Tamales: A Traditional Mesoamerican Delight

Looking for information on tamales? Look no further than this informative article! Learn about the history, types, and preparation of this traditional Mesoamerican dish. Discover tips for making perfect tamales and where to find them. Read now for all you need to know about tamales.

Tamales: A Traditional Mesoamerican Delight
Delicious and Authentic: Savoring the Traditional Flavors of Pork Tamales. Photo by Quiony Navarro from Pexels

Tamales are a popular dish in Mexican and Central American cuisine. These delicious bundles of masa dough filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, or fruit are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed until tender. Tamales are an essential part of the cultural heritage of Mesoamerican countries and have been enjoyed for thousands of years. In this article, we will explore the history, varieties, and preparation of tamales.

A Brief History of Tamales

The history of tamales can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerica, where they were a staple food of the Aztec and Maya civilizations. Tamales were often made with corn dough and stuffed with beans, meat, or fish. They were wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and cooked over an open flame. The Aztecs believed that tamales were food for the gods and offered them as sacrifices during religious ceremonies.

When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the 16th century, they brought with them new ingredients such as pork, chicken, and beef, which were incorporated into the traditional tamale recipes. Today, tamales are a beloved food in many parts of the world, and there are countless variations of the original recipe.

Types of Tamales

There are many different types of tamales, each with its own unique flavor and preparation method. Here are some of the most popular types of tamales:

  1. Pork Tamales: Pork tamales are a classic Mexican dish that features tender, slow-cooked pork that is seasoned with spices and wrapped in masa dough.
  2. Chicken Tamales: Chicken tamales are another popular variety that features juicy, shredded chicken that is seasoned with chili powder, cumin, and other spices.
  3. Vegetarian Tamales: Vegetarian tamales are made without meat and can be filled with a variety of vegetables, such as mushrooms, zucchini, and bell peppers.
  4. Sweet Tamales: Sweet tamales are a dessert version of the traditional tamale and are filled with ingredients such as cinnamon, raisins, and fruit.

Preparing Tamales

While tamales may seem daunting to prepare, they are quite simple to make. Here is a basic recipe for pork tamales:


  • 2 pounds of pork shoulder
  • 2 cups of masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of lard or vegetable shortening
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 package of dried corn husks


  1. Boil the pork in a large pot of water until it is tender and falls apart easily. Shred the pork and set it aside.
  2. Soak the corn husks in warm water for 30 minutes to soften them.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the masa harina, chicken broth, lard or vegetable shortening, baking powder, and salt until it forms a smooth dough.
  4. Take a corn husk and spread a thin layer of the masa dough on it, leaving a small border around the edges.
  5. Spoon a generous amount of shredded pork onto the center of the masa dough.
  6. Roll the corn husk around the filling, tucking in the edges to seal it.
  7. Repeat this process with the remaining corn husks and filling.
  8. Arrange the tamales in a steamer basket and steam them for about 1 hour, or until they are cooked through.
  9. Serve the tamales hot with your favorite toppings, such as salsa, sour cream, or guacamole.
Tamales with fried machas and guacamole.
Tamales with fried machas and guacamole. Photo: Tavallai via Flickr

Tips for Making Perfect Tamales

While tamales may seem simple to prepare, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you make the perfect batch. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Use high-quality ingredients: Tamales are a simple dish, but using high-quality ingredients can make all the difference. Look for fresh ingredients, such as locally sourced meats and vegetables, and high-quality masa harina.
  2. Soak the corn husks: Soaking the corn husks in warm water before wrapping the tamales will make them more pliable and easier to work with.
  3. Don't overfill the tamales: Overfilling the tamales can cause them to burst open while cooking. Be sure to leave enough room around the filling to allow for expansion while steaming.
  4. Use a steamer basket: Steaming the tamales in a steamer basket will ensure that they cook evenly and don't stick together.
  5. Experiment with different fillings: Tamales are versatile dishes, and there are countless filling options to try. Mix and match ingredients to find your perfect combination.

Health Benefits of Tamales

Tamales can be a nutritious and satisfying meal. They are made with corn masa, which is a good source of fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Tamales can also be filled with a variety of vegetables and lean meats, making them a healthy meal option. However, some tamales may contain high amounts of fat, sodium, and calories, so it's important to choose your fillings wisely and enjoy them in moderation.

Where to Find Tamales

If you're not up for making tamales yourself, you can find them at many Mexican and Central American restaurants, food trucks, and markets. Some specialty grocery stores may also carry fresh or frozen tamales. You can also order tamales online from various vendors.


Tamales are a delicious and traditional dish that has been enjoyed for thousands of years. They come in many different varieties and can be filled with anything from pork to sweet cinnamon and fruit. While they may seem daunting to prepare, they are quite simple, and with a little practice, you can make the perfect batch of tamales in no time. Whether you're a fan of traditional pork tamales or prefer to try something new, tamales are a cultural and culinary delight that is sure to satisfy you.