Mole is one of the most valuable gastronomic treasures in Mexico. Since prehispanic times, this delicious thick sauce is prepared with dozens of ingredients and fills with flavor meats like chicken, turkey and pork, resulting in a delicacy that conquers all kinds of palates. It is a dish that over the centuries has been transformed, just like the Mexican culture.
In many regions of Mexico, it is common to serve mole as the main dish in the most important celebrations such as weddings, christenings, patron saint festivals and even after funerals. Of course, it is also one of the main meals to celebrate the folkloric Day of the Dead.
But, what is the origin and history of this complex and unique dish?
The word mole comes from the Náhuatl term "mulli" which means salsa. The first mentions of mole can be found in Bernardino de Sahagún's “Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España” (General history of things in New Spain), where he recounts for the first time a prehispanic stew that was offered to Moctezuma and prepared with a thick, dark sauce. This dish was also offered to the gods as a token of gratitude after long journeys.
Over time, these sauces prepared with a mix of chilies, chocolate, pips, tomatoes, achiote and other spices evolved, adding to the preparation other ingredients from each region where it was prepared, and others brought from Europe and Asia during the colonial era.
Despite this evolution, it did not change its original concept of a sauce prepared with fresh chilies, ground tomatoes, epazote leaves, hierba santa, corn dough, toasted tortillas, pips or peanuts and chocolate, used to season different meats, mainly turkey, but also beef, pork, fish and even vegetables.
Origin and legends around mole
Of mole, as we know it today, there are several versions of its origin. One of them narrates that the mole poblano -of which its original recipe is said to have included about 100 ingredients- arose in the 17th century in the Convent of Santa Rosa, in the city of Puebla. There, a nun ground different chiles and condiments to create a dish that would satisfy the demanding palate of the New Spain’s Viceroy, who was captivated by such a unique flavor.
One more version of the origin of mole poblano is actually a legend that narrates that when the Viceroy's visit to the city was announced, a Puebla convent offered him a banquet in which all the cooks of the community participated in the elaboration. Full of nerves, one of the cooks began to pile in a tray all the ingredients in the kitchen to store them in the pantry and, by the rush, stumbled in front of the pot where turkeys were cooked and where chiles, almonds, chocolate and other spices fell. The dish had to be served that way, but to the surprise of the clumsy cook, the diners praised the food.
Of course, this is just a legend, as mole is a complex dish that has prehispanic origins and whose sophistication is not improvised. Its evolution has been perfected and enriched not only with ingredients but also with the culture of each cook who has put his hands to prepare it generation after generation.
Types of mole
Although there exist many varieties of mole, there are 7 types that are the most classic and that can be easily found in Mexican restaurants.
Mole Poblano: along with black mole, it’s one of the most popular in Mexico. Originally from the state of Puebla, in the past it was prepared with turkey, nowadays it is made mainly with chicken. Its color is brown with a reddish touch and it has a soft flavor.
Mole negro: it is characterized by its smoked flavor. It is the most traditional mole from Oaxaca, its color is very dark since its preparation usually includes more chocolate than other moles.
Mole Verde: this mole is very popular in central Mexico. Its preparation is based on the grinding of pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, hoja santa and serrano chiles.
Mole Manchamanteles: it’s an Oaxacan mole characterized for its fruity flavor. Its name "manchamanteles" means "the tablecloth stainer", and among its ingredients are plantain, yellow sweet potato, plum and white sweet potato.
Mole Almendrado: the most representative mole almendrado comes from the state of Puebla. It is made from the milling of almonds, chile ancho and chile guajillo. Due to the high cost of its ingredients, it was a common dish among the upper classes. It has a slightly sweet flavor and a velvety texture.
Mole Coloradito: its intense brick-red color is unmistakable. It is made with chile ancho, cinnamon, sesame, oregano, garlic, chocolate and tomato. It is quite similar to red mole, but a little sweeter.
Mole Amarillo: it has a soft flavor, it’s a little spicy and does not include chocolate. One of its main ingredients is the yellow chilhuacle, an endemic chile from Oaxaca.
Crazy facts about mole
- It is estimated that there are around 300 types of mole.
- Some mole dishes take two or three days to be prepared.
- Some mole recipes can include up to a hundred ingredients among chiles, chocolate, nuts, herbs, fruits and other spices.
- If you don’t add meat to mole, it can be a super delicious vegetarian dish that you can accompany with rice, beans and corn tortillas.