Are Tamales Gluten-Free?


Cooking is no joke, especially when you’re doing it for a fairly large crowd for an event of any kind. Most people would choose something easy to mass-produce but will still satisfy everybody, and one of those foods is tamales. However, if you are trying to account for all those on your guest list with dietary needs, the real question to answer is whether tamales are gluten-free or not.

Homemade Corn and Chicken Tamales Ready to Eat
Homemade Corn and Chicken Tamales Ready to Eat

Tamales are gluten-free. They are traditionally made with corn flour or an alternative corn-based dough. Customarily, they are filled with savory meats and/or vegetables, though some are filled with dried fruit instead. The entire tamale is then wrapped up and cooked inside of a corn husk.

Of course, tamales are a favorite everywhere they’re made, and the reason they are often served at events is that they’re incredibly easy to make. If you have an event of some sort coming up, you may want to consider giving these delicious Mexican delicacies a try. Read on to learn a little bit more info on how to make them, what their origins are, some important nutrition details, and more!

Tamales: The History

It seems quite fitting that tamales be served at parties and events because they have a little bit of a history of being served during festive times such as Christmas and birthdays. It is a beloved tradition among families with Hispanic heritage to make tamales on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. This tradition has been around since the early 1900s. However, believe it or not, the origin of the tamale goes back even further.

It is believed that the original tamale was invented in Mesoamerica over 7,000 yearsOpens in a new tab. ago. The early original was quite a bit different than how tamales are made now, though this is partially because the Aztecs would make several different kinds of tamales to serve to their various gods and deities. Some included beans and meat (and sometimes even fungus), and their sweet tamales were made with beans and honey.

It wasn’t until the time of the Spanish Conquistadors that the tamale began its legacy as a traditional Christmas dish. There are now a dozen variations, though some of the oldest, most traditional recipes are both the best tasting and the most complicated. These recipes are generally used most of the time by indigenous communities.

Tamales finally found their way to America in the early 1800sOpens in a new tab. where they were both wildly popular and wildly opposed by governments that hated seeing tamale carts all over the streets of their cities. However, despite best efforts, the tamale craze grew until they could no longer be ignored. This is when all the variations on tamales truly began to come into play.

Nowadays, you’ll find plenty of families out there who are proudly carrying on the tradition of serving tamales at parties, Christmastime, and a bunch of other special events. One such family is the Molina family of Texas. According to their storyOpens in a new tab., the Molina family takes the making of these tamales very seriously, seriously enough that they spend several days working on this traditional dish.

Party table with tamales, strawberry margaritas, and pan dulche bread.
Party table with tamales, strawberry margaritas, and pan dulche bread.

It is not unusual to find a large concentration of Hispanic families in places such as Texas where having friends over to enjoy a few tamales around Christmas is a beloved tradition. Reading stories such as that of the Molina familyOpens in a new tab. will truly help you to understand just how far the tamale has come.

It’s fun to think that such a tasty dish has been around for that long! Now that you know a little more about where the tamale came from, you undoubtedly want to learn exactly how to make them. Below you will find a few different recipes and methods for making tamales ranging from extra-complicated to extra-easy. Hopefully, one of these is right for you!

Making Tamales

If you’re catering for a large event, then easy is probably the way to go here. However, if you also decide you’d like to give the traditional way a try, then more power to you! Here are a couple of different tamale recipes/methods to give a try.

Traditional

Of course, this probably isn’t the most original tamale recipe out there (it’s technically not how the Aztecs made it), but it does echo the method used by Hispanic families early in the 1800s. Here are some basic steps you can give a try and see if you like it (recipe found on Food.comOpens in a new tab.).

The first thing you need to do is cook the pork, which is the meat that is traditionally used in tamales. This is done by using a crock pot or dutch oven to simmer the meat in some water, garlic, and other spicesOpens in a new tab.. This is a process that will take anywhere from two to three hours. Cook it until the pork is tender and can be pulled apart with forks.

Nowadays, you’ll be able to find corn dough or “masa” at most grocery stores and be saved from the trouble of having to make it. However, if you opt for the traditional way of doing things, you’ll have to make your own by using shortening, pork broth, salt, and a masa harina corn dough mixture. Beat the two together and then prepare to fill the corn husks.

The corn husks will need to be soaked for 20 minutes or so in warm water. This will soften them up and make them easier to fill. Once the husks have been soaked, make sure you remove all the corn silk you can find, as they will get stuck in your teeth, and that is never fun. After this has been done, you are ready to fill those husks!

Peruvian recipe for preparing tamales with banana leaves and cornmeal
Peruvian recipe for preparing tamales with banana leaves and cornmeal

Spread some masa on the husk, then top that with some of the pork and sauce. Once you have filled and folded the tamales, it’ll be time to bake! Tamales are customarily steamed or baked, but you can also fry them in oil. A few gluten-free oils include olive oil, vegetable oil, and sunflower oil. However, if you’d prefer to stick with tradition, you can use a dutch oven to steam the tamales for 40 minutes or so. You can either freeze the tamales or enjoy them hot!

Fast and Easy

If you’re pressed for time, you’re looking to feed a large crowd easily, or you just prefer convenience, then the quick n’ easy route is for you. Thankfully, it often tastes just as delicious as the traditional method. (Recipe found on gimmesomeoven.comOpens in a new tab.)

The actual recipe you’ll find is a little different than what you’ll find here. You will need to follow each of the same steps, but if you’re looking to save time, then here are a few tips.

First, you’ll want to purchase corn husks and masa from the store (usually found in the Hispanic section, or you can visit a Hispanic/Mexican food store). This will save you from needing to make the masa yourself. It doesn’t take too long, but it simplifies the process.

This recipe will allow you to be pretty flexible with your fillings and your toppings. There are options here for beef, shrimp, pork, chicken, and whatever else you might want to try. You can also fill your tamales with things like beans, cheese, tomatoes, and any other vegetables you enjoy. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new combinations.

As with the above recipe, you’ll want to bake or steam your tamales for about 40 minutes or until they reach the desired texture. You can, again, fry them if you’d like. It is recommended that you use a gluten-free type of oil so you don’t run the risk of causing a reaction in any of your friends with dietary restrictions.

When your tamales are done, you should also get creative with how you serve them. The tamale on its own is delicious, of course, but why not spice it up a little? Beforehand, you can flavor the masa with cumin or pepper, or any other kind of spice that you might be partial to. When the tamales are ready to be eaten, pile them high with peppers, avocados, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and whatever else.

Tamales with Jalapeños

For further instructions on cooking and preparing tamales, you can visit the above links or FoodNetwork.com. If you’d like to find alternatives, you can simply Google “tamales recipes” and plenty of options will be available to you.

Important Nutrition Facts

If nothing else, tamales are a great option for their nutritional value. They’re not the healthiest dish on the planet, but they’re a delicious way to serve a crowd, especially if, as said above, members of that crowd have specific dietary needs like gluten allergies. Here are some nutrition factsOpens in a new tab. you might want to know:

A single pork tamale has a total of 190 calories per serving. It also contains 21 grams of carbohydrates which beats a lot of other grain-based products out there. Tamales also include 5.3 grams of fat, 1.6 grams of saturated fat, 31 milligrams of cholesterol, 1.8 grams of sugar, 3.7 grams of fiber, and several other grams of vitamins besides.

According to NutritionixOpens in a new tab., this many calories can be walked off in about an hour, baked off in half an hour, and you can run them off in approximately 24 minutes. Thankfully, this is a somewhat healthier option in comparison to many others, however, if you’d like, it can still be made in an even healthier way.

One of the best ways to do this is to make it a vegetarian tamale. Eliminating the meat will lop off a few extra calories and grams of fat that you don’t necessarily need. If you’re interested in taking it a bit further, make sure you always bake or steam and never fry. Reducing that oil will also make for a much healthier choice in the long run.

Side Dishes

Now that we’ve established all that, let’s talk about your party preparations! Yes, we’ve already talked about tamales being a great party food. This is true because they’re easy to make and easy to mass-produce, and best of all, they are gluten-free! The only question left now is what in the world are you going to serve with your tamales?

Of course, rice, beans, and salad are good options. Rice and beans are a Hispanic staple, and it might even feel odd to serve Mexican food without these two things. Salad is optional, but if you’re interested in providing a healthy side, this is one of the best things you can serve with your tamales. However, if you’d like some creative alternativesOpens in a new tab., here are a few ideas!

One idea that may not have occurred to you yet is salsa and eggs (with sausage if you’d like). Who says tamales can’t be a breakfast food? Eggs, sausage, and salsa would make the perfect combo if you’re interested in serving tamales during the a.m. hours. However, eggs can be added for dinner too. Whenever you serve them, eggs and salsa will make a fantastic addition to your Hispanic meal.

Mexican Tamale tamales of corn leaves with chili and sauces

Some prefer not to mix sweet and savory, but exotic/tropical fruit can also make a great addition. Fruit and chili flavors are quite popular as well, so consider using mangoes, peaches, watermelon, or something similar and sprinkling a little chili or cayenne powder on top. It will prove an interesting dynamic for sure.

If you’re a corn lover, you might consider trying another Hispanic favorite: Mexican cornbread. This spicy bread contains a series of hot Mexican spices as well as peppers and cheese. It is most commonly made with sweet corn, so you’ll have the privilege of experiencing a lovely spicy/sweet combination alongside your tamales.

I’ll bet you’ve never sampled avocado soup before, have you? This is yet another fun side you can try creating to go with your tamales. Not only will it provide your party table with a bright pop of lovely green, but it will also make a great dip for your tamales. You can puree your avocados with chicken broth, garlic, onions, and whatever other spices you are partial to.

You can read more about some fun Mexican side dishes hereOpens in a new tab..

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of CookForFolks.com, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

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