February 20, 2023

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Make warm and cozy Vegan Cincinnati Chili! A plant-based version of the classic Skyline chili from Cincinnati, Ohio. This vegetarian chili has all the delicious flavors of the original version. It's completely vegan, gluten-free, and oil-free.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

As a plant-based food blogger born and raised in Cincinnati, I feel like I should have attempted this recipe a long time ago. But better late than never. It's here: Vegan Cincinnati Chili.

As a Cincinnati native, I grew up loving Skyline chili. We didn't eat it much at home, but Skyline was served regularly in school and my family would occasionally go out to get it.

My mom jokes that she craved Skyline when she was pregnant with me, so that's why I liked it so much!

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

If you're not from Cincinnati, let me tell you a bit about Skyline: it's delicious!

Skyline is a chili restaurant founded here in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's named for the Cincinnati skyline visible at its first restaurant location. And people here are obsessed with it.

The chili is savory, sweet, rich, salty. Seriously everything you want in a chili. And they have a secret - they put chocolate in their chili.

Sounds weird, right? But it works! Chocolate adds a richness that you can't get from anything else.

Plus, there are notes of cinnamon and other sweet spices like cloves and allspice.

It might be strange, but Cincinnati chili has a unique and delicious flavor profile. And people from Cincinnati (and beyond) love it for good reason.

My mission with this recipe was to create a vegan version of Skyline chili. I wanted to match the robust, rich flavors of skyline without the meat. And, after several rounds of testing and tinkering with the flavors, I think I found the perfect recipe!

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Why I love this Vegan Cincinnati Chili

  • Dietary needs — this chili is vegan/plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, oil-free, and sugar-free.
  • Cincinnati-native approved — besides my own memory of eating Skyline chili as a kid, I got my parents, who have both lived in Cincinnati for 30+ years to help me nail the flavors
  • Real foods — no fake meat here! You get a healthy serving of beans instead
  • Healthy and flavorful — this chili is made from whole food plant-based ingredients - it's loaded with protein and fiber. Yet is still has the classic Skyline flavors
  • Protein rich — lentils are a great plant-based source of protein. They have one of the highest protein contents of any bean.
  • Feels like home — if you're from Cincinnati, you'll get it. This chili just feels like home. But even if you're not an Ohioan, this chili is still warmth and comfort in a bowl
  • Super quick — many chili recipes require hours on the stove. Not this one! The recipe is ready from start to finish in less than 30 minutes!

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Mixed with pasta

Ingredient Notes & Substitutions

The secrets to a plant-based version of Skyline chili, revealed.

  • Water: I opted for water as a base instead of broth to not interfere with the classic flavors of Skyline chili
  • Unsweetened Chocolate: yep, we are indeed putting chocolate in our chili. Use unsweetened chocolate for a rich and deep flavor. You'll notice that there isn't actually a lot of chocolate in this recipe - we don't want the chili to taste like chocolate, we just want the richness
  • Tomato Paste: tomato paste adds some acidity
  • Maple Syrup: Skyline chili has a distinct sweet and sour taste, for the sweet part, we'll use some maple syrup. For a fruit sweetened option, you can use date syrup, though this will change the flavor profile
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: apple cider vinegar will create the slight sour aftertaste that Cinci chili is known for
  • Garlic
  • Spices: chili powder, salt, smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, red pepper flakes, black pepper, cloves. This combination of spices is essential for the Cincinnati chili flavor. It may feel weird to put cinnamon, allspice, and cloves into your chili - trust me, it works.
  • Canned Lentils: instead of meat, this vegan Cincinnati chili uses canned lentils. Canned lentils are already cooked, so they make this recipe super quick. Lentils are filled with protein, so they are a great plant-based substitute for ground beef. And they break down slightly when cooked, so they have a texture similar to Skyline's chili
  • To serve: spaghetti, finely chopped onion, kidney beans, vegan cheese. See my notes below on the "ways"

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Ingredients

How to make Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Even though the ingredient list is on the long side, this chili is so easy to make!

Step 1. Heat the water, chocolate, tomato paste, maple syrup, and apple cider vinegar in a large pot over medium heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Step 1

Step 2. Add the garlic, chili powder, salt, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Cook 2 minutes.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Step 2

Step 3. Add the lentils (including the liquid) and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook at a rolling boil for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture thickens.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Step 3

Step 4. Serve you favorite "way".

Vegan Cincinnati Chili Step 4

Serving Suggestions: the Skyline Ways

Skyline has a few different "ways" of serving their chili. Pick your favorite and go crazy with the toppings.

  • 2-way = spaghetti and chili
  • 3-way = spaghetti, chili, cheese
  • 4-way = spaghetti, chili, onions OR beans, cheese
  • 5-way = spaghetti, chili, onions AND beans, cheese

Since I try to stay away from highly processed foods, I skipped the vegan cheese and went for my own "way" which I'm naming the Elizabeth-way.

  • Elizabeth-way = spaghetti, chili, onions, beans

Vegan Cincinnati Chili served the Elizabeth Way

FAQs & Expert Tips

Can I serve this chili coney-style?

Skyline chili is also known for its cheese coneys. Here are the coney ways:

  • Bun, hot dog, chili
  • Bun, hot dog, chili, cheese
  • Bun, hot dog, chili, mustard OR onion, cheese
  • Bun, hot dog, chili, mustard AND onion, cheese

You can grab some plant-based hot dogs and serve up this chili just like a coney!

What makes Cincinnati Chili different?

While it does also contain ground beef (or in our case, lentils) and tomatoes, Cincinnati chili has a completely different flavor profile to traditional Tex-Mex chili.

Cincinnati chili was brought to the Midwest by Greek immigrants. So it has regular chili ingredients, but also Mediterranean spices and chocolate.

The chili isn't sweet. Yet it has a rich mixture of flavors that create a unique and delicious chili!

Storing Cincinnati Chili

Refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Tips for Making The Best Vegan Cincinnati Chili

  • Use canned lentils. Canned lentils are softer (and easier) than dry lentils. The softness helps contribute to the classic Cincinnati chili texture.
  • Don't be afraid of the texture. Cincinnati chili is thinner than Tex-Mex chili. If you want to thicken it, boil for the longer window of time and reduce the mixture until you reach your desired consistency.
  • Go crazy with the toppings. I found that this chili tasted the most like real Skyline chili when served with spaghetti. Part of the charm of Cincinnati chili is the toppings, so don't hold back.

 Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Recipe Prayer

Thank you God for this meal. Thank you for the city of Cincinnati and the wonderful culture created from this area. Amen.

More classic recipes turned vegan

I love taking traditional recipes and giving them a whole food plant-based spin! Here are some classics you can try next:

Tried this recipe?

Please leave a review in the comments section below and post on Instagram tagging me @elizabeths_table. You can also stay in touch with me on social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok or by subscribing to my newsletter.

**This post contains affiliate links When you purchase from these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information see my disclosure here.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Make warm and cozy Vegan Cincinnati Chili! A plant-based version of the classic Skyline chili from Cincinnati, Ohio. This vegetarian chili has all the delicious flavors of the original version. It's completely vegan, gluten-free, and oil-free.















  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Ounce Unsweetened Chocolate
  • 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
  • 2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3 Cloves Minced Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Allspice
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • Pinch Cloves
  • 2 15-Ounce Cans Lentils (including the liquid)
  • To serve: spaghetti, finely chopped onion, kidney beans, vegan cheese


  1. Heat the water, chocolate, tomato paste, maple syrup, and apple cider vinegar in a large pot over medium heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted.
  2. Add the garlic, chili powder, salt, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Cook 2 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils (including the liquid) and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook at a rolling boil for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
  4. Serve you favorite "way".

The Ways

  • 2-way = spaghetti and chili
  • 3-way = spaghetti, chili, cheese
  • 4-way = spaghetti, chili, onions OR beans, cheese
  • 5-way = spaghetti, chili, onion AND beans, cheese
  • Elizabeth-way = spaghetti, chili, onions, beans
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March 28, 2023
Made these today and they’re delicious. Easy to make and didn’t take long to bake in convection oven. Thanks for your creativity. Can’t wait to try more of your recipes.
Hi Paula - Thanks so much for your comment :) So glad to hear that you tried the nuggets and enjoyed them! Can't wait to hear how it goes with other recipes you try!
March 17, 2023
thanks for ginger tea recipe it's really good remedy for cold and flu.
January 15, 2023
I really appreciated your ginger tea recipe. I also read it is great for morning also.
December 3, 2022
I made one like this a few years ago. Super yummy! Now I need to try some of your recipes. But where to start???🤷‍♀️💕💕
November 21, 2022
Virginia Sparks
I was in the middle of making your Tempeh Swiss Chard recipe and noticed you never mentioned how much Swiss Chard to add. I just added the sautéed tempeh towards the end and mixed it all together. I also reduced the amount of red pepper flakes.
Hi Jenny - so sorry about that! It should be one bunch. I've updated the recipe to include the correct information. Thanks!
November 20, 2022
This looks fantastic! Do you think we could substitute butternut squash for the acorn squash?
Hi Elissa - you can definitely use butternut squash. In terms of texture, the pie will be exactly the same with either squash. I'd recommend using the volume measurement instead of the weight measurement, since the density of butternut squash isn't exactly the same as acorn squash. Also, the flavor of the butternut squash might come through in the end pie a bit more prominently than acorn squash does, but I don't think it will be too noticeable. Let me know how it goes if you try with the butternut squash. I'd love to hear!
November 8, 2022
Gerry rauch
October 31, 2022
Debbie G.
Hi Elizabeth!Love your recipe prayer! I've never seen anyone else include a prayer with their recipes. Nicely done and to God be all the Glory!Blessings,Debbie
October 8, 2022
Just made a half batch of these and they came out really good! I learned I don’t know how to work with melted chocolate yet haha but I got it done!
Hi Noam - Glad you liked these bars! And I feel ya on the chocolate - somehow it is always a messy process. Thanks so much for sharing!
September 5, 2022
I get most of my recipes from youtube. I would love to see you on there. I didn't see a link for a youtube channel, just wanted to ask to be sure. God bless hon and thanks for this tasty recipe.
Hi Sara - thanks so much for your kind words. I am starting to post more on YouTube (I currently only have a few videos posted) but here's the link to my channel if you'd like to check it out: -Elizabeth
August 17, 2022
Hi Katherine - yes, I did use fire-roasted tomatoes when I photographed this recipe. I don't call for fire roasted in the recipe because it's intended to be a basic, use-in-anything type recipe. But it does taste delicious with the fire roasted tomatoes! -- Elizabeth
August 15, 2022
Cat Lewis
Hello - Is there a way to PIN this recipe? Thanks.
Hi Cat - yes, I just fixed an error on the site. You should be able to see a button above the very first image on the page that will allow you to pin the recipe. Let me know if you're still having trouble.
August 12, 2022
Allison Macfarlane
As someone who has pretty much never successfully scrambled tofu - this was the best scrambled breakfast dish I've ever had - better than eggs and the seasoning is truly delicious!!
Oh, amazing! So glad to hear it went well :) This is definitely one of my favorites - thanks for sharing your kind words! -- Elizabeth
August 4, 2022
Mary Merkelhess
The pesto is lovely! So happy to avoid the cheese and oil.
Hi Mary - So glad you like the pesto! I'm also happy to avoid the cheese and oil :) Thanks so much for your kind words!
July 21, 2022
I enjoy reading through your recipes and will be trying a few later in the week. I especially like the prayers at the end of each recipe. It reminds me to be grateful God provides me with so many beautiful and nourishing fruits and veggies.
Hi Debra - thank you so much for your kind words! I can't wait to hear how it goes when you try some of the recipes :)
June 22, 2022
I really enjoyed this recipe. Fits PERFECTLY in my allergy to foods world. I used Ripple milk and no sugar added SunButter. Was truly surprised at how quickly the recipe came together! Thank you!
Hi Vickie - I'm so glad you enjoyed this recipe and that it works with your allergies. Thanks so much for leaving a comment with your kind words!
June 21, 2022
Linda Casados
It's close to my bedtime, but I've been thinking about making this recipe all day, so I made it just now. After all, it only takes 15 minutes! I used what I had, so I made a few minor substitutions...white beans for cannellini, purple basil from my garden, red onion for more color, and date syrup for maple. I took a bite before putting it in the fridge for tomorrow, and oh my! It's delightfully flavorful, light, and fresh-tasting. Thanks for sharing your recipe!
Hi Linda - I'm so glad you liked the recipe - and your substitutions sound great (wish I was growing purple basil in my garden!) Thanks so much for sharing!
June 18, 2022
Hi, is this ice cream soft to scoop out? I always find my ice creams are hard.
Hi Carol - yes, this ice cream is soft if you let it thaw a few minutes after you take it out from the freezer. It can become pretty solid if it's in a deep freezer, but still thaws quickly on the counter. Hope this helps!
June 18, 2022
Sonia Hope St Claire
thank you for the recipe.
June 13, 2022
I made this pie for my friend who recently discovered she has severe allergies to egg whites, gluten, and dairy. Her favorite pie is sweet potato pie :) She loved it and so did I!
Hi Alexandra - so great to hear from you!! I'm so happy you tried this pie and I'm glad you enjoyed it! It is seriously one of my favorite recipes :) -- Elizabeth
June 7, 2022
Harriett Whited
Love it!!! Wonderful!
Thanks for your feedback! Glad you love this recipe :)
June 7, 2022
Hi Elizabeth! I found you by searching for plant based Catholics! There are very few of us! Thank you for your site and sharing recipes!! I look forward to trying these muffins! Can sugar be reduced safely in most of your recipes? -JMJ-
Hi Katherine, Thanks so much for reaching out! Glad to meet another plant-based Catholic - agree, there are so few of us. As for sugar, I never use white granulated sugar in any of my recipes. Most use maple syrup or date sugar/date syrup. I'm not sure if this is what you mean, or if you're asking about reducing the amount of date sugar that the recipe calls for. If that's the case, it really depends on the recipe. A lot of the baking recipes have specific ratios of flour to sugar and wet to dry, so it may not go well if you change the amount of sugar. I hope this helps, but if I didn't answer your question, please let me know. Also happy to advise on a particular recipe if you're looking to change it. Let me know how I can help :) Elizabeth
June 2, 2022
Love this vegan lentil/mushroom stew! For some odd reason, I had never thought to put mushrooms into my lentil stew. Thank you for a wonderful addition to my recipe box!
Hi Sharon - I'm so glad you are enjoying this recipe (mushrooms are so good!!). Thank you for taking the time to share :) Elizabeth
May 23, 2022
Hello, I found you on FB and really enjoy your Catholic Plant Based GF information & recipes. About the Chickpea beet burgers: if the beans are dried and not cooked, do you think it is enough cooking for the beans? If beans are not cooked completely I have read they are toxic with phytic acid & also cause digestive problems. I am just wondering and will leave it to you to decide/research. To be safe I am toasting canned garbanzos and trying that way out. God Bless
Hi Geraldine, Thanks so much for reaching out. In the beet burgers, the beans do get cooked when the burgers are cooked. You soak them first and then incorporate the beans into the burger patty, then cook the patty. I find that this is the best way to achieve the proper burger texture - if you use pre-cooked beans or canned beans the burgers are mushy and don't get crisp. Your solution of toasting the beans sounds like a great idea to completely ensure the beans are cooked fully - I hope that it worked for you and your burgers turned out well! -- Elizabeth
May 18, 2022
viki avgen (i am israel)
hi,thank you for the recepie of the banana.Iam diebetik and i would love any recepies without sugar. thank you
Hi Viki - thanks so much for your kind words! Several of my other dessert recipes are only sweetened with fruit - you can find them on my Desserts page. If you have any specific requests, please let me know! -- Elizabeth
April 28, 2022
Jean Mastin
Elizabeth: Thank you so much for making my meal times wonderful again. I am 86 yrs plus, and was finding eating dull and dreary. Now it is " scrum delicious time to eat". . Blessings de Jean
Hi Jean - Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm so glad you are enjoying my recipes. Please let me know if you ever have recipe requests or if there's anything else I can do to keep your meals delicious!
April 9, 2022
Can you leave nutritional info for your recipes? Serving size/calories would be so helpful! Trying mushroom lentil stew tonight! and looking forward to crispy chickpea stuffed sweet potatoes very soon. Thanks for creating healthy, attractive recipes!
Hi Katie - so excited to hear that you are trying some of my recipes! I'd love to hear how they go. I haven't posted nutritional information for my recipes because I know it can be difficult for some people with disordered eating to see nutrition facts. I've gotten a lot of requests to add them recently, so I'm working on a solution that can provide information for those who want it but not be triggering for others. In the meantime, if you're curious about the nutrient info about a particular recipe, I recommend using Cronometer. It's a website/app to track and understand nutrient info and I think it does a great job of emphasizing all the nutrients (not just macros). I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can help in any other way.
April 9, 2022
U mentioned date sugar on this recipe but it’s not in the instructions. I know u add it but just in case u wanna add to instructions. Love ur recipes! Thank u. I’m thinking of going to vegan a little nervous tho lol
Hi Vickey - thanks so much for catching that! I am updating the post now. So happy to hear you enjoy my recipes. And exciting that you are thinking about going vegan!! If there's anything that I can do to help, please let me know.
March 28, 2022
Sr Maureen Egan
I'd love to try this soup. What are the nutritional values, like how much fat does it contain, carbs, etc.
Hi Sr Maureen - I usually don't post macronutrient information because I know each person has their own goals and I don't want to encourage or discourage anyone's specific goals. But I often use Cronometer as a tool to understand the nutritional profile of my recipes. I plugged the ingredient information for this recipe into Cronometer and got the following nutrient information per serving: 521 calories, 44g fat, 23g carbs, 16g protein. I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions and if you try the recipe!
March 26, 2022
Margareta Ahle
This curry is absolutely delicious.
Thank you so much! It's one of my favorites :)
March 23, 2022
Martha maloney
Thank you I have been doing the fruit and oatmeal, etc for years and I love it. I will try the pears. I refrigerate my left over oatmeal and with a touch of milk or fruit juice liquid it’s fine the next day. Just a warning about tofu; it interferes with some medicines especially Thyroid medicine. Thank you for the short prayers, there are lovely.
Hi Martha - thank you so much for your kind words. I'm glad you like the prayers! As someone who doesn't take any medications I have no issues with eating tofu and encouraging others to eat it too (it's a great source of protein!). That said, you should always consult with your doctor about possible interactions with medications. I have plenty of recipes without tofu, so hopefully you can find things that work for you!
March 3, 2022
Susan Cunningham
I made this for Ash Wednesday and it was delicious. It was also simple and not much work time once the mushrooms and onions were cut.
Hi Susan - I'm so glad you liked it!
March 1, 2022
When you say shape into a rectangular loaf, what dimensions? 1/2 thick by 8 inches long or?
My loaf was about 7" long and 4" wide with about 1" of height. Then I sliced it 1/2" thick along the long end to get 12ish biscotti. I will clarify this in the post! Let me know if this makes sense and if you have any other questions.
January 16, 2022
Tracy Henry
Made this tonight. Absolutely delicious Elizabeth. You got this one just right!
Oh yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)
January 16, 2022
L Collins
Hi Could you please confirm two things:1. The amount of salt. Seems like too much. 2. The directions say there is lemon juice in the dressing but it’s not listed under ingredients. ThanksL.
Hi there! Confirming that the two teaspoons of salt in the dressing is correct. I didn't salt the cauliflower when roasting it or the salad after it was done, so this amount of salt was perfect. If you're concerned about it you can decrease the amount of salt in the dressing and then add more at the end if you need it. As for the lemon juice, SO sorry about that! It was a typo in my directions and I've removed it now. Hope this helps :)
December 20, 2021
This looks lovely! Do you have a recipe for the red pepper hummus also? Thank you!
Hi Martha! I don't have a recipe for red pepper hummus on my site. I suggest taking a traditional hummus recipe and blending in roasted red pepper.
November 22, 2021
Amanda J Lehmann
I tried these and they were delicious! A bit dense but flavorful and the "buckeye" blend of peanut and chocolate was on point! Recommend!
Yay! I'm so glad you liked them! -- Elizabeth
December 6, 2021
Hi, these look amazing. I was wondering, could I used powdered peanut butter in place of creamy for the recipe? thanks
Hi Grace! There is already some powdered peanut butter in this recipe, so adding more might make the texture more gluey. Also, the real peanut butter adds some fat, which helps create flavor. That said, if you want to use powdered peanut butter, I would suggest mixing it with a high-fat liquid like coconut cream and then measuring out 2/3 cup. Hope this helps! Let me know how it goes :) -- Elizabeth
November 15, 2021
You mention using vegetable broth in your introduction but it isn’t included in the recipe
Hi Becky - thanks for pointing this out. I have removed mention of vegetable broth from this post. You do not need any vegetable broth. The mushrooms will release natural liquid which will prevent any sticking. -- Elizabeth
September 23, 2021
Tracy Henry
Hi Elizabeth, LOVE you recipes. Please keep them coming. :)I was wondering, can you share what is the vegan chocolate bar you used in this recipe?
August 28, 2021
Henry (Hank) Mader
thank you for the oil free recipe. I'm getting introduced to wild Bolete mushrooms here in Colorado, and everyone sautes Bolete's in butter or olive oil. I'm on a veggie, oil free regimen for heart health reasons. and your recipe suggestion may fill the bill. I can't wait to give it a try.
August 13, 2021
Lindsey Kuhn
This is so fun! Loving your creamy photography :)
August 13, 2021
Lindsey Kuhn
This looks incredible! So yummy and pretty photography