To Bean or not to Bean? The great Chili debate

09 Mar 2017 9:32 AM | Menna Mcdonnell (Administrator)

To Bean or not to Bean? 


Beans or no beans in Chili is an argument that is as old as the dish it self. 

Chili noun \ˈchi-lē\ : a spicy dish made of ground beef, hot peppers or chili powder, and usually beans.

Even the dictionary can’t say for sure whether beans belong in Chili or not, but I bet that if you like Chili you have a strong opinion on the subject. I guess the only thing that truly matters is if you enjoy how the food tastes.

Where It All Began

First things first. In order to decide whether beans belong in Chili we have to go back to the origins. The only thing certain about the origins of Chili is that it did not originate in Mexico, most places that serve it in Mexico only do so to cater for tourists.

No one can say for sure what was included in the first bowl of Chili, but the style of Chili dates back to the 1800s on old South Western cattle trails. These cattle drivers and trail hands first used chili as a way to make freshly killed beef taste better and have a nice chewable texture. These cattle drivers used local resources such as garlic, onions, chiles and oregano (no mention of beans). As they moved along the cattle trails they planted more of these necessary flavorful ingredients so that they would always have a fresh supply. 

According to Texas legend, the first noted commercialized sale of Chili was done by the "Chili Queens" at the Military Plaza in San Antonio. These women sold highly seasoned meat stews that they called "Chili" out of a cart. They sold this chili to anyone who traveled in from the prairie, even through the night. Although it is claimed that these Chili Queens sold their chili for close to 200 years, only the last third of that is recorded on paper. The Chili queens slowly but surely evolved their Chili dish into the same dish that we currently call Chili. This is most likely because there were so many Chili Queens selling Chili at the Military Plaza that competition was stiff, and recipes were ever evolving in order to gain an upper hand. 

The Chili Queens were prominent in San Antonio until the 1930s when the health department shut down their outdoor stands. The San Antonio Health Department implemented new laws and that required the Chili cart owners to adhere to the same standards as indoor restaurants. These regulations required the "Queens" to have lavatory facilities. This was an impossible feat and the cart pushers instantly became a thing of the past.

Luckily, by the time the Chili Queens were shut down, Chili was incredibly popular and had made its way around the country where small Chili parlors were scattered in small and large towns and cities. 

Where Did the Beans Come From?

Once these Chili parlors exploded in number the Great Depression hit. Chili was rather inexpensive to make, and when eating at a restaurant crackers were free. This was an all inclusive meal that could only be improved by adding beans to the concoction. Beans were inexpensive and unlike pasta or rice, beans were full of protein and fiber and kept you fuller longer. They gave your bowl of chili more texture and therefore it took longer to eat the entire pot. 

When San Antonio redeveloped their marketplace in 1970 a Memorial Day a re-enactment of the Chili Queen's cart is staged in a production called "The Return of the Chili Queens Festival". The history behind this culinary delight prompted a bill to be put forth by legislature in 1977. This bill made Chili the official state dish of Texas. Following the original recipe of the trail blazing cowboys, Texas chili recipes leave out beans as an ingredient. 

Which Is Better?

Now the hard part, choosing which type of chili is better - beans or no beans. 

I will leave that for you to decide...

IWC Chili Cook-Off Friday 10th March 2017

To celebrate the IWC Chili Cook-Off here is a link to a Recipe Round up of 16 of the best  Chili Recipes, http://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/best-chili-recipes-gallery/list

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