Unwrapping the Mystery of Mole

What's mole? First of all, mole is pronounced MOH-lay. Common pronunciation error: saying the last syllable as if it rhymes with bee, or not pronouncing the last syllable at all. It's not a furry animal! The word mole comes from the Aztec Indians’ word molli, which simply means “sauce”, so calling it “mole sauce” is… Continue Reading Unwrapping the Mystery of Mole.

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Unwrapping the Mystery of Mole

What's a Mole?

First of all, mole is pronounced MOH-lay. Common pronunciation error: saying the last syllable as if it rhymes with bee, or not pronouncing the last syllable at all. It’s not a furry animal!

The word mole comes from the Aztec Indians’ word molli, which simply means “sauce”, so calling it “mole sauce” is actually a bit unnecessary – but as mole has come to be a “dish” in common language, one understands the need to define it as a “mole sauce”. Mole comes in many varieties and in every state, different moles will be popular, although the mole poblano and mole negro are commonly seen as two of the most important varieties. That being said, most people have probably never experienced a real Mexican mole which is truly sad – and something we would love to change!

All moles are thickened with nuts and seeds, but not all moles include chocolate as an ingredient.

More of a Technique than a Dish

A proper mole can easily consist of up to 30, even 50 different ingredients and can take several hours – sometimes even days – to make. Ingredients vary according to the individual recipe, but is typically a mixture of chilies, tomatoes, fruits, spices, a starch (bread or tortillas), and nuts. For some of the most popular moles, the sauce will also be enriched by dark bitter chocolate. Is your mouth watering yet?

All the ingredients are roasted and blended into a smooth paste of complex flavors that somehow just always makes sense. Historically mole ingredients were ground on a sloped grinding stone called a metate, but today most people will use a blender - although nothing can really compare to a mole that is prepared with a metate. The intensity of the flavors and aromas from the ingredients are simply richer when crushed, rather than chopped by a blender.

Once the ingredients have been crushed or blended, the paste is then made into a thick sauce (it should never be runny) by using water or broth (there is a section on how to make your own mole later on – don’t worry!).

The final product doesn’t taste like chocolate, or chili, or onion or cumin… it simply tastes like MOLE! A nutty, rich, spicy, and completely unique taste. From mole coloradito across mole verde and mole negro, the flavors could not be more diverse and individually delicious!

A Bittersweet Paste

Although Oaxaca and Puebla stand out as the original mole states, every region (even every village) in Mexico has their own recipe for mole. Therefore, the sauce comes in far more forms and varieties than many people realize.

Mole can be fresh and green from herbs, red from chilies and tomatoes, light and yellow from almonds and fruits or black and balanced from hard roasted chili seeds and chocolate.

To give you a better sense of what mole is, we often compare it to curry paste. Mole has the same creamy, thick, and intense consistency as a typical curry paste and Mexico also shares climate zones with India, making both countries able to grow exotic fruits, vegetables and chilies like no other places.

When serving mole, sesame seeds are typically sprinkled on top as a final touch to the dish.

How to Use a Mole Paste

Mole is definitely one of those things that is worth traveling across the globe for. But you can also enjoy mole at home by using a pre-made paste from a jar. It will not only save you a tremendous amount of time – you will still get that real mole flavor, perfectly intense, spiced, and rich in flavor. So, no more excuses for not having tried mole friends! If you're intrigued by now, then click here to check out our delicious Mole Negro made with spices like cinnamon, clove, cumin, and chocolate.

The Mystery of Mole

So, what is all this fuss about a sauce, you might ask? Well, as you already know now, mole is not just a simple topping. No, mole is much, much more. Mole is an old technique, a tradition, and a trademark way for the Mexican people to honor their ancestors. That is why the history behind it is so important and very interesting.

The history of mole is as complex as the paste itself and as muddled as the history of Mexico. A history enriched with migration and racial mixture and a combination of numerous cultures and different eras. It is a fusion of local ingredients and cooking techniques combined with European colonial influence. Confused? Of course you are! So, let’s take it from the top.

Some moles, such as the Poblano can take up to 7 hours to prepare in one go, however, many prefer to spread the preparation of their mole over 1-3 days as it is easier and helps to develop the flavors of the ingredients.

Holy Mole: 7 Classic Types Of Mexican Mole

It’s not all chilies & chocolate in the land of mole. In fact, every region – even every family has their own special recipe for mole, but for the sake of convenience, let’s take a look at seven main classics.

1. Poblano: A red mole from Puebla with lots of dried chili flavor. It’s often served on stewed meats, like braised beef, chicken, or pork.

2. Negro: The dark, savory-sweet paste from Oaxaca with lots of chocolate and sweet spices like cinnamon, clove, and cumin. Perfect on tender chicken meat.

3. Coloradito: Brownish-red in color which normally includes the most common dried chilies, sweet fruits and is thickened with mashed plantains (a type of banana – but much more savory!). Lovely with chunks of precooked pork.

4. Manchamantel: This “tablecloth stainer,” is made with the greasy red chorizo, tomatoes, and ancho chilies, as well as fresh pineapple. Served with chicken or pork.

5. Amarillo: A spicy, chocolate-free sauce. Try it with chicken, beef, or veggies, served alongside a fresh tortilla.

6. Verde: This mole is named after the color – namely ‘green’ which comes from a mix of pumpkin seeds, jalapeños, and tomatillos. The best sauce you can find for chicken breasts or thighs, served with black beans and rice.

7. Mole Chichilo: This intense and spicy mole is made with a base of beef stock and thickened with masa (dough of corn flour). Pour it on a beef filet or serve as dip for dumplings.

A green mole aka."Mole Verde" over a slice of chicken breast

A Magical Accident or an Honoring of the Gods?

Mole most likely dates back more than 500 years, and even though it’s unclear who exactly created the first recipe, there are many deep-rooted origin stories out there.

The most common tale takes place in a convent in Puebla which involves a group of nuns in panic because the archbishop was visiting, and they had nothing to serve him. They threw a bunch of different ingredients in one pot… and suddenly they came up with the perfect sauce.

A similar legend tells the story of the monk Fray Pascual who accidentally knocked over the spices while preparing a dish – once again for the archbishop – and magically creating mole. The magic legends of mole are a part of what make mole so indelibly entwined with Mexican culture – current and past alike.

A third legend takes us back to 1520 during the time of the Spaniards invasion. Here, mole was first served to the conquistadors from Spain by King Moctezuma of the Aztec Empire at a dinner. He served them mole to honor them, they say, because he thought they were Gods. Some even believe that the dish got its name from the Spaniards, because the word mole resembles the Portuguese word for sauce: Molho. This one has a bit of a colonial feel to it, doesn’t it?

Still confused? Well, what seems most likely is that there was some early form of mole made by the Aztec Indians long before the arrival of the Spaniard. But who really came up with the first recipe is probably always going to be a tale, so let’s leave it at that… for now.

A Tradition Taught Through Generations

What we do know, is that throughout the years mole has become a prominent dish eaten at celebrations of all social classes in Mexico. The expression "Ir a un mole" (to go to where the mole is) means to attend a wedding, one of the traditional ceremonies where mole is often served. Other celebrations where you are sure to find mole on the table is on Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Quinceanera (the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday).It has also become popular for Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) celebrations.

Beside mole being a tradition at local holidays and celebrations, it also became a sacred cooking technique that was passed down from generation to generation by the women in the family. Mother teaching daughter and granddaughter – ensuring that the family does not lose sigh of its incredible Mexican inheritance and the tradition of mole.

Every Mexican family has an abuela (grandmother) or an aunt who has their own special mole recipe. This person has the honorary position of molera and is the one who makes the final decision as to how much of each ingredient is to be used.

Nowadays the southern part of Mexico makes the most mole – honoring local traditions. The two regions best known for their respective moles are Oaxaca and Puebla. But today all regions have their own recipe and for the past years, mole has slowly started to infiltrate the American and European cuisines.

The Art of Making Mole from Scratch

Making mole is a real labor-intensive process and a proper done mole can easily take 5 hours or even days in the kitchen – and just shopping for ingredients requires a lot of patience. That is why Mexican grandmothers, mothers and fathers alike make such big batches.

If you live near a market where you can buy mole paste in bulk, you are in luck. Otherwise, some online or local shops have mole paste in jars which is imported from Mexico and have an authentic taste. Store bought mole will save you a tremendous amount of time and is definitely worth trying. While nothing beats preparing your own mole from scratch, not everyone has the interest or time to invest in making a proper mole - and that's alright!

At this point, if you are still reading the article (if so, thank you!) - then you are probably a huge fan of mole already, or maybe you're just really interested in trying it out already. So why not check out our Mole Negro? We are sure that you will love it!