thicken chili

Nothing beats a bowl of thick and hearty chili on a cold winter day. The classic comfort food— made from a spice-filled mixture of beans, tomatoes, meat, and vegetables— is a surprisingly easy dish to make. Stir up a pot of chili on a weeknight, and you'll have leftovers for the whole week! 

A defining characteristic of this classic cold-weather dish is its thick, stew-like consistency. Add too much liquid, and it will leave you with a soupy mush that isn't nearly as satisfying or filling. The good news is, there are plenty of easy ways to thicken chili recipes without compromising their signature flavor. 

In this article, I will highlight how to thicken chili using ingredients you already have in your kitchen— and even without any additional ingredients. So grab a stockpot, and let's get cooking! And as a money saving tip, grab any ingredients you need from Thrive Market and save.

8 Easy Ways To Thicken Chili While Cooking

Let The Chili Simmer

To thicken chili without any additional ingredients, leave the pot uncovered for a portion of the cooking time. Leaving the stew uncovered as it cooks allows excess liquid to evaporate as steam instead of keeping it trapped under the lid. 

Most chili recipes instruct you to simmer your chili in a covered stockpot for at least an hour or two. If you're nearing the end of the chili's long cooking time and notice it's a bit thinner than you'd like, remove the lid and allow the chili to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until desired thickness achieves. Stir frequently to avoid scorching your chili.

If your chili is finished cooking and you're still displeased with the consistency, leave your chili uncovered as it cools. This allows the mixture to release steam and encourages it to thicken further as it cools. When you heat a bowl for lunch the next day, you'll notice the chili has thickened as it cooled, and the starches have melded with any excess liquid overnight. 

Tip: Stir frequently to avoid scorching and until desired thickness achieves.

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Bulk Up Your Chili With Beans

Another easy way to thicken chili is by adding a can of refried or mashed beans. If you don't have a can of refried beans handy, use a potato masher or large fork to mash up a regular can of beans. Unlike whole ones, which hold onto most of their natural starches during the cooking process, mashed release their starches into the liquid, encouraging it to thicken. 

When thickening chili with beans, stick to black, red, or pinto beans. Simply add the refried or mashed beans to your chili, stir, and allow to simmer uncovered until the chili reaches your desired consistency. To maintain your chili's rich flavor, add an extra dash or two of spices (such as chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper) to balance out the additional ingredients. 

If you don't have an additional can of beans on hand, you can mash some of the whole beans you've already added to your chili. Scoop roughly a third of them in your chili recipe out of the pot and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Use a potato masher or large fork to lightly mash them before adding them back to your simmering pot of chili. The starches will activate in the chili and thicken the liquid.

Stir in a Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a commonly-used thickening agent in soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. When thickening soups with cornstarch, you'll need to make a slurry, a concentrated starchy liquid used to thicken liquids. It's crucial that you do not add the cornstarch directly to hot chili, as it will leave you with unappetizing starchy clumps. 

To make a cornstarch slurry, simply mix cornstarch and water (or broth) in a small bowl. As a rule of thumb, you'll need roughly one tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of liquid you're looking to thicken. Once the slurry is smooth, gradually add the mixture to your pot of chili. Mix thoroughly over low heat until the slurry is evenly incorporated. It may be a few minutes before the chili starts to thicken. 

Tip: Do not add cornstarch directly into the chili.

Stir in a Handful of Cheese 

If you're looking to thicken chili without adding loads of carbs, try adding cheese instead. All you'll need to do is add a healthy handful of shredded cheddar cheese or parmesan. While you can shred the cheese yourself, it's best to use pre-shredded cheese, which contains a stabilizing emulsifier called citric acid. As you stir the cheese into your chili, the citric acid binds the cheese to the wetness, resulting in a thicker mixture. For a vegan option, add nutritional yeast instead. Nutritional yeast will deliver a cheesy flavor while adding a nutty and savory note as well. Not to mention, nutritional yeast is a complete protein and packed in vitamin B.

You can also use cream cheese to thicken your chili and add a rich, creamy texture. Start by scooping a few spoonfuls of cream cheese into a small bowl. Add an equal amount of hot liquid from the chili to the bowl and whisk together until smooth. Then, pour the contents of the bowl back into the chili and stir until well incorporated. Allow the chili to simmer for another 10-15 minutes of cooking before serving. 

Add Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a great way to thicken a chili while adding tangy and zesty flavor. Since many chilies are tomato-based, this method won't alter the taste much. Add a small can into your chili during cooking and leave it to simmer until thickened.

Throw It Tortilla

Whether you have extra tortilla chips (or corn chips) around or tortilla shells, they are a great chili thickener. Simply crush them or chop them into small pieces, and then stir into hot chili and let it simmer. When the tortilla starts to soak up excess moisture and breaks down during cooking, it will thicken the chili.

To add a crunchy texture to your chili, add additional tortilla chips on top when serving.

Tip: Add crushed tortilla or corn chips 10 minutes before your chili is done. Or add chopped tortilla shells and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a superfood that can use to thicken chili while adding a ton of nutrients. When these little seeds are exposed to water, they will absorb the liquid and form a gel-like texture. Chia seeds are naturally gluten-free and packs in fiber. Plus, they will add a slight crunch texture to your chili.

Use Uncooked Noodles

Adding uncooked noodles into simmering chili can help absorb and soak up the extra liquid. Most pasta can cook under 15 minutes, but make sure you test the pasta to ensure it is fully cooked before serving.

2 Easy Ways Thicken Chili Upon Serving

Serve with Bread, Crackers, Or Tortilla Chips

If you want to thicken your chili after it's cooked, serve it with something that can sop up excess liquid, such as bread, crackers, tortilla chips, or cornbread. In addition to thickening your soup, it'll make for a heartier meal. And who doesn't love delicious dipping crackers or a crusty slice of cornbread into their bowl of soup?

If you aren't keen on dipping your toppings into your soup, crumble a few saltine crackers into your chili or stir in a torn piece of cornbread. It's a great way to use up the last few slices of a loaf that's gone stale. 

Top It Off With Shredded Cheese

For the low carb option, add a handful of shredded cheese on top. It will help you thicken and add a cheesy texture to your chili.

Thicken Chili FAQs

Gluten-Free friendly Ingredients To help Thicken Chili

  • Oats
  • Tomato Paste
  • Gluten-free flour
  • Chia seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Collagen powder
  • Noodles
  • Xanthan gum or lecithin
  • Cornmeal (white or yellow cornmeal)

Vegan-friendly ingredients to help thicken chili

  • Oats (quick oats)
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Chia seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Noodles
  • Xanthan gum or lecithin
  • Kuzu root starch
  • Root vegetables
  • Tomato paste
  • Masa harina
  • Cornmeal (white or yellow cornmeal)

Keto-Friendly Ingredients To help Thicken Chili

  • Arrowroot powder
  • Chia seeds
  • Grated cheese
  • Xanthan gum
  • Blend some of the vegetables to activate the starch.
  • Collagen powder
  • Tomato paste
  • Cornmeal (white or yellow cornmeal)

How to thicken white chicken Chili

This is more delicate than traditional chili. It has a lighter texture and a creamier taste. The easiest way to thicken your white chicken chili:

  • Let it simmer
  • Add a tablespoon of corn starch, potato starch, or instant potato flakes with milk or half and half slurry.
  • Add mashed white beans or hominy.

How To thicken Chili Verde when its too thin

Chili Verde, or known as green chili, is bold and full of flavor. This is the perfect chili for spicy food lovers.

  • Let it simmer
  • Add beans or thick-cut root vegetables.
  • Add masa harina (instant corn flour) or tortillas
  • Make corn starch or flour slurry

Can I use Xanthan Gum To Thicken Chili

Xanthan gum is a commonly used food additive as a thickening agent or stabilizer. When using this ingredient to thicken chili, do not add it indirectly. Make a slurry instead to avoid any clumping. This food additive should be used aspiringly due to the health risk associated with its usage. It is a lab-made soluble fiber, which your body cannot breakdown and causes potential health issues.

How To use Thicken Chili With Flour

To thicken chili with flour, you must make a slurry. Mix 1-2 tablespoons of flour with water well, and then add to your simmering chili. Allow it to simmer more, and make sure the slurry completely cooks (you shouldn't be able to taste it). After 10-15 minutes of simmering, it should have a significant difference in texture.

When choosing a flour to use, I like to avoid using all-purpose flour and go with gluten-free flour like almond flour or oat flour because they are more nutritious.

When To Thicken your Chili

If midway or towards the end of your cooking, you notice your chili is too thin, then it is time to develop a thickening strategy. You can use any of the methods mentioned above.

Will Chili Thicken Overnight

In general, your child will develop a thicker texture overnight. With a bit of extra time, ingredients like meat and beans will soak up all the flavors.

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