What Is Mole & How Is it Used in Mexican Food?


Mole is a name for a variety of Mexican sauces, characterized by their complex flavors--often including chilies and chocolate--and their smooth, rich texture. Mole poblano is the most common type of mole sauce, but a number of other moles exist with different combinations of ingredients. Served with anything from chicken to enchiladas and vegetables, mole is a versatile element of Mexican cuisine.


Although people are not entirely sure of the origin of mole sauce, the most common story is that it was developed in Puebla de los Angeles, a town near Mexico City. Legend has it that in the 16th century, the nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa were preparing for a visit from the archbishop, and they wanted to make something special. Regardless of its origin, mole is now a well-known element of Mexican cuisine.


The signature ingredient in mole is a small quantity of dark chocolate, giving the sauce its rich quality and slightly bittersweet taste. A number of other ingredients also contribute to mole, including fried bread, sugar, raisins, tomato, garlic, onions, cloves, cinnamon, and many different types of chilies and nuts. Not all mole sauces use the same ingredients. Families typically hand recipes down through generations.


Mole cooks over low heat for hours, often all day, to allow the complex flavors to mix together. To make mole, preparers must chop or grind all the ingredients, and toast or sauté some ingredients. After preparation of the ingredients, the sauce is blended and strained to give it a smooth texture.


The most common and famous use of mole is with poultry. Cooks prepare the best chicken mole and turkey mole by marinating it in a mole sauce prior to cooking, in addition to adding mole throughout the cooking process. Cooks also serve mole over beef, fish and other seafood, although that is less common. In addition, mole makes a good sauce for vegetables, dipping tortillas, and to cover enchiladas or burritos.


Many restaurants, both inside and outside of Mexico, are able to serve mole on a regular basis. However, preparation is such a labor-intensive process, Mexican families typically use it as a special occasion dish. It is often be a staple at a girl's Quinceañera (festival for her 15th birthday), at weddings, or on national holidays such as Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos.