Every 4th Thursday of the month of February is National Chili Day. Lucky for us, that is today! To celebrate this national warm comfort food, I will be talking about its history and how it can be a part of your healthful lifestyle!

A Brief History of Chili


King Phillip V of Spain ordered a group of families to move overseas to what is now San Antonio, Texas in order to block France’s Westward Expansion. Women from these families were known for making spicy Spanish stew similar to what we know as chili. (1)

Mid 9th-Century

Cowboys and adventurers created the first chili mix as staple foods for travel. They mixed dried beef, salt, fat, pepper, and chilies, and pounded them together into rectangles to pack with them. (1) These rectangles of chili were known as “chili bricks” and were easily rehydrated with boiling water on long trips. (1)

Late 19th-Century

Chili became a national food after the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the San Antonio Chili Stand was featured. (1)

Early 20th-Century

By this time, chili restaurants were common throughout the western United States. During the Great Depression, chili saved many families from starvation due to the fact that it was affordable and was served with free crackers. (1)

Present Day

Today, chili is a staple food throughout the United States. There are many styles of chili throughout the country, served with a variety of foods and different spellings. (2)

Present Day Varieties of Chili

Here are just a few examples of the different types of chili you’ll find throughout the US:

Texas-style Chili con carne, also known as “Bowl O’ Red”, is chili-pepper marinated beef chuck with spices, served with a side of cornbread. From its origin, no beans are involved in this chili. (1)

Chili Verde is pork shoulder marinated in chili verde sauce, made from jalapeños and tomatillos, and is seasoned with lime zest. (2)

Cincinnati chili, also known as Skyline-chili, is made with middle-eastern spices and is served over spaghetti. (2)

Springfield style chilli is spelled with an extra L and is made with beans and bacon. (2)

Kansas City-style chili is made with burnt ends, brisket, or pork shoulder, Worcestershire sauce, beans, and cumin. (2)

Cajun chili is made with a ton of Cajun spices and hot sauce (extra spicy!)(2)

Vegetarian and vegan chili is usually made with three different types of beans, along with the traditional chili ingredients. (2)


What Makes Chili Deserving of a National Food Holiday?

Chili is affordable while being incredibly filling and packed with nutrients. There are various ways to prepare chili, but the main ingredients include ground meat, beans, canned crushed tomatoes, jalapeño, onion, garlic, and spices. If you’re vegetarian, the meat is usually replaced with a variety of beans. In either case, your chili will contain potassium, fiber, and protein.

In one cup of chili, there is approximately 700 mg of potassium, which is 20% of the recommended intake for one day. Potassium is a mineral that sustains most of your body’s functioning. It is essential for muscle contraction, kidney and heart function, as well as nerve transmission. (3)

Protein is an important nutrient for the mechanisms of satiety or fullness cues. Proteins in food cause our stomach to release a hormone that tells our brain we are satiated; this mechanism exists to protect our bodies from overloading on protein. (4)

Fiber takes more time and energy to digest and expands your stomach as you eat. This helps us a sense when we have had enough to eat, much like protein. Fiber also promotes bowel regularity, reduces overall inflammation and helps regulate blood sugar. (4)

Other nutrients found in chili are calcium, vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium. Chili is a good source of all of these nutrients, which means that one serving contains at least 10-19% of your daily dietary needs. (5) If you have meat in your chili you’ll be getting extra vitamin B12 as well.

We have all been told that calcium is important for strong bones and teeth; 99% of our body’s total calcium is stored in our bones and teeth to help maintain their structure and function. That 1% left helps support processes such as muscle and heart function. (6)

Vitamin B6 is involved in protein and nutrient metabolism, as well as cognitive development, immune function, and hemoglobin formation. (7) Vitamin B12 is required for processes such as red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. (8) Iron is essential for hemoglobin formation, and deficiency of iron is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in this country. (9) In fact, deficiencies of iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are all associated with different types of anemia, due to their role in red blood cell and hemoglobin formation.

As you can see, there is quite an extensive variety of chili, and they all contain an extensive variety of vital nutrients. Some communities love the food so much, they host annual chili cook-offs! No matter what style is your favorite, you are sure to feel full and nourished afterward. For the last day of this cold February, enjoy a nice hot bowl of chili!


1. History and Legends of Chili. What’s Cooking America. https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Chili/ChiliHistory.htm. Accessed February 15, 2019.

2. Fantozzi, Joanna. Regional Chili Styles Around America. October 17, 2017. https://www.thisisinsider.com/different-styles-of-chili-in-america-2017-10. Accessed February 15, 2019.

3. Potassium. National Institutes of Health. May 2, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-Consumer/. Accessed on February 18, 2019.

4. Graham T, Ramsey D. The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body. Mo Med. 2015;112(2):114.

5. Appendix B: FDA Regulatory Requirements for Nutrient Content Claims. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209851/. Accessed on February 27, 2019.

6. Calcium. National Institutes of Health. September 26, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed on February 18, 2019.

7. Vitamin B6. National Institutes of Health. September 17, 2018.  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb6-healthprofessional/#h5. Accessed on February 18, 2019.

8. Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health. November 29, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h6. Accessed on February 18, 2019.

9. Iron. National Institutes of Health. December 7, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ironhealthprofessional/. Accessed on February 18, 2019.