mole and adobo: what is the difference?
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Asking about the differences between mole and adobo first depends upon clearing up what adobo actually is—in this case, we’re referring to the complex Mexican sauce used to cook and flavor meats, which, broadly speaking, could also describe mole. Otherwise, the two sauces are quite different, but they’re equally delicious, and either would be the perfect thing to try making this Cinco de Mayo

Adobo

Adobo is a dish that originated in the Philippines, that combines a vinegary marinade with pork or chicken. There are many styles of adobo, including Mexican (with chipotles and chiles), Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Uruguayan, and traditional Filipino adobo. Spanish adobo refers to the seasoning or marinade for the meat, while Filipino adobo refers to the whole dish (for more information, check out our primer on Mexican and Filipino adobo). Generally, Mexican adobo is much quicker to make than mole, and uses far fewer ingredients by comparison.

Mole

Mole is a sauce with a completely different flavor profile than adobo. Puebla and Oaxaca are considered the traditional originators of mole, which comes in many different styles. Mole can have dozens of ingredients, and always contains one or more types of chili pepper. Often chocolate is added at the end of the cooking process and most of the ingredients are roasted or charred. Nuts and spices, as well as fruit, can be added to mole during the cooking process. The Mole Casero recipe we learned from Casa Pública combines all of the above:


Mole poblano is the most famous mole dish, but there are many festivals dedicated to the different types of Mexican mole. Mole can also be aged, and the tangy, thick sauce is similar to barbecue sauce but with more complex flavors. Mole can be dark red, brown, black, red, green, yellow, and is very much a matter of personal taste.

Need to find out more about the difference between adobo and mole for yourself? Check out these nine recipes and get started in the kitchen.

1. Black Mole Sauce

A classic Oaxacan mole with charred chiles—pasilla, guajillo, and mulato negro, as well as peppercorns, allspice, sesame seeds, almonds, raisins, and prunes make for an incredibly flavorful mix. Get this Black Mole Sauce recipe.

2. Slow Cooker Chicken Mole

Chowhound

The slow cooker makes this mole less daunting than the usual—use a combination of chipotle chiles in adobo with dried ancho chiles, with cumin and ground cinnamon (in addition to bittersweet chocolate and garlic). Get our Slow Cooker Chicken Mole recipe.

3. Pork Mole Coloradito

Pork Mole Colaradito recipe

Chowhound

In addition to the usual complex mix of dried chiles and chocolate, this recipe brings in cumin, thyme, garlic, a ripe plantain, pecans, and pumpkin seeds, plus sweet yeast rolls to help thicken the sauce (in other recipes, masa or breadcrumbs often serve the same purpose). Get our Pork Mole Coloradito recipe.

4. Pork Mole Tamales

Chowhound

If you want to make a meal with mole but are short on time, use a prepackaged mole sauce to make these pork mole tamales. To compensate for the mole hack, make the basic masa dough from scratch to hand make the tamales. Get our Pork Mole Tamales recipe.

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5. 20-Minute Mole

Somewhere in the middle, this easily adaptable recipe for a quick mole includes onion, garlic, and jalapeno with chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, and a quick cheat with almond butter instead of using whole-roasted and ground almonds. Get this 20-Minute Mole recipe.

6. Mexican Adobo Sauce

Mexican Adobo Sauce recipe

Chowhound

This simple yet bold Mexican adobo sauce is made in a blender with dried ancho and guajillo chiles, fresh ginger, and cumin; use it for marinating meats or tofu. Get our Mexican Adobo Sauce recipe.

7. Adobo Chicken Tacos

Chowhound

This is a quick chicken dinner made with the above adobo sauce—we recommend making a double batch so you have leftovers for more tacos, or maybe enchiladas. Get our Adobo Chicken Tacos recipe.

8. Lamb Barbacoa with Masala Adobo

This Indian/Mexican fusion is made with a masala blend—cardamom pods, cinnamon, anise, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, fennel, and mustard seeds—that is the perfect match for the adobo marinade. Get this Lamb Barbacoa with Masala Adobo recipe.

9. Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo

If you’re looking for the Filipino version of adobo, try this easy slow cooker adobo recipe with soy sauce, rice vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, and some granulated sugar combined with onions, garlic, and ginger for an addictively tangy combination. Get our Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo recipe.

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Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy is a New York City–based food writer and editor at Penguin who has worked on and recipe-tested several cookbooks. She is currently in search of NYC’s best ramen, and is one of the few people who admit to disliking brunch.
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