Types of powdered mole for sale at the Feria Nacional de Mole. (Sveiks)
Mole (from the Nahuatl word molli, meaning sauce, mixture, or concoction) is the national dish of Mexico; it’s a complex, sometimes extremely extensive, sauce that varies from region to region and chef to chef. What validates this claim that a sauce can be considered a dish is that mole dishes are ordered for the sauce itself, whether it’s poured over vegetables, chicken, enchiladas, or some other delicious food item. (Ben)
Now, there’s a prevalent misconception that mole sauce, particularly mole poblano because of its rich brown color, is sweet and contains chocolate. While some mole sauces do contain chocolate (in Mexico, more than likely, this will be the natural cacao that itself has about 0.1 g of sugar per tablespoon unlike processed american sweet chocolate, which contain about 8 g of sugar per tablespoon) the addition of chocolate to mole is by no means mandatory, nor does it define mole. In other words, mole does not need chocolate to be mole. (Nosowitz)
Onions, Chiles, Cloves, and Nuts–the ingredients used for many moles. (Barclay)
So what does define mole? Mole can be described to be a sauce made of chiles, nuts, seeds, and spices. Clearly, this is a broad means of classification for a sauce. This is because, as mentioned before, there are many different types of moles which vary by ingredients used and the region of Mexico from which that particular recipe originates. What’s particularly interesting about mole, however, is that many recipes use a wide variety of spices and ingredients that are not native to Mexico, that were introduced to the Mexica people upon the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century. As such, mole is a mezcla, a mixture, in many more ways than just in the preparation of the dish. (Barclay)
A map of the regions of Mexico wherein cuisine distinctions are found (Bernstein)
Two regions of Mexico absolutely cannot be left out of a discussion about mole: Puebla and Oaxaca, two bordering regions deep in Mexico. Puebla, thought to be one of the origins of mole, is in central Mexico and Oaxaca, famed for its many delicious variations of the sauce, is in southern Mexico. (Ben)
Puebla is famous for one mole, mole poblano (a dark, brownish red mole that is commonly very complex, seen above). An example of one recipe is in the video above by La Receta de la Abuelita. Oaxaca is commonly referred to as la tierra de siete moles (the land of seven moles). These seven moles include mole negro (black mole, the type usually found on American menus, savory, sweet, and also very complex), mole amarillo (yellow mole, uniquely prepared with nixtamilized corn, causing the yellow color), mole coloradito (a sweet mole whose recipe includes tomatoes, sugar, and Mexican cinnamon), mole verde (green mole, made with tomatillos and herbs), mole rojo (red mole, similar to mole poblano, typically spicy), mole estofado (a tart and sour mole from El Istmo de Tehuantepec, the largest region of Oaxaca, that can include capers and olives), and mole chichilo (a special occasion mole that includes the expensive chile chilhuacle negro found in La Cañada, Oaxaca). However, these seven types of mole are just broad classifications for the many variations found from town to town within Oaxaca (particularly relating to the chiles and herbs found indigenously within each town) as well as the cook themself, as everyone has their own variation of recipes. Nevertheless, there are still more types of mole within Mexico: mole manchamantel (staining mole), mole almendrado (mole of almonds), mole pistachio, mole de pipián (mole made from cucurbits seeds), etc.
A recipe for mole verde, courtesy of Cocinando con Angel: “Delicioso!!!! Mole Verde Estilo Oaxaca” on YouTube, includes the following ingredients: 2 cups of chicken broth, 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, 1 cup of chopped parsley, 15 tomatillos (green tomatoes), 2 cloves of garlic, 2 leaves of hoja santa (piper auritum), 1 serrano chile, 1 sprig of epazote (Mexican tea), 2 cloves, 6 unground black peppers, 1 corn tortilla, 1 tablespoon of lard, 3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, 4 tablespoons of sesame seeds, salt to taste.
- First, toast the pumpkin seeds and the sesame seeds without oil and separately. Be sure to continuously turn them in the pan. Do the same with the leaves of hoja santa.
- Lightly fry the tortilla in a little bit of oil.
- Add the tortilla and all of the toasted ingredients from step 1 into a blender as well as 1 cup of chicken broth, the pepper, and the cloves. Blend until smooth.
- Pour the blended product into a hot cazuela coated with the lard. Stir with wooden spoon.
- Blend the garlic, epazote, serrano chile, tomatillos, parsley, cilantro, and final cup of chicken broth.
- Add blended product to the cazuela that contains the first, heated mixture.
Pollo en Mole Verde (Malik)
Even in this simple mole recipe, it’s easy to see the imprint the culinary world has made on authentic Mexican cuisine as some ingredients travel far from their indigenous home to end up in a Mexican kitchen. Some ingridents are indigenous to Mexico, however. Epazote is a pungent herb native to Mexico that is used in many Mexican dishes as well as for medicinal purposes. It’s also found in Brazil, where it’s known as mastruz. It grows easily and is considered a weed by many because it’s found wild throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States. However, it’s gaining in popularity due to its “distinctly piquant flavor” (Spurrier).
Tomatillos are also known as a husk tomato and they’re indigenous to Mexico, as well, though now grown in the United States, particularly in Southern California. It’s increasing in popularity in the United States due to its use in authentic Mexican cuisine (Worldcrops Tomatillos).
The Serrano chile, one of the most commonly used in Mexican cuisine, originates from the Sierra Mountain region in Puebla and Hidalgo, Mexico. The majority of Serranos are still produced in Mexico, but they’re also modestly grown in Southern California as well as Washington State, Oregon, Illinois, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and the Caribbean Islands (Green Serrano Chile Peppers).
Hoja Santa (scientific name: piper auritum) is native to an area ranging from southern Mexico to Columbia. In it’s native areas, it’s peppery and aromatic leaves and bark are used for cooking despite being considered “an invasive and noxious weed” elsewhere (Piper auritum).
Pumpkins are known to be native to the Americas, specifically the Mexican-Central America and northwestern South America regions, the cultivation of which is almost as old as the cultivation of maize (Orzolek).
Cilantro, also known as Mexican parsley, is found in Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico among other places, but it’s native to southern Europe. It grows best in full sun under cool conditions, but it flowers best in hot weather (Worldcrops Cilantro).
Parsley, also native to southern Europe as well as western Asia, is now cultivated in many parts of the world, three types of which are grown in the United States (Simon).
Cloves are a dried flower bud from the evergreen clove tree. Earliest references to cloves indicate that they’re native to China and Indonesia, though Tanzania now produces 80% of the worlds cloves (Gladden).
Black pepper, one of the earliest known spices, is indigenous to the Malabar Coast of India; it requires long rainy seasons, fairly high temperatures, and partial shade for optimal growth (Britannica Black pepper).
Sesame is a plant with mild, nutlike aroma and flavor that is believed to have originated in either Asia or East Africa, though it’s now commonly found in most of the world’s tropical, subtropical, and southern temperate areas (Britannica Sesame plant).
Though mole hasn’t become an overly prevalent or americanized dish, it is a dish deeply entrenched in the culture of Mexico. The dish itself is a celebration of the perserverence of the Mexica identity that embraces the influences of the world to create new foods that are amazingly flavorful and fresh.
Mexico’s sense of identity is strong and they know how to celebrate their amazing cuisine. San Pedro Atocpan, a metropolis within Distrito Federal (D.F. or Mexico City), produces sixty percent of Mexico’s mole and ninety percent of what is consumed in D.F. Ninety percent of the residents within San Pedro Atocpan work in some capacity toward the production of mole. In fact, San Pedro Atocpan annually hosts la Feria Nacional del Mole (The National Mole Fair). It makes sense, then, that mole, has the capacity to evoke feelings, sensations, and memories of home for many Mexican people.
Today’s global capitalism allows for a greater increase in food-related interconnections, and perhaps disconnections as well, due to its ability to create and reinforce pathways by which food can travel on the market. “Food is intimately connected to place in that it must be grown somewhere, and in that we associate cuisines with specific places and people. However, food and ideas about food have become de-territorialized and then re-territorialized elsewhere so that food is connected to place as it connects places with one another” (Komarnisky 42). It’s exceedingly common for food to do much traveling, to be transnational even (from field to grocery store to restaurant to table), but it’s also common for people to carry food with them when they travel.
In an essay detailing her anthropological studies of Mexican foodways from places like Acuitzio del Canje, Sara Komarnisky utilizes her observations from her ethnographical fieldwork to discuss the foodways by which Mexican immigrants travel and bring food favorites from their country of origin, Mexico. Almost all participants in her research travel with food regularly or have traveled with it at some point. Some even admitted to bringing several extra suitcases specifically purposed for bringing food from Mexico because the foods they crave are not available where they have migrated to. If the foods are available, the brand, taste, or quality desired is usually unavailable. Through her research, Komarnisky found that the most popular packed treats included candies, bread, cheese, and, most popular, mole, which can be easily ferried as a powder. These foods are not impeded by government regulations that monitor the movement of some foods and travel well, allowing Mexican immigrants to bring mole from home and introduce it across the globe everywhere they travel.
I, myself, have never tried to make mole, though if my Abuelita ever taught me I would be very, very happy. After college, I want to stay with her for a month and absorb all of her amazing cooking skills. My first memory of eating mole was in her kitchen (and it’s hands down the best mole I’ve ever had, which I can say with certainty even though I was very young). I remember having stained my shirt earlier that day (because I was a very clumsy child) and borrowing my cousins white shirt for dinner. She was very upset when I dropped Mole con Pollo right down the front of it–what a waste of mole.