Apparently, Peanut Butter Is Some Southerners' Secret Ingredient When Making Chili

Plus, why you might want to consider adding peanut butter to your next batch.

two bowls of chili with two cups of beer
Photo: Will Dickey

Chili is one of those seasonal dishes that can appear wildly different depending on where you're eating it and who's doing the cooking. Amongst all the white chicken chilis, classic bean chilis, and Texas red chilis that grace crockpots across the South, everyone has their own preference. However, there's one ingredient that some bold cooks include in their chili recipes that most folks would never guess: peanut butter. Yes, really.

It started when there were rumblings of a Texas chef using peanut butter in his famous recipe in the 1990s, and as it turns out, he wasn't alone. Upon further research, there are many chili recipes that call for peanut butter with plenty of rave reviews, and it stems from familiar logic. Much like how certain savory Tex-Mex recipes include ingredients such as cocoa or cinnamon, peanut butter offers a unique balance to the spices and heat used in chili. You'll even find some Mexican-inspired chili recipes that use all three—cocoa, cinnamon, and peanut butter—in small quantities to lend richness and depth of flavor.

It can sound odd in theory, but in practice, it might surprise you. Per recipes that include peanut butter in chili, it is supposed to help enhance the creaminess and thickness without having to use flour or cornstarch, making it also ideal for those who have accidentally made their chili too liquidy. (A familiar issue that arises when using a slow cooker.) It also can help add richness by complementing the chile powder with its nutty sweetness, and the healthy fats in peanut butter can even tame your chili if it's too spicy.

Next time, when making your favorite tomato-based chili recipe, consider adding a hearty tablespoon or two of peanut butter. A little goes a long way, and you shouldn't even be able to taste it. It acts more as a finishing touch for texture and depth of flavor. From there, serve the chili as you usually would, whether that's in a bowl with cornbread on the side, over a bed of Fritos, or topped with all the fixings. If you need a new recipe to serve as a base, explore our 27 Favorite Chili Recipes to get started.

Until now, there was no chili that could quite compare to the highly divisive and widely beloved Texas chili. We think peanut butter chili has it beat.

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