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Home ยป Are Tamales Gluten-Free?

Are Tamales Gluten-Free?

Tamales can be gluten-free, but it depends on the ingredients you use and how you make them. 

Tamales are a delicious traditional Mexican food made of corn dough (‘masa’) filled with various meats, vegetables, and spices, and then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed until cooked. They are delicious, filling, and comforting meals, which have been enjoyed by the people of Central and South America for centuries. 

Our favorite way to make tamales is using a spiced pork filling, but there are many different ways the budding home cook can use their imagination to spice up their tamales’ ingredients! You can bake tamales or steam them, serving them with guacamole, salsa, sour cream, cheese, or any other delicious accompaniments of your choice.

Two tamales on a plate next to pickled onions and rice.

You can make tamales vegan, vegetarian, and even gluten-free! If you have dietary restrictions around gluten, tamales might be the perfect meal for you.

What Is a Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten intolerance, sometimes called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is when some people feel sick after eating foods with gluten, even though they don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is used in many foods as a binding agent, so it can be challenging to avoid for people with gluten intolerances or allergies.

Gluten intolerance is not the same as celiac disease which is an autoimmune condition that affects about 1% of the population. In celiac disease, even tiny amounts of gluten can damage the small intestine and cause uncomfortable symptoms.

Are Most Tamales Made With Gluten?

While traditional tamales are made with masa, which is made from corn and thereby gluten-free, the answer to this question is not always straightforward. Some commercially-made masa may contain wheat rather than corn flour, so it’s important to check the ingredients before you purchase them.

The filling in your tamales may include trace amounts of gluten, as well. Meat fillings may contain gluten if they have been marinated in sauces that contain wheat or flour. Some vegetable fillings are mixed with sauces that contain wheat or flour, such as tomato sauce or béchamel sauce.

It’s important to note that tamales can also be cross-contaminated with gluten when they are being cooked. If they are cooked in a shared pot or steamer with other foods that contain gluten, then they can become contaminated. If you need to avoid gluten, it’s crucial to make sure that the tamales are cooked in a separate pot or steamer to avoid cross-contamination.

How Can You Make Gluten-Free Tamales?

If you’re looking to make gluten-free tamales at home, it’s easy! Here are some tips for making gluten-free tamales in your own kitchen:

Use Gluten-Free Masa 

Look for masa labeled as ‘gluten-free’ or that only contains corn. Avoid those that contain wheat flour as a filler by reading the ingredients list carefully.

Use Gluten-Free Fillings 

Choose fillings that are naturally gluten-free, such as chicken, pork, beef, and vegetables. If you’re using sauces or spices, make sure to check the ingredients for wheat or flour.

Use Separate Equipment

Use a separate pot or steamer to cook your tamales to avoid cross-contamination from other kitchen ingredients that may contain gluten.

Check All Ingredients Carefully

Always read the labels on all of your ingredients to make sure they are gluten-free.

Final Thoughts

When traditional tamales recipes are followed, tamales are healthy and are usually gluten-free. However, some commercially-made masa may contain wheat flour, so we advise checking the ingredients list thoroughly. 

Also, when cooking tamales, be sure to use a very clean workspace that has not been contaminated with other products containing gluten. And finally, if you’re still unsure, check with a healthcare professional or dietician!

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