Are You Curious If Your Tamales Are Gluten Free?

What is tamales? And why do people talk so much about how labor intensive it could be. You must have also heard some people define its taste being so different from another description. Who is correct in defining the tamales?

For the longest time you wonder how to make one but is unsure if you have it right. Or you are simply a food enthusiast and wanted to try one. Here are some insights.

What is Tamales?

To finally close the book on all the tamales questions, let us first try to answer the biggest question upon which all the next questions rely – what is tamales? Let me shed some additional light to those that have no or less idea.

Not Your Usual Packet of Corn

To give you a base image, imagine a packet of corn dough wrapped in leaf paper with a savory filling. Tamales is this Mexico dish held together in square or rectangular shapes and popular for being forever fresh.

It is hard to imagine tamales when you do not know anything about a Mexican kitchen. Tamales have been a long standing Mexican’s traditional staple food commonly served for breakfast or dinner.

Blame “Nixtamalization"

Tamales began long back when the process of “nixtamalization" started. This is a pre-Columbian way of softening corn (and also other grains) through wood ashes. Nixtamalization paved the way for the boom of “tamalized” food now simply known as tamales.

What are Different Tamales Variations?

Meet the Mexican Variations of Tamales

Variations of Tamales are highly dependent on its geographical locations. Depending on where region you are, you’ll have unique “what is tamales” answers. It also comes in various interesting recipes.

  • In Veracruz –You’ll find tamales season with hoja santa. Heart shaped, hoja stanta is an aromatic herb popular in the region. Tamales here also goes with pork or chicken wrapped in fresh banana leaf.
  • In San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas- In this place it is known as tamales untados. Pork in this place is braised in mole.
  • In Yucatan- If you want it larger than usual you can try tamales in Yucatan. Fillings are chicken and pork but here it is usually baked in oven. There is also a popular seasoning in this region known as achiote. It is a red food coloring from Achiote tree that grows well here.

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Tamales and its Different Fillings

“What is tamales” can also be answered depending on their fillings. They usually are:

  • Meat
  • Chili Peppers
  • Cheese
  • Fruit
  • Or it goes well in some places without fillings too.

Is There a Relation to Gluten and Tamales?

Gluten: Just a Glue-Like Type

Gluten is a collective term for proteins found in grains. It makes food maintain their shape. It is just like a sticky network that holds the food together. The name “gluten” literally comes from glu-like characteristic of wet dough.

Common Foods with Gluten

Gluten is mostly found in the highly consumed food, wheat. But it can also be found on so many other things such as:

  • Pastas
  • Cereals
  • Breads
  • Crackers
  • Beer

Watch out because gluten also is present even to food you don’t expect such as:

  • Soy sauce
  • Cheesecake
  • And even on your Candy bars

Common Foods without Gluten

Gluten is generally okay with many people. But some don’t do well with gluten. It is bad especially for those who have certain bad health conditions such as celiac disease and wheat allergy.

If you are joining the current health, trend (trying gluten free food) and you wonder where in your everyday diet it is not found, note the following:

  • buckwheat
  • corn
  • millet
  • rice
  • chickpea

Masa and Gluten in Tamales

Masa is the main ingredient of tamales. It is produced when Masa Harina is blended with water or oil. Simply put, masa is a dough soaked and cooked. It underwent what was earlier defined as the “nixtamalization" process.

  • Ground Corn Flour that does not Contain Gluten

Masa Harina alone is gluten free ground corn flour. This makes a gluten-free tamales.

  • Ground Corn Flour that Contains Gluten

Sadly, there are other variations of masa harina. Available in the market today are usually masa harina that are blended with other flours, which contains gluten. If you want it gluten free, do not forget to check the labels. “Gluten free” labels are now found in your food products as defined by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Is Tamales Gluten Free?

Surely, it can be! There is a fuss around whether tamales is gluten free or not, since this is made up mostly of corn. Well, gluten free tamales is highly dependent on your flour preference. Make sure to use one that is pure and original or real masa harina and dough.


It may take a lot of practice and experience to make tamales. It’s a little bit complicated as we say. So people opt to order it from restaurants. The down side is you can’t know for sure if these are gluten free or not, if that is a concern.The good thing is sometimes, you don’t really have to mind.

Gluten food is not that big deal to many of us outside illnesses. Gluten is still a protein choice for a well-balanced diet. It is high in protein iron and other nutrients. These are some good points to consider.

Whatever it may be tamales is always a good choice. Whether you want to roll your husk and make something real homemade or order ready made one from your favorite Mexican store, you will never regret a dish like tamales.

How do you prepare your favorite tamales? Share about it in the comments sections below.