Beans or Bust: 7 Reasons Why All Chili Should Have Beans

Chili w Beans Cover

Cheapism / bhofack2/fotogal/istockphoto

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Chili w Beans Cover
Cheapism / bhofack2/fotogal/istockphoto

Bean There, Done That

To bean or not to bean, that's the real question, at least when it comes to chili. Chances are, you have an opinion on the subject already. It may even be a strong opinion, especially if you hail from the Midwest or Texas. 

According to the International Chili Society, which runs a lot of chili cookoffs, "beans ... are not allowed" in the traditional red chili cookoff category. Feeling pretty smug right now, aren't you, Texans? But hold on to your cowboy hats, because: Plot twist! These chili cookoffs also include a homestyle chili category, where "beans are required and should be clearly visible in the cup."

So it seems like if the very official sanctioning body of chili competitions acknowledges and allows beans in their chilis, then you should too. Here's why.

Disclaimer: We appreciate the beauty of all chilis and its regional variations, and do not care whether you put beans in your chili or not. Please do not email us mean things because you hate beans.

Chickpea can in hand in shop

1. It's Cheap

It's safe to say that cup for cup, beans are way less expensive than beef. That's especially true for dried beans, which might cost a couple bucks a pound, but it also goes for canned beans as well. That's why some people consider beans a "filler" ingredient, or a way to stretch meat. We prefer to see it as thrifty and economical. 

cholesterol test

2. It's Healthy

Beans are great for you! They have tons of protein and are high in minerals and dietary fiber. If you're substituting them for all or some of the beef in a chili, then you're ditching some cholesterol and saturated fat. "Substituting plant-based proteins for red meat can lower blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease," according to the American Heart Association. Plus, the high fiber may make you feel fuller longer. 

Related: 11 Cheap and Healthy Recipes That Start With a Can of Beans

Vegetarian Chili

3. It's Vegetarian Friendly

Are some of your friends or family vegetarian or vegan? A big, welcoming and comforting pot of chili is always an option for gatherings and potlucks because beans help make a chili completely plant-based. You can add other vegetables too, of course, including sweet potatoes, peppers, and corn. But considering everyone's diet if you're feeding a large group is a thoughtful and loving gesture. Carnivores might be surprised by how good veggie chili can be.

Homemade Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti

4. It's More Interesting

Variety is the spice of life, and beans make chili more interesting than a bowl full of meat. It looks better, it makes each bite a little different than the last, and adds varying textures and colors, just like all the other add-ins including cheese and pasta. All of that keeps you going back for more. Who ever said, "Gosh, I wish this stew was more homogeneous?" Absolutely no one.

Related: Chili Casserole and Other Creative and Unexpected Chili Recipes

Young Family Eating Chili Con Carne

5. It's Tradition

We didn't all grow up in places where putting beans in your chili was sacrilege. A chunky homemade ground beef and bean combination dominates in most parts of the U.S. outside of the Southwest. Chances are, your parents or grandparents might have made chili that way, so now it's nostalgic for you. "Because it's tradition" is a perfectly good reason for adding beans to your own chili, even if you now live in San Antonio.

Related: These 20 Restaurants Serve the Best Chili in America

Work a Cattle Ranch
Two Creek Ranch

6. It's Environmentally Friendly

Growing beans has much less impact on the environment than raising cattle. For the same amount of protein, bean production results in 90% less harmful greenhouse gases than beef. Cattle also require much more water and land to produce per unit of protein. One study even says that if everyone switched their protein source from beef to beans, it would free up 42% of America's cropland and sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you care at all about halting climate change for the generations that come after you, eating more beans, including in your chili, just makes sense.

Discover more fun food stories like this by signing up for our free newsletters.

eyecrave productions/istockphoto