Mexican tamales are traditional Mesoamerican dishes made from masa (corn dough) that are filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, or vegetables, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and then steamed until cooked.

Tamales have been enjoyed in Mexico for hundreds of years and are now a beloved staple in Mexican cuisine. Tamales are made by combining corn dough with other ingredients like meats, cheeses, vegetables, spices and sauces.

The mixture is then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed until cooked through. Tamales can be served as a side dish or as the main course of a meal.

The great thing about tamales is that they can be filled with whatever ingredients you want to make it uniquely yours. You might find them stuffed with chicken and cheese, beef and chiles, or even fruit fillings like mango-pineapple! They can also be sweet or savory depending on how you choose to prepare them.

History of tamales

The history of this tasty treat is as diverse and rich as its flavors. Tamales have been around for thousands of years, making them one of the oldest prepared foods in the world.

The origins of tamales can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. The first known recipes date back as far as 8,000 BCE! Back then, these delicious treats were made from corn dough filled with meat or vegetables and then wrapped in either corn husks or banana leaves before being cooked over an open fire or in hot ashes.

Today, tamales are still famous throughout Latin America – each region has a unique version that varies in ingredients and cooking methods.

Types of Mexican Tamales

  • Tamales de Elote (Sweet Corn Tamales) – Made with fresh corn dough and often sweetened.
  • Tamales Verdes o Rojos – Filled with green or red salsa, often featuring chicken or pork.
  • Tamales de Rajas – Filled with strips of chili pepper and cheese, sometimes with a tomato-based sauce.
  • Tamales de Dulce (Sweet Tamales) – Sweetened with sugar, colored pink, and sometimes containing fruits or raisins.
  • Tamales Oaxaqueños (or Tamales de Mole) – Wrapped in banana leaves, filled with mole sauce and meat.
  • Tamales de Cambray – Sweet tamales filled with raisins and anise.
  • Tamales de Ceniza – Containing ash, giving them a distinctive flavor, traditional to some indigenous communities.
  • Tamales de Puerco – Filled with pork in a red chili sauce.
  • Tamales de Pollo en Salsa Verde – Chicken tamales with green salsa.
  • Tamales de Frijol – Filled with refried beans, sometimes flavored with chili.
  • Tamales de Chipilín – Containing chipilín leaves, typical in the southeastern region.
  • Tamales de Guajolote – Turkey tamales, often served with mole.
  • Tamales de Iguana – A specialty in some coastal regions, containing iguana meat.
  • Tamales de Pescado – Fish tamales, common in coastal areas.
  • Tamales de Calabaza – Filled with squash or pumpkin, sometimes sweetened with piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).
  • Tamales Colorados – Characterized by their red sauce, often with a spicy kick.
  • Tamales de Quelites – Made with wild greens or herbs.
  • Tamales Yucatecos – Another variety wrapped in banana leaves, distinct for their annatto seed seasoning.
  • Tamales Nejos – Made with a base of corn dough and lard, typically served during festivities.
  • Zacahuil – A giant tamale made in a pit oven, filled with pork or turkey, popular in Huasteca region.
  • Tamales de Elote Tierno – Made with tender young corn, often sweeter and more delicate.
  • Corundas – Triangular or pyramid-shaped tamales typical of Michoacán, often served with cream and salsa.
  • Uchepos – Similar to tamales de elote but specific to Michoacán, made from fresh corn.