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.
The name for mole comes from the Ancient Nahuatl word molli or mulli. The word means stew or mix. The word can be capitalized so that sometimes you will see it written as Mole, but in most cases it is not. The accented e that you will see in some places is never correct.
Mole powder flavor profile
Mole powders vary from household to household, sometimes considerably. In Mexico, the women have traditionally done most of the cooking. Many women have a mole recipe that was handed down to them from their mothers. Moles typically contain multiple flavorful ingredients and are cooked for hours, with the result that the flavor is typically very complex and often earthy, sweet, and warm (if not spicy).
Health benefits of mole powder
Because there are so many ingredients that can show up in mole powder, the health benefits of different blends can vary widely. Most blends will be full of nutritious ingredients that provide valuable compounds like:
- Vitamins: Cocoa powder and ancho powder show up in most formulations of mole powder. Both are great sources of various B vitamins as are sesame seeds, which are included in some mole powders. The anchos also contain a significant amount of vitamin A.
- Minerals: Cumin is another spice that you will probably see in a mole powder blend and it contains numerous minerals including iron and manganese. Sesame seeds are rich in some minerals as well.
- Fiber: Most of the ingredients in the typical mole powder will contain some dietary fiber, with some ingredients — like sesame seeds — containing high levels.
If you have any of the following health issues, mole powder may be helpful for treating it. Alternatively, it may be used to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
- High blood pressure: The flavonoids in Dutch cocoa powder and the capsaicin in ancho chilies are both thought to be beneficial for lowering blood pressure.
- Heart disease: By lowering blood pressure, mole powder can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Mole powder can be reconstituted with water to be the basis for different moles, including chicken and vegetable moles. You can also add it to chili to give it a richer, deeper flavor.