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We had an office chili cook-off recently (I didn't enter). Two of the chili recipes presented used cinnamon predominately, perhaps even overpoweringly (IMO). Given that they also heavily sweetened their chili with honey and sugar, both had a cinnamon dessert flavor profile mixed with a bland tomato/beef profile. In a word, "yuck!"

In searching today, I've seen several recipes around calling for the use of cinnamon in chili. I could see it maybe being a background flavoring to add a mild spicy bite and a touch of earthiness. But, some recipes seem to be pretty heavy in it's use.

I'm assuming the office cooks didn't develop the right flavor (unless going for a dessert chili was their objective). What kind of flavor profile would be the right one to develop when using cinnamon in chili?

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In many cultures (think Indian, for instance) cinnamon is used for salty dishes rather than sweets. I cannot comment on the dishes you had, but definitely I would not say cinnamon equals dessert – nico Oct 6 '12 at 23:22
@nico - It was the heavy use of sugar/honey and cinnamon together that gave them a partially dessert like taste. It might have worked better without the sweetness. – jfrankcarr Oct 7 '12 at 1:41
We use both cinnamon and cocoa powder in our chili, but we don't sweeten it, the cinnamon provides a different spice profile and the cocoa powder deepens the flavor. – wax eagle Oct 7 '12 at 2:57
@Blessed Geek: how do you define a taste as "wrong"? Do you mean you do not like it? – nico Oct 7 '12 at 9:56
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Cinnamon adds a different spice profile than chili powder or red or cayenne pepper would. It is a common savory spice in Indian food and I believe it's also used in savory dishes in Chinese cooking. It's a very versatile spice :).

We also use cocoa powder in our chili as it provides a real depth of flavor (dark bitter flavors which are quite good in chili).

Both of these add some curiosity and difference to the chili without themselves adding sweetness. Usually they get added as a fairly safe way to add something "different" to standard chili.

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+1 The cinnamon and cocoa make the chili reminiscent of a mole sauce. – Sobachatina Oct 7 '12 at 3:10
Cinnamon adds a warm spiciness that compliments the raw heat of chilli. – ElendilTheTall Oct 7 '12 at 8:43
Cinnamon is traditional in Cincinnati style chili. – SAJ14SAJ May 16 '13 at 15:02
Half a cup of strong coffee will add a nice darkness too. I can't find any refs to cardamom in chili, but surely someone's tried it. – Wayfaring Stranger May 16 '13 at 16:16
@WayfaringStranger strong coffee is a common way to make a quick mole sauce and would be a fantastic addition to chili (my wife doesn't do any caf though so it's out for me :(). – wax eagle May 17 '13 at 1:25

I often put some of a cinnamon stick in my chilli, along with cardamon and bay leaf. (probably not traditional at all). It adds to the flavor without it becoming desert like. I guess it is because the flavor is infused making it more subtle.

I haven't tried using ground cinnamon in a chilli, I should imagine that it would taste as you are describing.

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I read online that cinnamon cuts the acid in tomatoes using 1/4 tsp for a batch of sauce or chili. This was a great tip for me as I didn't like the acidic tomatoe flavour of my chili.

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I agree this is a good use of cinnamon in Chili and such, in such a small amount as to not be consciously noticeable yet adding character to the flavor. Especially good for American palates that may not be used to heavier usage with savory dishes as seen in Indian, Chinese, or other cultures. – Basil Bourque Feb 17 at 22:09

cinnamon is a basis flavor of Cincinnati style chili, it has some inherent heat as well as sweetness to it. Chili benefits from both, but I don't like Cincinnati style chili where you can "taste" the cinnamon.

Lots of chili recipes have seemingly odd and unusual ingredients including, jams and jellies, as well as chocolate.

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