Taste-Off: The best vegetarian black bean chili at Bay Area markets

As the weather cools and the days grow shorter, we begin to crave comfort food — and few things are more comforting than a bowl of chili of any variety, including spicy black bean. A properly prepared vegetarian chili is hearty, satisfying, low in fat, and nutrient-dense enough to fuel any snowy adventure or brisk fall walk.

In contrast to popular brands of pinto bean chili, black bean chili is typically vegetarian-friendly and often gourmet. The big question is how the store-bought version tastes.

Black beans are grown all over the world, but they are native to Central and South America and are popular for their meaty, mushroom-like flavor and almost chewy texture. Black beans are popular in Caribbean, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines, but they also make an excellent addition to American-style chili due to their ability to withstand the long cooking time required to develop complex flavors.

A good black bean chili has a perfectly seasoned vegetable gravy that complements, but does not overpower, the flavor of the beans. It’s creamy and chewy, spicy and warming. The best black bean chili is flavorful, thick, and complex. The bad stuff ranges from watery and bland to oddly and overpoweringly sweet.

Here’s the lowdown on the best and worst black bean chilis on store shelves. The nutrition facts are for a 1 cup serving.

Amy’s Organic Black Bean Chili

This popular brand, which can be found on most store shelves, pings the tastebuds with delicious notes in every direction. On a spoon, it’s pure chili deliciousness. 240 calories, 3 grams of fat, 720 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Raley’s charges $4.49 for 14.7 ounces. (4 stars)

Zoup Black Bean Chili

The deep black chili inside this slender jar is exceptionally tasty and has a decent spice kick. However, because half of the beans are mashed, the consistency is closer to soup than chili. 150 calories, 1 gram fat, 670 mg sodium, 6 gram fiber, 10 gram sugar, and 8 gram protein. Sprouts charges $5.65 for 16 ounces. (3 stars)

Pacific Plant-based Harvest Black Bean Chili

This is a beautiful and flavorful bite with kernels of corn, intact beans, and bits of tomato and pepper. It would be near-perfect with a dash of spice. 210 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 650 milligrams of sodium, 9 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein. Safeway charges $4.79 for 16.5 ounces. (3 stars)

Bush’s Best Spicy Taco Black Beans

Because these are “taco beans” rather than chili, it’s not surprising that they lack the flavor layers of a true chili. The flavor infused in the beans, however, is still impressive. 260 calories, 1 gram of fat, 920 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein. Grocery Outlet charges $1.49 for 15.4 ounces. (2½ stars)

BeanVivo Black Bean Chipotle Chili

365 Organic Three Bean Chili

This tomato-forward, watery chili is shockingly bland. It’s like drinking tomato juice with a bowl of beans.150 calories, 1 gram fat, 625 milligrams sodium, 7 gram fiber, 3.5 gram sugar, and 9 gram protein. Whole Foods sells 17 ounces for $2.99. (1 star)

Plantstrong Sweet & Smoky Organic Chili

This pricey box of overly sweet chili is about as bad as it gets. Request a refund politely. 190 calories, 1 gram fat, 340 milligrams sodium, 6 gram fiber, 7 gram sugar, and 9 gram protein. Whole Foods charges $8.29 for 16.9 ounces. (½ a star)

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