Chili Soup is one of those foods that seems to come in a million varieties. It can be thick or runny, meaty or vegetarian. It can be full of beans – or have none at all. You can top it off with cheese or sour cream – or not. And of course, there’s the perennial debate: is chili a soup or a stew?
What is Chili Soup, Exactly?
Before we go any further, let’s see if we can find a definition of chili everyone agrees on. For this, we turned to the International Chili Society’s official chili contest rules (you can find them here if you’d like to read them in full). The ICS recognizes four different categories of chili:
Traditional Red Chili consists of any combination of meat cooked with red chili peppers or red chili powder and any mix of vegetables with the exception of beans.
Homestyle Chili is similar but can be cooked with any color chili pepper or powder and must also contain beans.
Chili Verde is similar to Traditional Red Chili but is to be cooked with green chili peppers or powder instead of red.
Veggie Chili is any combination of vegetables cooked with any kind of chili peppers or powder and may or may not contain beans or pasta.
If we’re going to define chili soup in a way that encompasses all these categories, our definition would be something like this: Chili is any combination of meat, beans or vegetables cooked with chili peppers or powder.
Is Chili Soup– The Argument
Webster’s defines soup as “a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food.” We can expand on this with a few more common sense additions: soup contains a blend of ingredients, is served in a bowl, and is often served either as a side or with bread. Soup is also eaten with a spoon, and you can drink it from a cup.
By this definition, chili and soup share many things in common. They both contain a blend of various ingredients. They’re both generally served in a bowl. Both of them can be either a main dish or a side and are often served with bread to absorb the juices.
One thing they don’t have in common is a meat or vegetable stock base. And while you can certainly eat chili with a spoon, we don’t recommend drinking it from a cup unless you have a burning desire to change your shirt.
Chili is a Stew – The Counter-Argument
On the other hand, Webster’s defines stew as “fish or meat usually with vegetables prepared by stewing.” While chili comes closer to the mark here, this definition requires fish or meat, which would leave veggie chili out in the cold.
Is Chili a Soup or a Stew? – The Final Take
Chili has some aspects of both soup and stew. If we had to choose one or the other, chili is closer to a stew than it is to soup, but thankfully, life is not so black and white. Chili may not fit any pre-defined category, but it’s delicious just the way it is.