Why Your Chilli Needs a Little Pepper Jam

Why Your Chilli Needs a Little Pepper Jam
Photo: Natalia Wimberley, Shutterstock

Earlier this week, I made some violent chilli. I confused chilli powder with ancho chilli powder, and poured a quarter cup of pulverised ancho chillis into a pot of simmering tomatoes and ground sirloin. It was good, but it was powerful.

To combat the heat, I started looking for some sweet. I had already added a little brown sugar to the pot, but didn’t want it to start reading as too molasses-forward. I opened my fridge and gazed at its contents, shuffling jars and plastic soup containers around until I found a mostly empty jar of Trader Joe’s pepper jam — which is very mild — hanging out in the back.

This was what I needed; I was sure of it. I dumped the approximately three remaining tablespoons of pepper jam into the pot, gave it a stir, and took a taste.

The pepper jam didn’t exactly temper the heat, but it did distract from it, which was almost as good. It added sweetness, yes, but it also added tanginess, and a brighter, less-smoky pepper flavour to balance the darkness of the ancho. It gave the chilli a more rounded flavour profile, which was exactly what it needed after I overdid it with that one very specific flavour.

Luckily, you don’t have to add 1/4 cup of powdered ancho chiles to your chilli to also add pepper jam to your chilli. You can take advantage of pepper jam’s sweet and tangy brightness no matter what kind of chilli you’re making. Just stir it in, a spoonful at a time, until your chilli is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, and balanced. Heat levels will vary from jam to jam, so give it a little taste so you know what you’re getting into before you start mixing it in. (The Trader Joe’s pepper jam is almost completely devoid of heat, but my stepmum’s homemade stuff packs quite the punch.)

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