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All About Mexican Tamales

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From Battles to Birthdays

In the Aztec society, women were taken to battle as cooks for the army.  Portable, yet sustainable food was needed and so tamales became the choice that they could make ahead of time and warm up as needed.

Tamales originally were cooked by burying them in hot ashes to brown and crisp them, then the Aztec women figured out that they could steam the tamales in underground pits or in uncovered pots and if the tamales stuck to the bottom of the pot, this was believed to be good luck and protection from the dangers of the battleground.
tamales Mexico

Over the years, tamales have changed in shape and size and the wrappings and fillings varied.  Cornhusks, tree bark, avocado and banana leaves and even fabric were used in wrapping the tamale.  Today, “masa” hominy flour dough is spread on a corn shuck and used to wrap the tamale.

A lot of time and preparation goes into the making of tamales. In today’s   society, many families will make tamales at holidays because many family members and friends gather and can work together, like an assembly line. Preparation usually takes a day or two and the actual steaming and making of the tamale can take all day.  Tamales are generally made in large batches due to the intense work that goes into them.

This food that was generally only known to the Aztecs have become very popular to all cultures in today’s society, but they are not called tamales by everyone, different regions have different names.


Nigaraguan Tamales

Tamales Have Been Around

  • Nicaragua-Nacatamal
  • Guatemala-Peaches and Chuchitos
  • Ecuador-Humita
  • Columbia-Bollo
  • Cuba, Mexico-Tamal
  • Michoacan, Mexico-Corunda
  • Veracruz, Mexico-Zacahull
  • Venezuela-Hallaca

Tamales in Costa Rica vary by the season.  The “tamale mudos” are generally served during festivities throughout the year, while sweet tamales are eaten during Holy Week.

“Tamales Salternos” eaten in South America and made with shredded lamb or pork head.  “tamales jujenos” use mince meat  , corn and red peppers.

In Peru, “humitas” are made with raisins, vanilla, sugar and oil, or the salty versions here are made with cheese or chicken and are cooked in the oven.

Guatemala has several varieties of tamales, some popular ones include “tamales de gallina” made with chicken  “tamales dulces” are a sweet tamale  “tamales de elote refers to the type of corn pastry.  Tamales made with corn flour are considered a special treat in Guatemala.

In the Phillippines,  a popular form of tamales are made of dough from ground rice and filled with chicken or pork, but unlike other countries, peanuts are added in the mixture and sometimes wrapped in banana leaves.

Panama considers tamales as a main dish, and the size of the tamales a fairly large.  Pork is used along with fillings such as raisins, onions, tomato sauce and sweet peas. Another type of tamale in Panama is “tamales de olla” which they cook in post and serve directly onto plates.

There are many variations in the making of tamales, as well as a lot of myths associated with tamales, and many countries still mark sacred occasions with the tamale making ritual.

On we have the right recipe for every occasion – Click below and find the Authentic Tamale Recipe as they make it in Mexico!

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