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Home ยป Where Do Tamales Originate From?

Where Do Tamales Originate From?

A good Mexican tamale recipe is a staple in every Latin American household. And as much as everyone enjoys its delicious flavor, it’s equally beloved because of its rich history and its ability to bring people around a shared tradition. 

Tamales date as far back as 10,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, where Toltecs and Olmecs prepared them as easy-to-carry meals for warriors and hunters. Although they’re not currently the exact same as the version made at the time, they’ve stood the test of time, adapting through the years.

A tamale on a plate with the corn husk unwrapped.

The Origins of Tamales

Evidence of tamales can be seen as early as 8,000 to 5,000 B.C. The exact history isn’t clear, but historians believe that the dish started with the Olmecs and Almecs, and was later adopted by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations who later even held festivals and rituals revolving around it. 

The word ‘tamale’ comes from the word ‘tamalli’ in the Aztec Nahuatl language. It means ‘wrapped food,’ which coincides with how early hunters and warriors would carry the dish on their journeys because they’re conveniently portable. They could carry them alongside their spears and knives. Plus, being wrapped allowed them to be reheated before consumption. 

How do you eat tamales? You simply remove the wrapper, then enjoy the dough and the filling inside! In early iterations, tamales were cooked over hot ashes in a buried fire. They contained available plants and animals, such as squash, beans, turkey, frog, and even salamander. 

When the Spanish conquistadors took over Mesoamerica, they influenced changes in the original recipe and method. Through their influence, tamales became more flavorful through the introduction of lard and seasoned meat; tamales were also now steamed in pots and pans.

During the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920), tamales played an important role as the food of the masses. The meal sustained revolutionaries as they fought against the Federal Army. This solidified the dish into a national food, which Mexicans and Latin Americans carried as they moved around the world and introduced to different cultures.

Tamales Today

Tamales continue to be significant to Mexican and Latin American cultures today. They’re typically featured on special occasions, like the Day of the Dead and New Year’s. 

When is tamale season? It’s typically in December, during Christmas time. Tamales are often reserved for these events because they take a lot of work to prepare. Because of this, making them also turns into a fun activity for the whole family. 

There is a great variety of tamales today–there are countless combinations of wrappers, dough, and fillings, with ethnographers counting up to forty-two different kinds. You can also mix and match accompaniments, like sauces, to complement your tamales.

Authentic Tamales Recipe from Savor the Best

Although tamales are often served on special occasions, you can enjoy them whenever you want! With a great recipe, you can easily cook up some delicious tamales on a free day. Try Savor the Best’s easy-to-follow tamales recipe for when you’re craving this history-rich dish!

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