Mole is a sauce from pre-Columbian Central America. The earliest versions most likely revolved around chilies and differ significantly from today’s moles. Mole has become a blend of New and Old World flavors. The chilies and the chocolate that these sauces often contain come from Mexico, the other spices from India as well as from Africa and Europe. It is on this combination of ingredients that mole powder is based. Mole powder is simply a convenient way to add all the flavors of mole as one ingredient. This convenience is important since moles are notorious for having a high number of constituent spices. Some early mole recipes had as many as 100 ingredients.
In Mexico, two states lay claim to mole: Puebla and Oaxaca. It is believed that the first mole was made at the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles in the state of Puebla. Legend has it that the nuns there were alerted to an unexpected visit from the archbishop. Having little food available, they combined the few ingredients they had to make the legendary sauce. These included a little bread, some chilies, and some chocolate. These are some of the ingredients that form the basis of the mole we know today. The nuns served their mole over a turkey and the archbishop loved the dish.
It is worth noting that while chocolate is a Mexican ingredient, its inclusion in moles is likely a European addition. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, chocolate was used exclusively in beverages. The legend of the nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa notwithstanding, the use of bread and chocolate was most likely the product of years of trial and error by generations of cooks.