Posted: April 15, 2021
Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Corporate Chef

Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.

The Complexity of Molé

As a chef, molé is, quite simply, exquisite in its variance and nuance of flavor.

Molé translates to, “sauce.” (So, if you hear someone say, “molé sauce”…tap them on the shoulder and tell them they are being redundant 😉).

 Varying preparation methods and ingredients distinguish moles from other sauces. In most cases, moles follow a basic formula: toasted, dried chiles – roast or charred vegetables – either nuts or seeds – dried fruit – masa – bread, and in some instances for example, dark chocolate. Dark Chocolate is added to both Molé Negro and Molé Rojo, lending a beautifully, rich and complex dimension to both sauces. Ultimately, these molé ingredients are prepared, pureed then cut with water or stock, and cooked into a smooth sauce to be served with meat (typically poultry.) 

The primary goal in preparing the various ingredients called for in molé is to develop flavor through the cooking process of each ingredient to achieve the exceptional richness and characteristic quality, complexity and nuance for which molé is renowned.

Seven Molés of Oaxaca

Molé is a staple and national dish of Mexico with versions from the states of Puebla and Oaxaca being the most notable. Puebla is considered the birthplace of molé, while Oaxaca has an abundance, or rather myriad molé varieties. However, there are seven famous molés from Oaxaca. All seven are uniquely different and deliciously distinct from one another.

1. Molé Negro

In my experience, Mole Negro is the most recognizable, and notable amongst the varieties of molé. With its nuanced sweetness, savory backbone, and squid ink BLACK color, this sauce embodies the epitome of flavor nuance and complexity. It’s typically assumed the rich, black color of Molé Negro is the result of the dark chocolate that is added to the sauce. Not quite. The truth is, Molé Negro has just a hint of dark chocolate added to it. The deep, black color comes from the charred or blackened seeds, which are finely ground then added to the sauce, lending a beautiful depth of color and signature complexity of flavor.

Although, this is the most common molé when exploring Oaxaca; ultimately Molé Negro is considered the most complex in terms of flavor. And it’s the most labor intensive to make, because it typically uses more than 30 ingredients.

2. Molé Rojo

There is a plethora of reddish-colored molés, but one in particular is known as Rojo or “red molé.” Made with guajillo chiles, sesame seeds, and a bit of chocolate, ultimately, this is a technically refined variant of what we call in the U.S., “enchilada sauce.”

3. Molé Coloradito

In a category of bold sauces, Molé Coloradito may be the most intensely flavored. It’s made with chocolate, raisins, piloncillo (raw brown sugar), guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, garlic, onion, tomatoes, tomatillos, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and bread/or breadcrumbs. This molé has a sweetness and underlying heat that makes it perfect for a cold, blustery day.

4. Molé Amarillo

The distinctive and vibrant hue of yellow in this molé is derived from Amarillo chiles. Although this savory molé is considered yellow, it’s irrefutably red, once it is prepared. We can expect to find these ingredients in Molé Amarillo: onion, cumin seeds, allspice, cloves, tomato, garlic, fresh masa, smoked serrano chiles, Amarillo & guajillo chiles, and cilantro.

5. Molé Verde

It’s essentially a mature, complex version of tomatillo salsa (salsa verde). This molé is a bit more user friendly, and amongst the seven, easier to execute. Molé Verde is produced by grinding a combination of tomatillos, cilantro, chiles, epazote (a pungent herb native to Mexico and Central America), hierba santa, (Mexican pepper leaf or root beer plant) and pumpkin seeds. Typically, Molé Verde is thickened with either finely ground walnuts or almonds, as well as fresh masa, and it’s commonly served over poultry.

6. Molé Manchamanteles

While the seven molés of Oaxaca are mostly named after their color, this bright-red molé is known instead as “manchamanteles,” which translates to “tablecloth stainer.” (Expert Tip – have a back-up shirt handy for this one 😊) It has a fruity, earthy flavor due to some unique ingredients. Here’s what we can typically expect to find in Molé Manchamanteles: fresh pineapple, ancho chiles, garlic, sugar, lard, onion, black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, and ripe plantain.

7. Molé Chíchilo

Of the seven molés of Oaxaca, Molé Chíchilo is certainly one of the more adventurous if you were to travel to Oaxaca. From a flavor standpoint, it could be said that Molé Chíchilo is the richest, most decadent amongst its molé counterparts. The ingredients that make up this lush variation include avocado leaves, smoked serrano chiles, garlic, tomatillos, Mexican oregano, allspice, cloves, fresh masa, lard, corn tortillas, pasilla chiles, and onion.

Molé for Every Occasion

Personally, I feel like the Western palate is really missing out on the robust and comprehensive flavors imparted within the seven molés of Oaxaca. The opportunity within day parts is endless. Just think about it…for me the most accessible route or rather relatable application would be the snack category. However, with the fruity and nutty variance among regional molés, I could also see great breakfast or even dessert options that explore molé. The possibilities for innovation are endless here for really any product development or chef. If you’re interested in exploring mole varieties – reach out! I’d be happy to provide culinary inspiration to your next project.