How to Cut Bitterness in Chili

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When cutting the bitterness of chili, you're always going to want to keep a few key things in mind. Find out how to cut the bitterness in chili with help from a published cookbook author and food expert in this free video clip.

Part of the Video Series: Understanding Taste for Better Cooking
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Video Transcript

Hi. I'm Barb Stuckey and I'm the author of Taste, and today we're going to talk about how to cut or tame the bitterness in chili. And I'm talking about chili with an i. That's the kind of chili that you might eat on a cold day that bubbles away on the top of the stove for hours at a time. And the reason that chilies with an i can become bitter is because they're usually made with chilies with an e. And in the process of making chilies with an e they're usually either smoked or dried. And in that process bitter compounds can be developed. And so it's usually the chilies with an e that are the problem ingredient. Now you didn't have to start with a whole chili to have the problem. You could start with ground chilies as well, like cayenne or chipotle or even smoked paprika. All of these can give chili an unpleasant bitter edge. So we're going to talk about how to fix chili. And the way that you can do that is by first understanding what bitterness is. Bitterness is one of the five basic tastes. And there are only five things we can taste using our tongue alone. And that is sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami. So when you have one that's out of whack, in this case bitter is the problem ingredient, you'll want to use one of the other four tastes to try and balance it out. So let's start with some that are really intuitive. Let's start with sour. One of the most perfect things to use when you're making chili, especially if it's a nice southwest or even Texas style chili, is the sourness that you get from citrus. I particularly like limes to add that nice sour edge that because it's another taste will start to balance out the five basic tastes. So if your bitter's too high try a little bit of sour in the form of lime. The next thing that might not be quite as intuitive is sweet. And of course you could use just plain old sugar, just a little bit. You don't want to go overboard. You certainly don't want a sweet chili. But you might get a little bit more creative and go for something like maple syrup that has a really nice rich sweetness. And that sweetness is going to help balance out the bitterness as well. Think about your morning cup of coffee. So it works in the same way. And then the most intuitive basic taste that you're going to add, to any thing that's bitter, not just chili, is salt. And salt has this amazing quality. I call it the super hero of taste. And what salt does is it basically knocks down the bitterness in a food. And in doing so by suppressing the bitterness, it allows the sweetness in a food to come forward. So the natural sweetness that you might have in your chili for example, I mean the natural sweetness that you might have in the pork that you've used for example, or in the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, that comes forward so that you can use salt to not just suppress the bitterness, but to help bring forward some of the desirable flavors like sweetness. Another way to use sweetness to your benefit to offset bitterness in chili would be to add an ingredient that's sweet like corn for example. We all know how sweet and delicious corn can be in a chili. Now let's talk about using another technique. This technique uses fat to bind with the bitter compounds so that when you taste it you get less of the bitter perception on your tongue. So you could add a little bit of fat to your chili to offset the bitterness. Now what makes sense in a chili, possibly a vegetable oil or even a nice fresh olive oil to give it a little bit of that green flavor. But you might not think to use something like milk. Milk or cream could also add a nice richness. But again because it's binding with the bitter compounds in a chili could suppress the bitterness just enough to make it taste right. And of course there's the most logical way to deal with anything in your recipe that's gone wrong. And that is to make another recipe, to make a whole batch of it without the problematic ingredient. So if the problem was too much of your smoked paprika for example, you could make another recipe leaving the smoked paprika or whatever chili it is that's too bitter out of the recipe. Then you combine the recipe with the bitterness in it with the one without the bitterness in it and that should solve your problem. Another way to balance the bitterness in chili would be to use the tomato component of it. So if your recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, add a little bit extra. And what adding these extra fresh tomatoes will do is they will dilute out the bitterness. So I've got a nice pulled pork shoulder chili going here. And I'm just going to add fresh tomatoes to help offset some of the bitterness. So if your recipe calls for canned tomatoes, you could do the same thing but you'll probably want to be sure to buy no salt added tomatoes because can tomatoes themselves can be really high in salt. And you don't want to throw off the salt in your recipe if you're already having trouble balancing the bitterness. Of course the best way to avoid making your chili too bitter in the first place, is to taste as you go. When you're adding every single ingredient in your recipe taste between them. That way then you'll know when you've got just the right amount of bitterness, but not too much. I'm Barb Stuckey, author of Taste. And for more information on how taste works, visit my website


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