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How to Thicken Chili Without Cornstarch: 7 Clever Methods




How to Thicken Chili Without Cornstarch

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Thicken chili without cornstarch with these 5 clever methods: simmer longer, Incorporate beans, use vegetable purees, add masa harina or flour, add a roux, use breadcrumbs, or incorporate tortilla chips.

Whether you prefer a heartier texture or you simply don’t have cornstarch on hand, these alternative methods will help you achieve the desired thickness in your chili.

Simmering Longer

Simmering is the process of gently cooking a dish over low heat for an extended period. When applied to chili, it serves two key purposes in thickening the dish:

  1. Reduction of Liquid: Simmering allows the liquid in your chili to evaporate slowly. As the liquid reduces, the flavors become more concentrated, resulting in a thicker consistency.
  2. Breaking Down Ingredients: Extended simmering time helps break down the ingredients in your chili, particularly meat and vegetables. This breakdown releases natural starches and proteins, which can contribute to thickening the chili.

Steps to Thicken Chili by Simmering Longer:

  1. Start with a Flavorful Base: Begin by sautéing your aromatics, such as onions and garlic, in a bit of oil until they’re soft and fragrant. This step adds depth and flavor to your chili.
  2. Add Your Ingredients: Add your choice of proteins, beans, tomatoes, and spices to the pot. These ingredients will form the heart of your chili.
  3. Pour in Liquid: To start the cooking process, add your preferred liquid, such as broth, diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce. This provides the necessary moisture for simmering.
  4. Bring to a Boil: Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer.
  5. Simmer Slowly: Allow your chili to simmer uncovered for at least 1 to 2 hours. Longer simmering times, up to 4 hours, can yield even thicker results.
  6. Stir Occasionally: Stir your chili occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and ensure even cooking.
  7. Adjust Seasonings: Taste your chili as it simmers and adjust the seasonings, such as salt, pepper, and spices, as needed. As the liquid reduces, the flavors will intensify, so it’s essential to balance them throughout the process.
  8. Monitor Consistency: Keep an eye on the consistency of your chili. If it’s not thick enough to your liking after a few hours, continue simmering until you reach the desired thickness.
  9. Serve and Enjoy: Once your chili has reached the desired thickness and the flavors have melded beautifully, it’s ready to be served. Garnish with your favorite toppings, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro, and enjoy!

Tips for Successful Chili Simmering:

  • Use a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven to ensure even heat distribution.
  • Maintain a gentle simmer; avoid rapid boiling, as it can cause the liquid to evaporate too quickly.
  • If you find your chili is becoming too thick, you can always add a bit of liquid (broth or water) to reach your desired consistency.
  • Simmering allows you to adjust the thickness to your preference, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find the perfect texture for your chili.

Using Masa Harina

Masa harina is a clever alternative for thickening chili without cornstarch. Try this versatile ingredient to enhance the texture and flavor of your chili dishes effortlessly.

Explanation Of How Masa Harina Can Be Used To Thicken Chili:

Masa Harina is a versatile ingredient often used in Mexican cuisine, and it can be an excellent option for thickening chili without relying on cornstarch. Here’s how Masa Harina works its magic:

  • Masa Harina is a type of corn flour made from dried corn kernels that have been treated with an alkali solution. This process, known as nixtamalization, releases the corn’s natural starches, making it perfect for thickening chili.
  • When added to chili, Masa Harina acts as a natural thickener, giving your dish a rich and hearty texture. It absorbs some of the liquid in the chili and swells up, creating a thick and flavorful base.

Tips For Incorporating Masa Harina Into Chili Effectively:

To ensure you get the best results when using Masa Harina to thicken your chili, consider the following tips:

  • Start with a small amount: Begin by adding a tablespoon or two of Masa Harina to your chili and mix it well. Gradually increase the amount if you desire a thicker consistency, but be cautious not to overdo it.
  • Mix with water before adding: To prevent lumps from forming, it’s best to mix the Masa Harina with water before incorporating it into your chili. This will create a smooth paste that can easily be blended into the dish.
  • Add towards the end of cooking: Masa Harina thickens the longer it cooks, so it’s wise to add it towards the end of the cooking process. Stir it in, let it simmer for a few minutes, and observe the thickness before deciding if more is needed.
  • Adjust seasoning: Keep in mind that Masa Harina can slightly alter the flavor of your chili. Taste the chili after adding the Masa Harina and make any necessary adjustments to the seasoning to maintain a balanced taste.
  • Consider chili variations: Masa Harina is commonly used in traditional chili recipes, but it can also enhance other variations. Whether you’re making vegan chili, white chili, or even turkey chili, Masa Harina can bring that desired thickness.

Experiment with different quantities and cooking times until you achieve the perfect consistency for your palate.

Adding A Roux

If you’re looking to thicken your chili without using cornstarch, one clever method is to add a roux. A roux is a combination of fat and flour that serves as a base for thickening sauces, gravies, and soups. It not only adds body and texture to your chili but also brings a rich and savory flavor.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make and use a roux in your chili:

Step 1: Gather The Ingredients

To make a roux, you’ll need the following:

  • 2 tablespoons of fat (such as butter, vegetable oil, or bacon drippings)
  • 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

Step 2: Heat The Fat

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the fat over medium heat until it melts and becomes hot.

Step 3: Add The Flour

Once the fat is hot, sprinkle the flour evenly over the melted fat.

Step 4: Stir Constantly

Using a whisk or a wooden spoon, stir the fat and flour together continuously. This helps to evenly distribute the heat and prevent lumps from forming.

Step 5: Cook The Roux

Continue stirring the roux for about 5-7 minutes, or until it turns a golden brown color. This cooking process is known as “toasting” the roux, and it brings out a nutty aroma and flavor.

Step 6: Incorporate The Roux Into The Chili

Once the roux is ready, carefully ladle in a small amount of your chili liquid into the saucepan with the roux. Stir it vigorously to combine the roux and the liquid, ensuring no lumps are left behind. This step helps to avoid clumping when adding the roux to the chili.

Step 7: Thicken The Chili

Now, slowly pour the roux mixture into your chili pot while stirring continuously. The roux will thicken the chili as it simmers. Remember to adjust the quantity of roux based on your desired thickness.

By incorporating a roux into your chili, you can achieve a velvety texture and enhanced taste. Give this method a try and watch your chili transform into a hearty and flavorful dish.

Using Vegetable Purees

These purees not only add thickness and texture to your chili but also enhance its flavor with an infusion of natural goodness.

Let’s explore some specific vegetables that work well for this method and how to prepare them.

Vegetables That Work Well

Here are several vegetables that are perfect for thickening chili when pureed:

  • Sweet Potatoes: Rich in fiber and nutrients, sweet potatoes add a subtly sweet and velvety texture to your chili. To prepare, simply peel, chop, and boil the sweet potatoes until tender. Then, puree them until smooth before incorporating them into your chili.
  • Pumpkin: Besides being a fall favorite, pumpkin puree is an excellent thickening agent due to its creamy consistency. You can use either canned pumpkin puree or make your own by roasting and pureeing fresh pumpkin.
  • Butternut Squash: Known for its buttery taste, butternut squash creates a luscious velvety texture when pureed. To prepare, peel, remove the seeds, and roast the butternut squash until tender. Once cooked, blend it into a smooth puree and stir it into your chili for a flavorful boost.

Preparation Tips

To ensure optimal results when using vegetable purees to thicken chili, keep these tips in mind:

  • Cook the vegetables until they are soft and tender before pureeing them. This will help achieve a smooth and creamy consistency.
  • For a more intense flavor profile, you can also roast the vegetables before pureeing them. Roasting enhances their natural sweetness and adds a delicious caramelized taste.
  • Experiment with different vegetable combinations to create unique flavors. For instance, a combination of sweet potatoes and pumpkin puree can provide a sweet and earthy taste to your chili.
  • Start by adding a small amount of vegetable puree to your chili and gradually increase the quantity until you achieve the desired thickness.
  • Remember to adjust the seasonings accordingly after adding the vegetable puree, as it may affect the overall flavor of your chili.

Adding vegetable purees to your chili is not only a fantastic way to thicken it but also a clever method to incorporate extra nutrients and flavors. By using sweet potatoes, pumpkin, or butternut squash, you’ll create a chili that is not only hearty and satisfying but also packed with the goodness of natural ingredients.

Get creative in the kitchen and discover your favorite vegetable combinations to take your chili to the next level.

Incorporating Beans

Beans are not only a delicious addition to your chili, but they also have the added benefit of contributing to its thickness. By incorporating different bean varieties into your chili recipe, you can achieve a satisfyingly thick consistency without the need for cornstarch.

Here are some ways beans can enhance the thickness of your chili:

  • Kidney Beans: These hearty beans are a popular choice for chili due to their robust flavor and ability to hold their shape. To prepare kidney beans for chili, soak them overnight or use canned beans for convenience.
  • Black Beans: Adding black beans to your chili provides a rich and creamy texture. Soak dried black beans beforehand or use canned black beans, which are readily available and require no pre-soaking.
  • Pinto Beans: With their mild and creamy flavor, pinto beans make a great addition to chili. Soak dried pinto beans overnight to soften them or use canned pinto beans as a time-saving alternative.
  • Cannellini Beans: These Italian white beans offer a smooth and buttery texture that can help thicken your chili. Soak dried cannellini beans overnight or opt for canned cannellini beans for a quicker preparation.
  • Chickpeas: Although not a traditional bean for chili, chickpeas can add thickness and a unique nutty flavor. You can use canned chickpeas or cook dried chickpeas after soaking them overnight.

Incorporating these bean varieties into your chili not only enhances its thickness but also introduces a variety of flavors and textures to your dish. Whether you prefer kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, or chickpeas, the choice is yours.

Using Breadcrumbs

Using breadcrumbs to thicken chili is a clever and unconventional method that can add a unique twist to your chili while achieving the desired thickness. This technique not only thickens your chili but also imparts a subtle, toasty flavor and adds a delightful texture. Whether you want to avoid cornstarch due to dietary restrictions or simply want to try something different, breadcrumbs can be your secret ingredient for a thick and hearty chili.

Why Breadcrumbs Work:

Breadcrumbs are made by drying and grinding bread into fine pieces. When added to chili, they absorb moisture and thicken the liquid, much like traditional thickeners such as cornstarch or flour. However, breadcrumbs bring their own distinct advantages to the table. They not only thicken but also enhance the flavor and consistency of your chili.

How to Use Breadcrumbs to Thicken Chili:

  1. Prepare Your Breadcrumbs: You can use fresh breadcrumbs or store-bought ones. Fresh breadcrumbs can be made by processing stale bread in a food processor or grating it. You can also choose between regular breadcrumbs or seasoned ones, depending on your taste preferences.
  2. Add Gradually: To avoid clumping, start by adding a small amount of breadcrumbs to your chili. Stir well and let it simmer for a few minutes. This allows the breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid and thicken the chili.
  3. Adjust as Needed: Continue to add breadcrumbs gradually until you reach your desired thickness. Remember that the chili will thicken further as it simmers, so give it some time before adding more if necessary.
  4. Monitor Flavor: Keep an eye on the flavor as you add breadcrumbs. Depending on the type of bread used, it can impart a subtle toasty or nutty flavor to your chili, which can be a delightful addition.
  5. Texture Matters: Breadcrumbs also contribute to the texture of your chili. They provide a slight crunchiness that can contrast nicely with the tender meat and vegetables in your dish.

Tips and Variations:

  • Gluten-Free Option: If you’re following a gluten-free diet, look for gluten-free breadcrumbs or make your own using gluten-free bread. This ensures your chili thickens without compromising your dietary needs.
  • Flavor Experimentation: Depending on your culinary creativity, you can choose different types of bread for your breadcrumbs. Whole wheat, sourdough, or even rye bread can add unique flavors to your chili.
  • Herbs and Spices: Some seasoned breadcrumbs come with herbs and spices added. This can infuse your chili with extra layers of flavor. However, be mindful of the existing spices in your chili to avoid overpowering it.
  • Use Stale Bread: If you have stale or leftover bread, don’t throw it away. Turn it into breadcrumbs and keep them for thickening future chili or other dishes.
  • Adjust for Consistency: Remember that the amount of breadcrumbs needed may vary depending on the quantity of chili you’re preparing and the desired thickness. Start with a small amount and adjust as you go.

Incorporating Tortilla Chips

Tortilla chips offer a creative and delicious alternative for thickening chili without the need for cornstarch.

This method not only adds body to your chili but also imparts a unique flavor and texture that can elevate your dish to a whole new level. Here’s how you can achieve a thick and flavorful chili using tortilla chips:

  1. Crushing the Tortilla Chips: Start by selecting your favorite tortilla chips, whether they’re plain, salted, or seasoned. To incorporate them into your chili, you’ll want to crush them into smaller pieces. You can do this by placing the chips in a resealable plastic bag and gently crushing them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy pan. The goal is to create small crumbs that will blend seamlessly into the chili.
  2. Adding the Crushed Chips: Once you have your crushed tortilla chips, add them directly to your chili. The chips will absorb some of the liquid in the chili and begin to soften, contributing to the thickening process. As they dissolve into the chili, they release a rich corn flavor that complements the dish’s overall taste.
  3. Stirring and Simmering: Stir the chili well after adding the crushed tortilla chips to ensure even distribution. Allow the chili to simmer on low heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until it reaches your desired thickness. Keep in mind that the tortilla chips will continue to absorb moisture as they cook, so you may need to adjust the thickness by adding more chips if necessary.
  4. Adjusting Flavor: Tortilla chips not only thicken your chili but also add a subtle corn flavor and a hint of saltiness. Taste your chili as it simmers and adjust the seasoning as needed. You might find that you need less salt than usual due to the chips’ contribution.
  5. Serve and Garnish: Once your chili has reached the desired consistency, it’s ready to be served. Ladle it into bowls and consider garnishing it with some crushed tortilla chips on top for added texture and presentation. You can also add traditional toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, or diced avocado to enhance the flavor profile.

Using tortilla chips to thicken chili is a fantastic way to achieve a creamy, flavorful texture while also infusing a Mexican-inspired twist into your dish. It’s a versatile method that works well with various chili recipes, from classic beef chili to vegetarian or vegan versions. Plus, it’s a convenient solution for those who prefer not to use cornstarch or want to add a unique twist to their chili recipe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to thicken chili without altering its flavor significantly?

Absolutely! One way to thicken chili without compromising its flavor is by incorporating masa harina or flour. These ingredients enhance thickness while adding a subtle, pleasant taste that complements the chili’s overall profile.

Is there any difference between using breadcrumbs and flour for thickening chili?

Yes, there is a difference. Breadcrumbs can be used to thicken chili similarly to flour, but they also introduce a subtle, toasted flavor and a bit of texture. Depending on your preference, you can choose between the two. Breadcrumbs work well for those who want to experiment with different textures and flavors.

How long should I simmer my chili to thicken it without using cornstarch?

Simmering time can vary depending on your chili’s initial consistency and the method you choose. In general, for most of these methods, a simmering time of 15-20 minutes after adding the thickening agent is a good starting point. However, feel free to adjust the time to achieve your desired thickness and flavor. Keep in mind that some methods, like using tortilla chips, may require a little longer to allow them to fully dissolve and impart their flavor.


These seven clever methods provide practical alternatives to thickening chili without cornstarch. The addition of cheese or sour cream can add a creamy texture while enhancing the richness of the dish.

Incorporating vegetables like onions or peppers not only thickens the chili but also adds additional flavor profiles. Furthermore, using tomato paste or crushed tomatoes can help achieve the desired consistency without compromising taste. Ultimately, experimenting with these methods allows you to tailor your chili to your personal preference.

Whether you prefer a thicker, creamier chili or a lighter, broth-based version, these alternatives offer a range of options to suit every palate. So, next time you find yourself without cornstarch in the pantry, don’t worry; your chili can still be thick, delicious, and satisfying.

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