Mole and enchilada sauce are both staples of Mexican cuisine, but they are often confused for one another. At first glance, the dark brown mole sauce may look similar to enchilada sauce, leading many to believe they are interchangeable. However, there are some key differences between mole and enchilada sauce in terms of ingredients, flavor profile, and typical uses that set them apart.
In this article, we will explore what exactly mole and enchilada sauces are, their origins, ingredients that give them their unique characteristics, how they differ in taste, and dishes they are commonly used for. Whether you are looking to better understand Mexican sauces or need to know whether you can substitute one for the other in a recipe, read on to learn the distinction between mole and enchilada sauce.
What is Mole Sauce?
Mole (pronounced MO-lay) sauce has its origins in Mexico, with the name deriving from the Nahuatl word for “sauce”. It is considered Mexico’s national dish, and is an integral part of traditional cuisines in the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí and Veracruz. The sauce has a complex flavor profile and unique ingredients that set it apart from enchilada sauce.
There are many varieties of mole sauce that originate from different regions of Mexico. Here are some of the most common types:
This classic mole from the state of Puebla contains chili peppers, spices, nuts, seeds, and chocolate. It has a mildly spicy, earthy flavor.
Mole Negro Oaxaqueño
A black Oaxacan mole that contains dried chilies, chocolate, spices, bread, seeds, and more. It is a sweet and smoky mole.
A bright green mole made with tomatillos, herbs, and green chilies. It has a tangy, herbal taste.
A yellow mole with dried yellow chilies, tomatoes, plantains, spices, and chicken broth. It has a rich and fruity flavor.
One of the most famous moles, it contains chili peppers, chocolate, spices, and dried fruit. It strikes a balance between sweet and savory.
Despite the many varieties, authentic mole sauces do share some key characteristics:
- Contain dried chili peppers for heat
- Include spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and oregano
- Have some sweetness from ingredients like chocolate, plantains, or dried fruit
- Use nuts like peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds
- May include herbs like thyme or marjoram
- Are freshly made from scratch with toasted and ground ingredients
- Have a smooth, thick consistency
- Feature depth of flavor with hints of sweet, savory, spicy, and earthy tastes
Overall, mole sauces provide a complex blend of flavors and are considered a labor of love in Mexican cooking due to the time and effort required to make them. They form the basis for beloved dishes like enchiladas, tamales, and meats.
What is Enchilada Sauce?
Like mole, enchilada sauce also hails from Mexico and is a key component of one of its most popular dishes – enchiladas. But unlike mole, enchilada sauce has a simpler preparation and list of ingredients.
At its most basic, an enchilada sauce contains dried chili peppers, garlic, and spices that are blended together with a liquid like chicken or vegetable broth until smooth. Common spices added are cumin, oregano, coriander, and pepper. Here are some classic enchilada sauce varieties:
Red Enchilada Sauce
The most popular version made with dried red chilies like guajillo, ancho or New Mexico chilies. It has a rich, earthy flavor with medium heat.
Green Enchilada Sauce
Contains green tomatillos and green chilies like poblanos or serranos for tangy, fresh flavor and bright color.
Mild White Enchilada Sauce
Made from corn tortillas, garlic, onions, cilantro, and chicken broth. Delivers a creamy, mild taste.
While subtle regional differences in enchilada sauce exist, they generally have these characteristics:
- Contain dried red or green chili peppers
- Are flavored with garlic, onion, and cumin
- Use a chili-infused broth to blend the ingredients
- Have a thin, pourable consistency
- Are quick to prepare
- Taste ranges from mild to spicy
Enchilada sauce provides the base flavor for enchiladas and can also be used as a taco sauce, dip, or drizzled over other Mexican dishes. It offers simplicity compared to complex mole sauces.
Key Differences Between Mole and Enchilada Sauce
Now that we have outlined the origins and ingredients for mole sauce versus enchilada sauce, we can directly compare them to understand how they differ:
|Mole Sauce||Enchilada Sauce|
|Dried chili peppers||Dried chili peppers|
|Chocolate or cocoa||No chocolate|
|Nuts like peanuts or almonds||No nuts|
|Spices like cinnamon, clove, cumin||Limited spices like cumin, oregano|
|Seeds like pumpkin or sesame||No seeds|
|Herbs like marjoram or thyme||No herbs|
|Fruit like plantains or prunes||No fruit|
|Tomatillos, tomatoes||Tomatillos, tomatoes|
|Onions, garlic||Onions, garlic|
|Chicken or vegetable broth||Chicken or vegetable broth|
As shown, mole contains a greater variety of ingredients including chocolate, nuts, seeds, fruit and more spices. Enchilada sauce sticks to chili peppers, aromatics like garlic and onion, and a simple blend of spices.
Due to their differences in ingredients, mole and enchilada sauce deliver distinct flavor experiences:
- Mole: complex, rich, sweet, savory, spicy, earthy, bold
- Enchilada Sauce: straightforward, mild or spicy, herbal, bright
Mole imparts layers of taste from its diversity of ingredients. Enchilada sauce focuses on chili pepper flavor with supporting garlic and spices.
The textures of the sauces also set them apart:
- Mole: thick, grainy or smooth puree
- Enchilada Sauce: thin, smooth liquid
Mole’s toasted whole ingredients give it a dense, sometimes gritty texture. Enchilada sauce has a pourable consistency from blending just chili peppers and broth.
It takes far more time and effort to prepare authentic mole compared to quicker enchilada sauce:
- Mole: 1-2 hours minimum
- Enchilada Sauce: 30 minutes maximum
Mole requires toasting, grinding and carefully simmering a lengthy list of ingredients. Enchilada sauce simply needs to blend chili peppers and aromatics in broth.
Use in Dishes
While both sauces can be used on enchiladas, they have some distinct culinary applications:
- Mole: enchiladas, tamales, meat dishes, rice, beans, chicken, turkey, rabbit
- Enchilada Sauce: enchiladas, tacos, burritos, tostadas, chips, eggs, grilled meats and seafood
Mole is reserved for special occasion foods. Enchilada sauce has everyday uses including drizzling over eggs, dipping chips, or topping tacos.
So in summary, while mole and enchilada sauce both contain dried chili peppers and add flavor to Mexican cuisine, they diverge in their ingredients, textures, tastes and uses in cooking. Mole is the deeper, more complex and celebratory sauce, while enchilada sauce is the everyday topping for enhancing many dishes.
Can Mole and Enchilada Sauce be Substituted?
Now that we understand the differences between mole and enchilada sauce, an important question is whether they can be used interchangeably in recipes.
The answer is – it depends.
Here are some considerations for substituting mole for enchilada sauce or vice versa:
- Enchilada sauce may work as a substitute in mole recipes if you are in a pinch, although the flavor will be lacking. Add extra spices, chocolate, and chili powder to come closer to mole’s flavor profile if you take this route.
- Substituting mole for enchilada sauce may overwhelm a recipe, as mole has a stronger taste. Limit the amount of mole and add some extra broth if trying this swap.
- For simpler dishes like tacos, enchiladas or tostadas, you may be able to get away with substituting enchilada sauce for mole or vice versa without ruining the recipe, as other ingredients will also provide flavor.
- For complex mole-based dishes like Pueblan mole chicken or Oaxacan tamales, it likely isn’t advisable to sub in enchilada sauce, as the recipes rely on mole’s specific characteristics.
- Consider the color of the mole – for instance, green mole sauce can probably substitute for green enchilada sauce, while red or black mole is closer to red enchilada sauce.
- If you make any substitutions, taste the dish as you go to ensure you are achieving the intended balance of flavors.
The more complex a mole recipe is, the less you will want to swap in an enchilada sauce, as it simply can’t provide the same depth of flavors. But for simpler dishes, you may get away with using one sauce in place of the other in a pinch. Taste and adjust seasoning along the way.
How to Choose Between Mole and Enchilada Sauce
When deciding whether to use mole or enchilada sauce in a Mexican recipe, keep these tips in mind:
- Use mole for special occasions and celebratory foods where you want a complex, elegant sauce.
- Choose enchilada sauce for everyday dishes where you want a simple, straight-forward chili pepper flavor.
- Consider the dish – mole pairs better with meats like chicken, turkey or rabbit, while enchilada sauce is great with veggies, eggs, or seafood.
- Think about the other ingredients – mole’s complexity can stand on its own, while enchilada sauce benefits from added ingredients like cheese, lettuce, rice etc.
- Factor in time – enchilada sauce can be whipped up in under 30 minutes, while authentic mole takes hours.
- If you want an impressive, labor-intensive sauce go with mole. For a quick weeknight meal, enchilada sauce gets the job done.
For festive or traditional Mexican dishes, mole is the choice for an iconic flavor. When you need dinner on the table fast, turn to handy enchilada sauce instead. Taste and tweak recipes to fit your preferences. With an understanding of how these two sauces differ, you can decide which one suits your needs.
Mole and enchilada sauce both provide great flavor to Mexican cuisine, but they are far from the same in terms of ingredients, taste, preparation and uses. By exploring their characteristic features, we clarified the distinction between the rich, complex mole sauces and the simpler enchilada sauces.
While in some cases they can be substituted in recipes, often with seasoning adjustments, they achieve ideal results when used in dishes suited to their unique flavors. Mole shines when used for celebrations and special occasions, while enchilada sauce is perfect for quick meals.
Hopefully this breakdown demystifies mole versus enchilada sauce, so you can confidently choose between them and seamlessly incorporate them into authentic Mexican cooking. ¿Buen provecho!