Mole Sauce: A Pre-Columbian Sauce

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The full story of mole’s origin is still a mystery but there are a few facts about it that are well-known. Those include the fact that while mole sauce is a Mexican preparation, it contains global elements in the form of spices that came to Mexico via Spain.

At the time of Spain’s Colonization of Mexico in the 16th century, Spanish food was greatly influenced by the Moors and Arabs. It was full of spices from the East and foods were cooked using Middle Eastern techniques. Spices like black pepper and cumin made their way into Mexican cuisine from the Far East and the Middle East. Similarly, the dish known as al pastor is a New World version of shawarma.

There are several legends about mole sauce’s origin including one where it was created by nuns who threw together a bunch of random ingredients to create a meal for a visiting archbishop. Other stories claim that it was invented by a monk for a visiting dignitary.

Mole Sauce

The truth is that mole sauce has its roots in the Mexico that existed from before the arrival of the Europeans. The original version was made with tomatoes and chiles and was served over meat or fish. A version that included seeds and nuts was served on special occasions.

The Aztecs were known to have dishes featuring mole sauce such as turkey in mole sauce. What may be a new addition to it is chocolate, at least for widespread consumption. Because chocolate was considered sacred by the Aztecs and Mayans, it would have been reserved for high priests and royalty. Mole sauce with chocolate would never have been a traditional dish for the common citizen.

These days, mole sauce is no longer reserved for the upper classes and is available to Mexicans from all social classes.

The term mole comes from molli, which is the Nahuatl word that translates to grind or ground. A focus on ground ingredients is the only true defining characteristic of mole sauce, which can refer to a range of different sauces. Variations include the ultra-complex mole negro and the much simpler mole verde.

Mole sauce flavor profile

The ingredients used for mole sauce are so varied that there is no one true flavor profile. Many people outside of Mexico have only heard of the chocolate-based version but mole sauce is so much more than that.

Most versions aren’t made with chocolate at all but with chilies, tomatoes, and aromatics like garlic and onion. As a result, what the different varieties have in common is a strong umami character and acidity as well as a pungent aroma. Different types of mole sauce can be sweet or smokey and the consistencies can be thick or thin.

Health benefits of mole sauce

Because the ingredients of mole sauce differ so much from recipe to recipe, there is no universal nutritional profile that applies to all. However, a version made with the most commonly used ingredients should provide important nutrients such as:

  • B vitamins: Mole sauce can provide significant amounts of pyridoxine and niacin.
  • Minerals: You can get minerals like zinc, calcium, and magnesium from mole sauce.
  • Fiber: Mole sauce may contain a significant amount of fiber depending on the ingredients.

Mole sauce can help with the treatment and prevention of health problems like:

  • Constipation: The fiber in mole sauce can soften your waste and thus speed up its movement through your gut.
  • Osteoporosis: Many of the minerals in mole sauce can help to slow down the loss of bone density.

Common uses

Some of the most common mole applications involve using it on chicken to make pollo en mole or you can use it in your enchiladas.


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