Chili and Cinnamon Rolls - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

This savory-sweet pairing is a classic school lunch.

American school lunches often feature sweet treats and hearty slops, but in parts of the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond, scoops of chili and squares of cinnamon rolls nest together as a beloved, single-serving combination.

How did chili and cinnamon pastry pair up? It could be that cinnamon—as an anchoring, crossover ingredient—led to the pairing. Some accounts trace the sweet-savory duo to logging camps, where cooks combined a day’s leftovers with chili and poured it over cinnamon rolls to make a fortifying “loggers breakfast.” However it started, cafeteria cooks describe a practical benefit: Basic chilis require simply stewing beans, meat, and vegetables. While the chili stews, there’s plenty of time for the labor of love that is mixing, rolling, and slicing dough to form cinnamon rolls, plus whipping up and applying the crowning ooey-gooey glory that is homemade frosting.

The combination has plenty of detractors, who are firmly uninterested in trying it out, and even advocates debate whether the two should be eaten simultaneously or in a savory to sweet progression. Changing school nutrition guidelines, meanwhile, have chased the treat out of many school lunchrooms. For nostalgic adults who grew up on chili and cinnamon rolls, getting a taste often calls for rolling up their sleeves or tracking down individual restaurants devoted to the sweet-savory dish.

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