caramelized onion, apple, and cocoa chili

Caramelized Onion, Apple, and Cocoa Chili

October Kicks off Apple and Chili Month

A few weeks ago, I started brainstorming which recipe I’d like to feature for October. I often use food holiday calendars when brainstorming ideas but was torn choosing between apples or chili as a theme. Both bring fantastic flavor to the table, and the more I thought about it, the idea for an apple chili started to cook in my mind. I knew it could be a challenge to balance apples with chili spices. But after a few experimental batches, I reached that balance and blew my tastebuds away. So today, I offer you caramelized onion, apple, and cocoa chili. 

Yes, You Read That Right. Caramelized Onion, Apple, and Cocoa Chili!

You may have tilted your head when reading apples, cocoa, and chili in the same sentence. And I won’t blame you if you did. They’re ingredients typically associated with sweets and baked goods, not spicy dishes. But because they’re so different, they work together quite well for a sweet and spicy twist on a classic. Traditional chili combines the acidity of tomatoes, the sweetness of beans, and a blend of spices for classic comfort food. Apples add a new layer of sweetness balanced by the bitterness of cocoa. The result is a flavor that will leave your tastebuds craving another spoonful. 

The Flavor Building Blocks

If you are the type of cook that likes to know why ingredients are selected, please enjoy the nuggets below. Otherwise, you can skip to the recipe below and be one step closer to chili heaven! 

  • Granny smith apples are the holy grail of this recipe. They provide a sweet flavor and tart to balance the spices and cocoa. Granny smith also doesn’t break down as quickly, adding subtle layers of crunch. 
  • Taking the time to make caramelized onions is an added step, but I promise the flavor and texture is worth it! Balsamic vinegar adds a layer of sweetness with hints of caramel and molasses. 
  • A chili powder, cumin, pepper, and cocoa powder, create a spicy and smoky seasoning blend with hints of bitterness (thanks to the cocoa powder)
  • Poblano peppers are a fantastic choice for those that enjoy a modest boost of heat while maintaining a sweet flavor. Poblanos offer the best of both green bell and jalapeno peppers! 
  • I recommend using ground turkey in place of ground beef. Turkey is not only a more nutritious option, but the flavor compliments the apple and spices without overpowering. 
  • No chili would be complete without an addition of beans. Red and black beans provide a nutty sweetness.
caramelized onion, apple, and cocoa chili

Caramelized Onion, Apple, and Cocoa Chili

Sweet and spicy, this chili features caramelized onion, apples, and yes, cocoa powder!
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Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: apple, caramelized onion, chili, cocoa
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 371kcal


  • 2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lb 93% ground turkey
  • 1 medium poblano pepper seeded and chopped
  • 2 large granny smith apples peeled, cored, and chopped into 3/4 inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • cup red kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • cup black beans drained and rinsed
  • 14.5 oz. Diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup vegetable broth
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • ¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese optional garnish


  • Peel and cut the onions in half stem to stem. Thinly slice the onion halves stem to stem again into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips. Set aside
  • Heat a non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Once heated, add the olive oil and sliced onions, tossing to coat.
  • Add the brown sugar, salt, and balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine.
  • Continue the cook the onions over medium heat, stirring every five minutes.
  • While the onions caramelize, rinse the poblano pepper and remove the seeds. Finely chop the pepper, and set aside.
  • Wash and peel the granny smith apples. Remove the cores, and cut the apples into roughly 3/4 inch cubes. Set aside.
  • After about a half hour, the onions should be reduced in size by half and be evenly caramelized. If needed, you can adjust the heat to slow or increase the reduction speed and add balsamic vinegar in teaspoon increments.
  • Add the ground turkey, poblano pepper, apple chunks, chili powder, cocoa powder, cumin, and black pepper to the onions. Stir to combine and break up the turkey if needed.
  • Cook the turkey, apple, and onion mixture for 7 minutes over medium heat. Stir occasionally.
  • Once the turkey has browned, add the drained and rinsed red kidney and black beans, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, vegetable broth, and tomato paste.
  • Stir to combine, and reduce the heat to lower.
  • Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer for a half hour.
  • Once the chili reaches 165° F, remove from heat and divide into 6 bowls. Top each bowl with an optional garnish of 2 tablespoons shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Serve immediately.


Calories: 371kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 1003mg | Potassium: 1129mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 19g | Vitamin A: 2364IU | Vitamin C: 35mg | Calcium: 226mg | Iron: 7mg

Is Caramelized Onion, Apple, and Cocoa Chili Crock-Pot Friendly?

You can make caramelized onion, apple, and cocoa chili in a crock pot. Depending on the style of your crock-pot, there are two methods of preparing chili:

  • The first is if you have an all-in-one style crock-pot with a brown/saute mode. First, caramelize the onions (steps 1 through 4). The time to caramelize may need to be adjusted depending on your unit’s temperature. Then, add the turkey, chopped poblano peppers, and granny smith apples. Brown the turkey for about five minutes. Change the mode of your crock pot to slow cook, choosing the heat and time to your preference. Add the remaining ingredients, and cover with the lid. Before serving, check the temperature to ensure it has reached 165° F. 
  • If you have a traditional crock-pot without a saute mode, follow steps 1 through 9. Once the turkey has browned, transfer the chili base to your crock pot. Add the remaining ingredients, and cover with the lid. Before serving, check the temperature to ensure it has reached 165° F. 

Storage Tips

Leftover caramelized onion, apple, and cocoa chili can be stored refrigerated in air-tight containers for up to three days. To help prevent the growth of bacteria, here are some tips for safely storing leftovers:

  • Once the chili reaches 165° F, serve it immediately. If there are leftovers, divide the chili into smaller single-portion containers, preferably stainless steel. Steel helps to cool foods faster than plastic. 
  • The chili needs to reach 70° F within two hours of cooking. Once cool to the touch, you can loosely cover the chili and transfer the containers to a fridge. Once the chili cools to 41° F or below, cover the chili with a tight-fitting lid and store it refrigerated. 
  • When reheating chili, check the temperature to ensure it has reached 165° F
For extended storage, chili can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to six months for the best flavor. 

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