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, 2012 at 23:22
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    @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, 2012 at 1:41
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    @Blessed Geek: how do you define a taste as "wrong"? Do you mean you do not like it?
    – nico
    Oct 7, 2012 at 9:56
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    @AndrewMattson you probably are used to those in desserts so they sound and taste like desserts to you... for instance cinnamon, honey, and sugar are common ingredients in Moroccan tajine dishes...
    – nico
    Aug 25, 2016 at 10:54
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    Ok, let's agree to disagree on this one.
    – nico
    Aug 26, 2016 at 8:17

8 Answers 8


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. Oct 7, 2012 at 3:10
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    Cinnamon adds a warm spiciness that compliments the raw heat of chilli. Oct 7, 2012 at 8:43
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    Cinnamon is traditional in Cincinnati style chili.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    May 16, 2013 at 15:02
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    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. May 16, 2013 at 16:16
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    @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, 2013 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.

  • I find cardamon makes a great sometimes addition to change up my chili recipe(s). Jan 2, 2017 at 21:26

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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    Chocolate is almost always cocoa powder or bitter chocolate, not sweet, though. Aug 25, 2016 at 16:19
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    It's important to distinguish between Cincinnati chili (which has a sauce based on a Greek recipe served on top of spaghetti noodles, often topped with kidney beans, raw onion, and cheese) and chili served in most of the rest of the US. Although, the fact that they're totally different dishes doesn't stop some people from combining the recipes into a hybrid disaster.
    – mrog
    Jun 5, 2018 at 23:06
  • @mrog - well, there was an award-winning chili cook who had a little stand in Pike Place Market (Seattle) who made a terrific "Cincinnati chili" along with 3 other (more traditional varieties). He thought they could all be sold together at a chili stand. (Though he did serve it on those tiny little "shell" pastas ...)
    – davidbak
    Oct 22, 2018 at 5:34
  • @davidbak I wouldn't call it Cincinnati chili unless it's served on spaghetti noodles like they do in Cincinnati. But, maybe he found a way to make it better. That wouldn't be hard to do, in my opinion. Every time I've ordered chili in Cincinnati, I've always been disappointed.
    – mrog
    Oct 22, 2018 at 16:28

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.

  • 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. Feb 17, 2016 at 22:09

If you look way back to the original chili con carne recipes from the early 19th century, you'll often find that cinnamon was a common ingredient in chili because it was indigenous to Tejas region. Also, tomato was not a typical ingredient. With pasta sauce, sugar is often used to help tone down the acidity of the tomato. So as people use sugar to help tone down the acidity of their chili, any recipe that also incorporates cinnamon will likely evoke a dessert-ish flavor. For this reason, if your recipe uses tomato, it may be a good idea to skip out on the cinnamon altogether!


I use both sugar and cinnamon to my chili if I had made it too spicy. It does not taste like a dessert at all... I think the faint taste of the cinnamon gives you a warm, cozy feeling. Just a little is all it takes.


Cincinnati chili and Greek chili use cinnamon. Cinnamon adds a sweet flavor to chili.

A family recipe for spaghetti uses cinnamon. It's a traditional recipe from Mikinos, Greece.


The extreme end of that spectrum would be the indian dish "Rajma Masala", which is a bean dish with a tomato/onion sauce that has most of the spices (cumin, coriander seed, the whole set of "baking" spices .. no cocoa/coffee though :) ) considered optional in a chili by default.

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