A good chili is one of my favorite dishes.
But it can end up tasting quite acidic, not something I enjoy. And definitely not great for anyone with a sensitive stomach.
In this article, I go through 11 different ways you can make chili less acidic. And I’ve tried and tested every single one of them.
All the methods involve things you should have in your store cupboard at home, so if you’ve got an acidic chili sitting in front of you. Don’t worry. You CAN save it!
To make chili less acidic, add some baking soda (¼ teaspoon per serving). This will neutralize the acid without changing the taste of your chili. Alternatives include adding a spoonful of sugar or a shredded carrot. The sweetness will balance out the acidity. Cheese also works because it absorbs acid.
If you’ve already cooked the chili, here are some quick fixes to reduce the acidity.
Most of these only take a few minutes, so you can still save the chili in time for dinner!
Baking soda (to cut/neutralize the acid)
This is my go-to method. It’s quick, easy, and won’t alter the taste of your chili (as long as you don’t add too much).
Baking soda neutralizes the acid rather than just masking the taste, so it’s an excellent option for anyone who needs to avoid acidic food for health reasons.
How much baking soda should I add?
Start by adding a ¼ of a teaspoon for each serving of chili. You can add more later if you feel like it needs it.
Sprinkle the baking soda over the whole chili rather than dumping it all in the middle.
The will ensure the powder is spread throughout the chili and won’t just work its magic in one spot.
Once you add the baking soda, stir the chili and wait a few minutes. You might see some bubbling, but don’t worry.
This is totally normal. It’s a sign the baking soda is working!
When all the bubbling has subsided (or after 5 minutes), taste the chili and decide if you want to add more baking soda or not.
How does adding baking soda work?
Baking soda is an alkaline, so it reacts with the acid in your dish (who knew high-school chemistry could help with cooking?!)
That’s why it’s important to spread it throughout the dish. The reaction will only happen where you put the baking soda.
The reaction results in water, carbon dioxide, and salt. The CO2 is what causes the bubbles. When they disappear, you know the reaction has finished.
Because salt is produced, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of actual salt you add. This will prevent the chili from becoming too salty.
If you add too much baking soda, it can result in a soapy taste. So GO EASY!
Sugar (to balance the acid)
Sugar won’t neutralize the acidity, but it will help balance out the flavors making the acidity less noticeable.
Brown sugar works best because it melds with the beef nicely.
But you don’t need to add pure sugar.
There are LOADS of different ways you can add sugar to a recipe.
- Shredded carrot (the carrot will dissolve and release natural sugars into your sauce. You won’t notice the carrot, just a slightly sweet note. It’s also alkaline, so it can have a neutralizing effect)
- Honey (honey works really well to brighten a dish)
- Molasses (or anything that contains molasses)
- Sweet potato (great in vegetarian chilis)
- Canned pumpkin
- Roasted red pepper (roasting brings out the sweetness)
Sweetness in a chili tends to intensify the tomato-ey taste. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It depends on your personal preferences.
Add dairy (to buffer the acid)
Dairy products contain a chemical called Casein. It acts as a buffer and can ‘absorb’ some of the acidity from a dish.
Butter, milk, and cheese all contain Casein.
Adding a small amount of any of these to your chili should sort out your acidity problem, but cheese is the best option.
Cheese has the most Casein and won’t alter the taste/color of your chili too much. You can add any type of cheese you want. Monterey Jack or Parmesan are my go-to’s.
Parmesan also adds a bit of umami (YUM).
You can either add the cheese to the chili while cooking it or sprinkle it over the chili at service.
A dollop of sour cream served with the chili will also have the same effect.
Add starch (to absorb the acid)
This is a trick my grandma taught me.
When your dish is too acidic, put half a peeled potato in the sauce, leave it for half an hour and then take it out again.
The potato absorbs some of the liquid in your dish, taking away the harsh acidity. The trick also works well when food is too salty.
Another way to add starch is to add some more beans. The salt in the bean water has the added benefit of masking some of the acidic taste.
Potato flakes, masa, and corn meals are other alternatives.
Add Chocolate (to balance the acid)
Dark chocolate is often included in chili recipes, and for good reason.
A square or two of dark chocolate adds a richness to the dish that balances out any acidity. It will help deepen the flavor.
Dark chocolate is also great for adding valuable nutrients. It’s one of the best sources of antioxidants you can get.
Add alkaline herbs and vegetables (to cut/neutralize the acid)
This is stepping away from your traditional chili recipe. But if you don’t mind mixing it up a bit, try adding some green stuff to your chili.
Some fresh herbs and leafy green vegetables are actually very basic (alkaline) and will neutralize the acid in a dish. Here are a few you can try:
They work in the same way as baking soda but also add a bit of flavor and color.
Cook the chili for longer
If you’re not in a hurry for your chili, this option is by far the easiest.
The longer you cook something, the more the flavors mix. If you think your dish is too acidic, leave it simmering for another 30-60 minutes.
Chances are, when you go back, the strong acidic taste will be gone.
As the chili cooks, the flavors become more concentrated. This allows alternative flavors, such as sweetness, to overtake the acidity.
The same principles apply if you leave your chili in the fridge overnight. The flavors will have more chance to interact, and any strong ones will mellow out.
Bulk it up (with non-acidic ingredients)
Acidity in chili can come from the tomatoes, the onions, or the chili peppers. Meat doesn’t add to the acidity.
Add some more meat (or beans as above) to the mix, and it will help to soak up the excess flavor. It will also mean you’ll have leftovers so you can enjoy the chili another day as well!
‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.
Are you often making chilis that are too acidic? There could be something going wrong with your base recipe.
Check out these prevention tips for making sure you don’t get to the fixing stage.
Use less acidic tomatoes
Different brands of tomatoes have different levels of acidity.
If you start with an acidic tomato, your end dish is much more likely to be acidic.
San Marzano tomatoes are well known for being low in acid, so they’re perfect for a low acid chili. If you can’t find them locally (and it’s usually pretty hard) you can buy them on Amazon (linked here).
They’re a little bit more expensive than other varieties but have an awesome flavor. They’re often recommended as the best tomatoes for sauce making.
Try them. You’ll be a convert.
Top tip: There are a lot of fake San Marzano tomatoes out there. Look for certified cans. They’re also only sold as peeled (not chopped or diced).
If you don’t want to get San Marzano tomatoes, look out in your local shop for any cans labeled as ‘low-acid’.
Non-red tomatoes also tend to be lower in acid, but it’s hard to find these canned. And they’ll change the color of your chili.
Reduce the amount of acidic ingredients
Chili has a lot of acidic ingredients.
Onions, garlic, hot sauce (the vinegar), tomatoes. All of these increase the acidity of your dish.
Reducing the amount of these in your dish will go a long way to fixing the acidic taste.
Onions and garlic are easy. You can just put less of them in.
You can replace vinegary hot sauce with fresh chili peppers. Jalapeno peppers, chipotle peppers, and ancho peppers all make delicious additions.
Tomato paste is particularly acidic, so avoid using too much of this. Another trick is to drain your canned tomatoes and replace the lost juices with water.
Cook your acidic ingredients before adding them
Okay, so you don’t want to take any garlic out. I hear you!
Another option you have is to change the way you’re cooking the acidic ingredients.
- Roasted garlic is much sweeter than fried garlic
- Make sure to saute the onions for long enough before adding other ingredients. Wait until they’re almost see-through. This will drastically reduce their acidity. If you’re cooking the chili in a crockpot, saute the onions before you add them
- ‘Browning’ the tomato paste will cook off some of its acidity. Add it to your pan after the onions and garlic, but before the other ingredient. This will give it some time to cook down
How To Make Chili Less Acidic
- 1 portion chili con carne
Add baking soda (to cut/neutralize the acid).
- Baking soda neutralizes the acid rather than just masking the taste, so it’s an excellent option for anyone who needs to avoid acidic food for health reasons.
- Start by adding a ¼ of a teaspoon for each serving of chili. You can add more later if you feel like it needs it.
- Sprinkle the baking soda over the whole chili rather than dumping it all in the middle.The will ensure the powder is spread throughout the chili and won’t just work its magic in one spot.
- Once you add the baking soda, stir the chili and wait a few minutes. You might see some bubbling, but don’t worry.
- When all the bubbling has subsided (or after 5 minutes), taste the chili and decide if you want to add more baking soda or not.
- If you add too much baking soda, it can result in a soapy taste. So GO EASY!