Is Chili Technically A Soup Or A Stew?

Some rebellious dishes skirt around the parameters of traditional food categories, and chili is one of them. We cook it in pots (or slow cookers), pour it into bowls, and eat it with spoons, so it's easy to lump chili in with other types of soup. But unlike silky carrot apple or cheesy cauliflower cheddar, chili is undoubtedly chunky — so it's also tempting to scoot it into the stew column, along with heartier meals like a white bean and potato stew.

So, if we're going for the most accurate categorization of the iconic dish here, would we call it a soup or a stew? Chili is often considered a separate type of dish in itself, with many different varieties falling under its umbrella. But technically, it's a stew. No matter which ingredients you include, you'll never see a recipe asking you to puree a chili, like you often do with a soup. Most of these dishes contain beans, diced veggies, crushed or diced tomatoes, and some type of ground meat, which leaves thick pieces of food in your spoonfuls. Because it is hearty and chunky, and typically contains more solids than liquids, chili falls squarely in the stew category.

The difference between soup and stew

If we want to truly examine why chili fits underneath the stew umbrella, let's take a closer look at what differentiates these two categories. After all, not all soups are pureed — some, like slow cooker enchilada soup, feature chunks of meat or veggies, so what makes chili (and all stews for that matter) different? The answer lies in the liquid to solid ratio in your pot. Take a look at your bowl — do you see primarily liquid, with a few floating solids? Or do you see big, hearty chunks of food, covered with a layer of broth? Therein lies the difference; your diced meat and veggies will be much more prominently featured in a stew, whereas they'll take a backseat in a soup. Plus, chili is often served over rice, hot dogs, or baked potatoes, which you generally wouldn't want to attempt with a more watery soup.

While the category for chili is pretty clear, you'll still see plenty of crossover and gray area. For instance, as we mentioned, some insist that chili is its own category entirely. And on restaurant menus that don't have a section specifically for stews, you may see the dish under the list of soups offered. If you call it a soup, you probably won't get much backlash — but if you want to be technically accurate, clarify it as a stew instead.