There is a broad consensus among food lovers that three of the most culinarily rich traditions, known for their mega-diversity of ingredients, nuances, and flavors come from India, China, and Mexico. In previous articles, we have evaluated dishes from these localities, and today, we bring you the history of what many call (sometimes humorously, and other times as serious speculation) the ‘curry’ of Latin America – mole.
As in the case of curry, the word mole usually refers to sauces, stews or spice blends in general, which are made from different types of chili. There are around 50 different varieties of it. However, the type that comes to mind when we Mexicans think of mole is definitely mole poblano. It is made with chocolate, clove, multiple chile peppers (ancho, chipotle, pasilla, mulato), allspice, cumin, cinnamon, anise, peanuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame, raisins, tomato, garlic, and onion.
A Brief History of Mole
Despite its well-documented roots in pre-Hispanic gastronomy which we can find in the chronicles written by Fernardino de Sahagún (as well as the fact the word mole comes from the Nahuatl for ‘sauce’), there are many legends about how the mole we know today arose. One of them tells the story of a complete accident, in which the chef (usually anonymous) creates mole poblano by chance, while in an altered state of consciousness (due to the utter diversity of ingredients of the sauce in question).
Another account says that Fray Pascual, feeling pressured to impress the viceroy of Spain, Juan de Palafox, gathered the cooks among the religious community in order to prepare a pompous banquet, and dismayed by their slowness, he gathered all the ingredients in a large pot which resulted in mole poblano.
Finally, the most famous version is that it was created in 1861 by Sor Andrea de la Asunción in the Convent of Santa Rosa. Sister Andrea received the recipe through divine inspiration, and was guided by a mysterious intuition that led her to the unlikely result of a dish whose aroma caught the attention of the nuns as it wafted through the abbey. At dinner, it caused such a furor that the Mother Superior broke her vow of silence to praise the mole – or, according to Sister Andrea, her muele (grind).
Currently, we can find nearly all varieties of mole premade to buy in bulk from local or street markets. Due to the large number of ingredients that compose it, it’s high in nutritional value. And without a doubt, it is a part of Mexican cuisine that holds a special place in our lives, informing our memories and our roots.