Tamales are a standard dish of pre-Columbian, Indigenous origin consumed in most Latin American international locations, from Mexico to Brazil, together with within the Caribbean.

They’re an vital cultural meals. As a Costa Rican, I couldn’t think about going by the Christmas season with out at the least one tamaleada, a convention during which households and associates collect collectively to get pleasure from our long-awaited tamales.

Given how many individuals in so many various international locations eat tamales, the recipe has numerous variations, together with candy and savory choices.

Nevertheless, they’re all made with corn dough, additionally known as masa, and wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf.

This text evaluations tamales, their vitamins, and methods to make them more healthy.

Tamales are a dish made out of corn dough — though some variations might use rice dough — full of a mix of meats, greens, fruits, cheese, and herbs, relying on every nation’s custom.

They’re then wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed as an alternative of fried.

For probably the most half, they’re a special-occasion meals in Latin American international locations, historically reserved for Christmas and New 12 months’s celebrations, however folks additionally devour them year-round.

They originated in historic Indigenous cultures during which corn had sacred that means.

Fundamental substances

The substances, preparation, wrapper, fillings, and dimension of tamales differ relying on the nation and area during which they’re made.

Nevertheless, their fundamental substances usually embrace:

  • corn or candy corn dough, relying on whether or not you’re getting ready a candy or savory tamale
  • lard
  • broth
  • savory fillings like beef, hen, or pork
  • candy fillings like recent or dried fruit

Some recipes name for seasoning the dough with chili or achiote for coloration, whereas others add sauces or toppings equivalent to chili and tomato sauce, cheese, and bitter cream, to call just a few.

Different fillings might embrace greens, herbs, rice, and legumes — or there could also be no filling in any respect.


Tamales are usually made by stuffing corn dough with some meat. Variations might embrace different fillings, equivalent to greens or herbs, or no filling in any respect. Candy varieties are additionally widespread, typically together with recent or dried fruit.

As you possibly can think about, the dietary properties of tamales differ relying on the recipe.

Under is a comparability of two medium (128-gram) tamales, with and with out meat filling (1, 2):

Meatless tamales are a wealthy supply of carbs and fats. In distinction, meat-filled tamales make an entire meal by offering protein as nicely.

Whereas the fats content material of a meat-filled tamale might differ relying on the meat used, each tamales’ fats content material primarily comes from the lard added to the dough — a big supply of saturated fat and ldl cholesterol (3).

Additionally, needless to say including sour cream, cheese, and different conventional sauces and toppings might enhance your tamales’ fats and calorie counts.


Tamales are a wealthy supply of carbs and fat, primarily saturated fats. Including toppings and sauces might enhance your tamales’ fats and calorie counts. Meat-filled tamales make an entire meal by offering protein too.

Tamales present sure dietary and cultural advantages.

Resistant starch

To enhance dealing with and dietary worth, corn is subjected to a therapy known as nixtamalization, which boosts corn flour’s flexibility, firmness, coloration, and shelf life (4, 5).

Throughout nixtamalization, the corn is cooked in a calcium hydroxide answer after which soaked, washed, and floor to acquire the flour used to make dough, tortillas, and different merchandise (5).

Some of the important results of this therapy is that the corn’s starch adjustments in construction, turning into resistant starch (5).

The manufacturing of resistant starch within the nixtamalization course of happens throughout the cooking and soaking steps. Analysis suggests the resistant starch content material of tamales might enhance to 1.6–3.7 instances that of uncooked corn (5, 6, 7).

Resistant starch acts as a kind of fiber as a result of your physique can not digest it. The truth is, as a result of your intestine’s pleasant micro organism can ferment it, it’s thought-about a prebiotic (8).

Among the most studied advantages of resistant starch are its potential to assist regulate blood sugar and levels of cholesterol, enhance intestine well being, and even help weight reduction (9, 10).

Nevertheless, research recommend that the resistant starch content material in conventional nixtamalized corn flour is larger than that of business nixtamalized corn flour.

That is regarded as as a result of variations within the processing strategies, such because the hydrocolloids and gums used as gelling brokers in business nixtamalized flours (7).

Whereas these gelling brokers promote flexibility and power of corn merchandise and scale back stickiness throughout processing and packaging, they sluggish the method that will increase the resistant starch content material (7).

Due to this fact, consuming tamales made with conventional nixtamalization processes might aid you reap the well being advantages of resistant starch (6).

An vital cultural meals

Meals expresses folks’s tradition, identification, values, and life-style (11).

Like many different conventional meals do for various cultures, tamales occupy an vital place in Latino properties throughout household gatherings in instances of celebration.

Thus, tamales are greater than only a dish. They spotlight the significance of cultural meals practices as an integral a part of identification preservation and continuity of Latino communities, particularly amongst migrant populations (12).


Tamales are a supply of resistant starch, which helps regulate blood sugar and levels of cholesterol, enhance intestine well being, and promote weight reduction. They’re additionally an vital cultural meals that helps protect the identification of Latino communities.

The kind of fats folks usually use in tamales is the principle draw back of this meals.

As a result of lard is commonly used to organize the dough, tamales could be a supply of saturated fats and ldl cholesterol.

Though present analysis on the results of dietary ldl cholesterol on coronary heart illness is blended, most research affiliate excessive ldl cholesterol consumption with elevated ranges of complete and LDL (unhealthy) ldl cholesterol (13, 14).

The excessive saturated fats content material of some cholesterol-containing meals can also be a danger issue for coronary heart illness (15).

Whereas ldl cholesterol is important for cell membrane construction and hormone manufacturing, excessive intakes of saturated fatty acids might enhance the chance of atherosclerosis, which is a danger issue for stroke and coronary heart assaults (15, 16).

Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries.

Research recommend that lowering saturated fats consumption by changing it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil might scale back the chance of coronary heart illness by 30% (17).

Thus, subsequent time you put together your personal tamales, think about swapping the lard for vegetable oil.


When ready with lard, tamales could be a important supply of ldl cholesterol and saturated fats, which can enhance your danger of coronary heart illness.

As talked about above, as a result of each nation has its personal model of tamales — and a few international locations have multiple — there isn’t any proper technique to put together them.

Nevertheless, the variations focus totally on the fillings. Nearly all variations contain getting ready the dough in the identical manner.

Easy tamale dough

Right here’s a easy dough recipe that makes about 45 tamales.


  • 8 cups (990 grams) corn masa flour or Maseca, plus additional as wanted
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) desk salt
  • 1/3 cup (70 grams) lard or vegetable oil
  • 6 cups (1.4 liters) hen broth, plus additional as wanted
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) chili sauce for coloration (non-obligatory)


  1. Add masa flour and salt to a giant mixing bowl and mix.
  2. Heat lard in a medium saucepan. Then add lard, broth, and chili sauce (if utilizing) to the flour combination.
  3. Combine along with your arms by working the dough by your fingers, as in the event you’re kneading bread, till it’s easy and sticky however holds its form when pressed collectively.
  4. If the dough feels too dry, add extra broth. In distinction, if it feels too moist, add extra flour.
  5. Unfold the dough onto a corn husk or banana leaf and stuff along with your desired filling.

After this, folks usually roll up the tamales, place them in a pot with broth, and steam them.

Vegan and vegetarian modifications

In the event you’re seeking to make vegan- or vegetarian-friendly tamales, merely swap the lard for canola oil and the hen broth for vegetable broth.

As for the filling, strive including steamed greens, shredded jackfruit with salsa, or bean or chickpea stew as an alternative of beef, hen, or pork.


Good tamales begin with dough recipe, which you’ll be able to flip right into a vegan- or vegetarian-friendly model with a few substitutions. You may as well swap animal-based fillings for steamed greens, fruits, or legumes.

Small adjustments to the standard tamale recipe can result in important dietary enhancements.

Attempt a few of these tricks to increase the dietary content material of your subsequent tamales:

  • Increase fiber content material. Except for the meat, you possibly can add some beans or chickpeas and steamed veggies to the filling to extend the fiber content material.
  • Use vegetable oil as an alternative. Swap the lard for vegetable oil to cut back the saturated fats content material.
  • Select lean meat. Go for lean meats for the stuffing, or take away the seen fats out of your selection of meat earlier than cooking.
  • Use low salt broth. Whether or not you’re utilizing hen or vegetable broth, go for a low sodium model.


To make tamales more healthy, you possibly can add extra fiber to the filling and select lean meats, low sodium broth, and vegetable oil.

Tamales are a standard meals strongly related to the tradition and identification of Latino communities.

When full of the standard pork, meat, or hen filling, they make an entire meal that gives all of the macronutrients and even some resistant starch, which is related to a number of well being advantages.

Nevertheless, they could be a important supply of ldl cholesterol and saturated fats.

Nonetheless, by making some small adjustments, you possibly can enhance your tamales’ dietary worth and even flip them right into a vegan- or vegetarian-friendly dish.

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