.

Chili can be adapted to different diets, whether you want to prepare a dish that’s vegan, vegetarian, or low- sodium. Because there are several herbs and spices in chili that give it flavor, it’s very easy to avoid using too much salt.

If you’re short on time, there are many canned varieties of chili that just need to be opened and heated for a quick, hearty meal. Canned chili is quite budget-friendly, as well.