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How to take the "sweetness" out of chili

I made my first batch of chili yesterday. Don't ask me why I had never done so before, I guess my husband and I always ate it elsewhere so I didn't bother. The recipe was given to me by my cousin who uses a roast that you flake, rather than using ground beef. The chili was delicious, but my husband thought the sauce was "rather sweet" as he put it. Does anyone know how to take the sweetness out, without making it so hot that it burns your mouth? We were pleased with the amount of spicyness. I used 2 cans of crushed tomatoes - perhaps the tomatoes are the sweetening agent? Any tips would be helpful!

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  1. I think it was the tomatoes -- maybe the brand you used adds sugar? I usually use Rotel if I can find it, and only one can. I don't care for excessive tomatoey-sweetness in sauces, either.

    1. I thought perhaps it could be the tomatoes. I used Pastene Kitchen Ready ground peeled (label says 4g sugars). Thanks for the tip, I'll try Rotel next time.

      1. Yep, it's the tomatoes. And that's a ton of 'em - how much chili did it make? Personally, if I use any tomato at all - it's a teaspoon of paste or a half a small can in a big pot. Chili should not be tomato sauce with some beef and chile powder in it...

        1. My suggestion is use a different recipe.

          If the chili's sweet some'thin be wrong.

          1. If you used sauteed onions, they add sweetness, especially if they become browned and caramelized. So, if the recipe calls for them, you could reduce the amount and/or be careful not to let them brown. Good luck.

            1. I do sometimes add a little brown sugar because I like a layer of flavor textures.

              Top your chili w/ sour cream & green onions. Or a mountain of shredded cheese and a dash of (flavorful) hot sauce. And don't forget the scoopable Fritos, oh yea!

              1. Try adding plain cocoa powder...it's definitely not sweet and a spoon in the pot adds an interesting depth of flavor. Or maybe amp up some of the smokier flavors like adding more cumin. I also like to add fresh lime juice at the table.

                1. It made a huge batch, which is what I wanted for a gathering of people. The onions weren't carmelized, I only sauteed them very briefly with garlic and green pepper.

                  Dumb question - if you only use tomato paste, how do you get any "sauce" out of it? I added 2 tblsp of tomato paste as well. I guess chili is the kind of thing that everyone likes made a different way. It really was delicious, just a little sweet is all (according to hubby, not me!), and the roast and beans made the consistency nice and thick.

                  The recipe did have Cumin in it....funny you mention cocoa powder, I have seen a few recipes with that ingredient and wondered what it would do and how it would taste...interesting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: janlel

                    I use tomatoes in my chili -- I think the problem was that the brand you used had sugar added to it. Next time use a brand that is just tomatoes in their own juice (no added puree, no added sugar).

                    Tart balances sweet, so for the batch you have now, you might try adding a little lime juice. Or, as another poster noted below, a little vinegar could help, too. Whichever you choose, add a little at a time so you do not spoil the balance of flavors in the dish.

                  2. I also add some coffee. Instant or brewed if I have a pot. And beer is a must also! They both add great flavor to chili.

                    1. If you used tomato paste...that was the culprit.

                      1. I'm glad I found this board - wonderful suggestions and opinions from everyone. Next time I make it I'll definitely take a little bit from every post and experiment a bit - although who knows how it'll come out! :)

                        1. Thats the wonderful thing about chili! It's all about your own recipe. The possibilities are endless. It's a staple in our home during cold weather. Have a great NY!

                          1. Sara, you are correct! I learned when searching for a good chili recipe that there were SO many out there, my head was spinning. And each one often called for something totally different than the next!

                            Happy NY to you too!

                            1. Good chili does not need tomatoes or green peppers. It is not spaghetti sauce. You need good meat, garlic, chilis, onions, toasted and ground cumin,Mexican oregano for startres. I'm not here to start a war and I know what constitutes what chili is varies throughout the country but tomatoes and green pepper never get anywhere near my pot of chili. Beans are a sid dish too and rarely ever make it into the bowl unless it is a personal preference.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Candy

                                Call it "chile colorado" instead of "chili" and we can be on the same page.

                              2. Candy - you are correct - chili is indeed different in different parts of the country. I, for one, have had it only in which the way I indicated what I put in the recipe. And have never had it any other way, so I guess it's all I know. I think it is definitely a personal preference.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: janlel

                                  I like a tomato, veg, bean chili as well. Chili means beans to most Canadians. Call it bean stew if you like :) When I make chili, er, bean stew, it's because I want a healthy one-dish meal, not a meat bomb.

                                2. I believe if you add some vinegar to it and cook it down it will be ok.

                                  1. Like Candy, I'm a firm adherent of the "bowl of red" sort of chile, so this is coming from that perspective. The "sauce" is basically chile in seasoned water/broth/juices. It's basically stewed beef with chile - whatever size you end up cutting, chopping or grinding the meat (I cut small cubes.) Not a sauce with stuff, or stuff with a little chile thrown in, almost for color more than anything else. I do sometimes throw in a little tomato paste or puree as I mentioned before - for a very vague hint of sweetness and/or the acidity. But you'd never know there was "tomato" in it and it's not enough to make anything remotely sweet. Apart from onions and garlic ,I don't like any other vegs in there, at all - no peppers, absolutely no celery, carrots, etc. (Vegetarian chile is different, but then it's really a totally different thing to begin with. Same for Cincinatti and other distinctive "types".)

                                    In terms of quantity of chile, I'd say about 1 tb of ground chile or paste per pound of meat is the minimum to be able to call it "chile" and I usually use more. Final adjustments are of course to taste.

                                    Beyond that, you can play with cooking liquids (beer, coffee, broth, water) and seasoning - use different chile and/or chili powder. making your own paste from dried chiles, throw a hint of some odd seasoning in here or there to see what happens, etc. But it should always taste like seasoned chile, not chile-seasoned something else.

                                    If one must have beans, I like the smaller, firmer red beans; I don't much like kidney beans in general, and IMNSHO, the size and texture are realling off-putting in chili.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: MikeG

                                      I, too, am not a fan of the kidney bean. My preference for chili are "pinquitos" although it's my understanding that they are not widely available outside of California. Otherwise, I use pintos.

                                      On the debate of beans vs. no beans, I think there is a place for both kinds of chili. I have great recipes for chili made with beans, just as there are recipes I love that are only meat. I make a chicken-black bean chili that is fantastic, although not for chili purists.

                                      1. re: DanaB

                                        I'll third the banishment of kidney beans. They're too big and their skins are too intrusive.

                                        And what I really don't understand is the lunch counter and coffee shop style chili containing two or three types of beans, one of which is always kidney beans. Beans should be a background-type of thing and never featured. I think this stuff comes in cans from from the resto wholesalers, because I see a lot of it.

                                      2. re: MikeG

                                        The only thing I could add to that fine description is to dice up some smoky bacon and brown your meat and onions in it. I'll use a 1/2 c. to as much of a cup of red chile powder (it is "mild") for several pounds of meat.

                                      3. try some maza mix and let it thicken..should take out any sweetness

                                        1. Sorry if I missed where you said what kind of beans you used, but canned beans can have sugar in them too.

                                          1. The purpose of adding tomatoes to chili is to smooth the edges off the chiles or tame the heat a little by adding sweetness and was common by the 1940s but it's not supposed to make it a tomatoey-tasting dish. Depending on the size of your pot, 2 cans seems like an awful lot. I never use more than 4 oz. of tomato sauce per pound of meat and mostly I don't add tomatoes at all. I'm not into really incendiary chili but I prefer the richness of the chile mix depending on what chiles I've used.

                                            Some commercial chili powders also have sugar in them.

                                            Actually just about any addition to chili beyond just meat and spices will tame the spices (i.e., beans, thickener, but caution: Rotel tomatoes include peppers; you said you like the spiciness of what you had).

                                            Another thickener you might try would be crushed saltines, added to the pot long enough before finished that they completely dissolve. Adds a flavor many people like in chili anyway and will tame some of the heat and sweetness.

                                            1. I used kidney beans...I prefer no beans at all, as I'm not a fan of them, but my husband likes them.

                                              The eye round beef was 2.65 lbs, thus the 2 cans of tomatoes. It was a large batch. I've now seen so many different ways of making chili that my head is spinning! :) The only kind of chili I really know is that which is sauce-based (not in a tomato sauce sense, just thickness); I've never had any other kind and I know it's made differently world-wide.

                                              1. This has been great, thanks. I'm hosting my first Chili Cook Off and I've gotten some great tips here.

                                                1. Try switching from two cans of crushed tomatoes to two cans of diced tomatoes. I like tomatoes in chili, but not a tomato sauce.

                                                  1. Good idea on trying diced tomatoes.

                                                    I wonder how good this stuff is for a quick chili(even though I prefer to use my own fresh spices):


                                                    The home page gives all the info. about her - I've seen her on the Food Network and she's won a countless number of awards for her chili.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: janlel

                                                      I'm with you on using your own spices. I've tried the Cin Chili mix; I'd describe it as subtle and nuanced rather than bold - not the usual chili mix. I don't know how close it is to her award winning recipes on the CASI site but those call for cubed beef and simmering for a couple of hours as I recall, this calls for hamburger grind meat and simmering for 30 minutes. It's hard for me to believe she won big chili competitions with a recipe this mild!

                                                      I think the best ready mix is Wick Fowler's 2 Alarm; it contains a half cup of pretty potent, ancho chile based chili powder, but it's a simple matter to use less than the whole packet if that's too strong for you. Ditto for the cayenne pepper pack.

                                                      A product I discovered the last year is pretty good: http://www.zachspice.com/shop.php?Cal...
                                                      It's really only enough for a pound and a half of meat.

                                                      If you do go ahead and try the Cin Chili mix, pay attention to the instructions to use no-salt added tomato sauce if you do add tomato sauce. The package is oversalted as is. I used regular tomato sauce because it's all I had at the time and could hardly eat the chili. The Wick Fowler is under-salted, the Zach's doesn't need any.

                                                    2. also chili takes TIIIIIIIME for the flavors to meld in my opinion - as for sweetness, perhaps a slight hint of good vinegar might help

                                                      1. A few of my tricks to give chili "depth": cocoa powder, beer, worcestershire sauce, vinegar, marmite/vegemite, cumin, coriander.

                                                        1. Thanks for the tips on ready made chili mix.

                                                          Adding cocoa powder to chili fascinates me - and I've had a few people tell me I should. I think I may try it next time!