Recipe | Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Chili with chocolate in it is one of those things that sounds so wrong, it just has to be right. The first time I heard about Cincinnati chili, I thought it sounded gross. Chili with cocoa powder? And spaghetti?! But then I realized that mole sauce has some of the same flavors as Cincinnati chili and I love that, so maybe these crafty Ohioans were onto something after all.

We used to live near a restaurant that sold vegan Cincinnati chili and it was always something that we meant to try, but never got around to doing. And then the restaurant closed. I was disappointed, but then I kind of forgot about it until I saw a recipe for Cincinnati chili on There’s Always Thyme To Cook. Suddenly, I remembered that restaurant and how I still haven’t ever tried Cincinnati chili. I finally resolved to make my own vegan Cincinnati chili recipe.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili with Lentils in Pot
The easy way take the meat out of this recipe would be to use those soy crumbles they sell in the freezer case at most grocery stores. When I first stopped eating meat, I heavily relied on all those frozen soy meat substitutes. But they’re highly processed using some questionable chemicals like hexane and they’re made with genetically-modified soy. And, to be honest, I don’t eat meat because I don’t like meat, so I don’t really feel the need to eat products that look, taste, and feel like meat, you know? (The only meat substitute I regularly use is Field Roast–I love yoooou, Field Roast! And if you ever need a recipe developer, call me!)

Anyway! Obviously soy crumbles are out of the question, so I decided to use lentils instead. I was a little bit nervous that they’d fall apart while cooking as lentils sometimes do, but they stayed intact. And wow, I wish I had started making this vegan Cincinnati chili recipe years ago–the spices and addition of cocoa powder make the sauce reminiscent of mole. It’s like mole with slightly less assertive flavors, I guess. And lentils, well, lentils are good in everything, right? They’re also way (way) cheaper than those frozen soy meat substitutes, making this recipe budget-friendly too.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 4

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

A vegan Cincinnati chili recipe made with lentils. Adapted from There's Always Thyme To Cook's Cincinnati Four-Way Chili.


  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz. brown lentils, rinsed
  • 8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked
  • chopped onion, (vegan) cheese, and/or crackers for garnish


  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook 3 minutes, or until softened, stirring often. Add chili powder through paprika; stir to coat and cook 1 minute.
  2. Add vinegar, broth, tomato sauce, and lentils. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes (or until lentils are tender), stirring frequently. Serve over whole wheat spaghetti and garnish with onion, cheese, and crackers.
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Kiersten Frase

About Kiersten

Kiersten is the founder and head writer of Oh My Veggies. She lives just outside of Raleigh with her husband and their 4 wonky-eyed rescue cats.   Read more from Kiersten →

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    • Kiersten Frase says

      Ha! Well, this one is from World Market. Do you have those up there? It was pretty cheap and they came in all different colors, so I spent about 20 minutes deciding which color I wanted. :)

  1. says

    I have never heard of a chili with spaghetti! I like that you use lentils. I love meat, but I don’t trust those faux meat products… I was once given some awful soy nuggets. I’d rather have this!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Yeah, I eat tofu, tempeh, and things like that, but the soy “meat” is so heavily processed–the lists of ingredients on them are so insane! And yes, many of them are pretty awful tasting. :) I would rather eat real food!

  2. says

    I like the way you explained your feelings about fake meat products, I agree! And I’ve been wanting to make sometime with a mole sauce, I’m very intrigued by the idea of using chocolate in a savory sauce!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Thank you! Yeah, we had a day that was 80 last week and now it’s supposed to snow tonight & tomorrow morning–definitely good chili weather! I’m ready for it to be ice cream weather though. :)

  3. says

    I am going to try this on Friday. It looks yummy and I am sharing with my friend who has a corn allergy. Thanks so much! Looks yummy

  4. Debbie says

    I was born and raised in Cincinnati and you people don’t know what you are missing! Cincinnati Chili is the best. Even though I do eat meat (Cincinnati used to be known as Porkopolis) this version sounds like a great version during Lent!

  5. Mrs.P says

    Seriously your blog is amazing!!! So many simple and delicious recipes with ingredients I commonly have at home. As an Ohioan and a vegetarian this was a natural choice for dinner tonight! Banana fruit leather still in process, I don’t know where to stop!!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Thank you so much! :D I hope it all turned out well. Since you’re from Ohio, I guess you will judge me harshly if my Cincinnati Chili isn’t perfect!

  6. Ellie says

    I was born and raised in Cincinnati, so I grew up eating this style of chili. I’ve since moved away from Ohio and have become vegetarian, but still crave that taste of home now and then. This recipe is fantastic. Very similar taste and texture to Skyline chili. The lentils taste even better than the traditional beef version, and by using low-sodium ingredients and wheat noodles, it’s much healthier than the real thing too! I added 1 large carrot when I made this, to add a little extra veggie — though I have to say adding it was a deviation from “true” Cincinnati chili (but it tasted great).

    This recipe is for a “four-way”; make it a Cincinnati “five-way” by garnishing with kidney beans along with the cheese and onions.

    Other ways Cincinnatians eat their chili: on top of a (veggie in this case) hot dog with mustard and onions and topped with cheese, wrapped up with cheese in a flour tortilla, on top of a baked potato, on top of french fries with cheese, or just straight out of a bowl with a dollop of sour cream. Quite versatile!

    I can’t wait to make this recipe again and share with friends!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Thank you for your comment–I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And I love the idea of putting it on a baked potato or in a tortilla. I’m totally going to have to try that next time I make this. :)

  7. says

    I found this through your vegetarian remakes posts, and I have to try this. I actually grew up in Cincinnati, but I’ve only had the chili twice. As a child, I didn’t like the dish in general, and as an adult, I am put off by the grease and the sodium. (Of course, I haven’t really lived in Ohio for ten years, so that helps.) I think I would actually like this, and I’d love to introduce my vegetarian friends to the flavor of my hometown. And ditto on Caitlin’s comment about the oyster crackers and hot sauce–I’ve never seen a Cincinnati eat the chili without them! ;)

    • Kiersten Frase says

      The grease in chili always squicked me out too. That’s the nice thing about making it vegetarian–no oil slick floating around on the top of the pot. :) I hope you like it if you make it!

  8. Lindsay says

    This recipe is great! I use to buy a seasoning mix for this chili but it was expensive and had MSG in it so I had to stop buying it and I couldn’t figure out the spices needed to make it myself. Your website has been a huge help in keeping variety in our vegetarian diet.

    • Kiersten Frase says

      I discovered earlier this year that MSG triggers migraines for me, so I have to avoid those seasoning mixes too. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe! :)

  9. Lauren says

    I started a no-meat and no-salt diet a couple of months ago and your site has been key in my avoiding meal boredom. This chili is delicious!! Keep the recipes coming!

  10. says

    Thank you so much for this recipe! Discovered Cincinnati chili during a family reunion there 15 years ago. It has become my go-to birthday meal made by my sister. I recently discovered that the way that I eat has a name…flexitarian. And with vegetarian friends, I was thrilled to find this and be able to share one of my favorite meals with them. Almost as good as my sister’s. ;-)

  11. Jenn says

    I’m from Cincinnati and had a vegan lentil version out at a restaurant over the weekend. Now I have to make it!! Looking forward to trying your recipe!!

  12. Ashley says

    As a Cincinnati native and vegetarian for the past 14 years, I can not tell you how happy this makes me! It is so delicious. I would suggest adding 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar to give it more of that distinctive Skyline taste.

  13. says

    Loved it! I’m originally from Cincinnati, and I can’t stand how greasy the original meat version is. The spouse loves the original version and says the spices are perfect. I added some aged Irish cheddar and crackers on top, too. I’m definitely making this for our “let’s show our Seattle buddies our hometown foods” party.

  14. Mary-Anne says

    My family and I love Cincinnati chili and this recipe is heavenly! I have made it many times, but I omit the onion (except of course as part of a five-way).

    One other thing, I use an immersion blender in the cooked chili/lentils and then it has nearly the exact consistency of the original Cincinnati chili! I am pretty sure I could serve it to unsuspecting guests and they would have no idea!

  15. Amy says

    I grew up in Cincinnati and in my meat eating days loved me some Skyline Chili. The first bite of this delicious chili almost brought tears to my vegan eyes. This chili is spot on and cured a craving I have been having for years….yummy

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