Do Tamales Have Gluten? (GF Recipe)

Last Updated on January 18, 2022

Today, we’re going to be answering the question: do tamales have gluten? And taking a look at a delicious gluten-free tamales recipe. They’re a favorite at Mexican restaurants and it’s not difficult to see why. But are they safe to consume on a gluten-free diet? Let’s take a look.

What Is A Tamale?

First, what is a tamale, you may be wondering? It’s a Mesoamerican dish, made of dough or masa. It’s often filled with meats, beans, cheese, and vegetables, depending on where you order from or how you make it. Tamales are usually steamed in a banana leaf or corn husk.

Ingredients In Tamales

The ingredients in tamales will vary drastically, depending on where you are and where you’re ordering from. However, the most common ingredients in tamales themselves are:

  • Corn Masa Flour
  • Broth
  • Baking Powder
  • Salt
  • Cumin
  • Lard
  • Corn Husks

The fillings can include anything from:

What Cornmeal Is Gluten Free? Glute...
What Cornmeal Is Gluten Free? Gluten Free Cornmeal Brands
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Rice
  • Cheese
  • Beans
  • Vegetables

These are the most common ingredients, and the list is by no means exhaustive. So always be sure to check what the filling is in your tamales.

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Is Corn Masa Flour Gluten-Free?

More commonly known as masa harina, corn masa flour is flour made from finely ground maize or corn and is naturally gluten-free. However, due to manufacturing methods, it’s possible that the flour may have been a victim of cross-contact.

Cross contact is when a product that does not contain gluten, comes into contact with a product that does contain gluten. This may be due to a range of factors, including harvesting and transportation methods. However, there is a range of gluten-free options available.

Some of our top picks for gluten-free corn masa flour are:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Gold Corn Masa
  • Maseca Gluten Free White Corn Masa
  • Gold Mine Gluten Free Yellow Corn Masa

All of the above are certified gluten-free. This means that each product goes through rigorous testing to ensure its gluten-free status and meets strict guidelines set by the FDA.

Are Tamales Gluten-Free?

Naturally, tamales are gluten-free. The banana or plantain leaves, and the corn husks are naturally gluten-free. However, the filling is often the problem. As the corn masa flour can be too if a gluten-free variety is not used.

The banana or plantain leaves, and the corn husks are naturally gluten-free

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Most fillings are gluten-free, as its usual ingredients such as meat, cheese, and beans. However, pre-packaged tamales that you may come across in your local grocery store will sometimes have gluten added. This is for a range of reasons, including longer preservative life and better-tasting dough.

Always be sure to check the ingredients list of any tamales you come across, no matter how gluten-free they may appear.

Gluten-Free Tamales

While it may be tempting to grab the nearest tamales off the shelf, you need to be vigilant when buying any foods that may contain gluten. If you can find a product that carries a gluten-free claim, or better yet, is certified gluten-free, that is most definitely the best option. Foods that carry these labels are as safe as can possibly be for us.

Gluten-Free Tamale Recipe

Another safe way to enjoy tamales is to make your own! It may seem like hard work, but it’s easier than you might think…it just takes time. 3 hours in fact! Although an hour of that is cooking time. Let’s take a look at how to make your own.

I highly recommend this Gluten-Free Homemade Mexican Tamale recipe from The Spruce Eats. The ingredients you’ll need for this recipe are:

Dough

  • 3 cups of gluten-free corn masa flour (take a look at our picks from earlier in this article)
  • 2 1/2 cups of broth of your choice (although ensure it is gluten-free)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of onion powder
  • One tablespoon of cumin
  • One tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • One cup of lard

Filling and Wrapping

  • 2lb of meat (shredded and cooked)
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • 2 large jalapenos diced
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 diced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of broth (gluten-free, of course)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • corn husks

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Soak the husks for a few hours in hot water. Drain and leave in a colander.
  2. Put the corn masa flour into a bowl and slowly add the broth, mixing as you go. Once mixed, set aside for around 20 minutes. After this time, it should have a playdough-like consistency.
  3. In a separate bowl, add the spices and salt. Beat the mixture and slowly add to the dough until mixed well.
  4. In another bowl, mix the lard at a high speed until light and fluffy. Now add the fat to the dough gradually, while mixing well.
  5. When the mixture is ready, it should sit on a spoon. Add more broth if too thick, or more corn masa flour if too thin.
  6. For the filling, cook your meat as desired and place all filling ingredients into a food processor (don’t over-process).
  7. Add the mix to a pan and cook for around 5 minutes. Add oil if necessary.
  8. Grab a husk and place the narrow end nearer to you. Get around 1/4 cup of your dough and place it in the middle of the husk. Spread the dough into a 4″ circle.
  9. Leave around a 2″ border so there’s space to wrap your tamales.
  10. Bring one of the longer sides of the husk over the dough. Now, grab the narrower end and fold. Create a bundle with the top end still open. Take some twine and knot to seal the top shut.
  11. Place the tamales in a steamer that’s already heated and keep on medium heat for around 75 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  12. Leave to cool, and they’re ready to serve!

Conclusion

Tamales are usually gluten-free, although always be sure to check the ingredients. What’s your go-to tamale filling? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below. Mine is definitely chicken or pork!

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