How the Heck Do You Spell “Chili” Anyways?

Things that keep people up at night…

Barking dogs.

Job stress.

The proper spelling of “chili”

If the English language wasn’t complex enough, now we have 100 different ways to spell “chili” (okay maybe mostly just 3 ways, but it might as well be 100). Not the chili with beans in it, but “chili” peppers. Not the chilly as in freezing cold, but spicy chili paste you dab on your teriyaki chicken.

So here’s the deal on the different spellings of “chili”. Because the chili pepper has such a long history, it is only natural that the spelling of the word can change throughout it’s almost prehistoric existence. Also, the chili is found in so many different countries - different varieties, different uses, so it’s spelling is often translated with slight variations.

Chilli (with two L’s)

  • This spelling original comes from the Aztec period. The Nahuatl language, used by the Aztecs, is still spoke by nearly 1.5 million people in Mexico - thus bringing us to the next spelling of “chili”.

Chile (with an e)

  • Looking at this spelling you may instantly think Chile, the country in South America, but Chile with an “e” is the way the Spanish-speaking people of Mexico translated the word from the original Aztec spelling.

Chili (with an i)

  • This was also translated from the original Aztec spelling, but for the United States. In many instances you may find people, foodies, restaurants, hot and spicy aficionados refer to it as chili peppers, chili sauce, chili paste, etc. Even the band Red Hot Chili Peppers spell it with an “i”.

What’s the proper way to spell it?

The Chile Pepper Institute still uses the original spelling of Chile with an “e”, stating that chile “refers to the plant or fruit from the plant while the term chili refers to a culinary dish consisting of a meat, beans, tomatoes and chile powder.”

In the U.S., there are two different ways that are acceptable to spell “chili”. Even the dictionary gives various ways to spell the quizzical word, which means we have freedom to spell chili however we like. So slice up some chile peppers and put them in a hot pot of chili.


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