Are Tamales Healthy? Nutrients, Benefits, and More

What are tamales?

Tamales are a dish made out of corn dough — although some variations may use rice dough — stuffed with a combination of meats, vegetables, fruits, cheese, and herbs, depending on each country’s tradition.

They are then wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed instead of fried.

Are Tamales Healthy? Nutrients, Benefits, and More

For the most part, they’re a special-occasion food in Latin American countries, traditionally reserved for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, but people also consume them year-round.

They originated in ancient Indigenous cultures in which corn had sacred meaning.

The ingredients, preparation, wrapper, fillings, and size of tamales vary depending on the country and region in which they are made.

However, their basic ingredients typically include:

Some recipes call for seasoning the dough with chili or achiote for color, while others add sauces or toppings such as chili and tomato sauce, cheese, and sour cream, to name a few.

Other fillings may include vegetables, herbs, rice, and legumes — or there may be no filling at all.


Tamales are typically made by stuffing corn dough with some meat. Variations may include other fillings, such as vegetables or herbs, or no filling at all. Sweet varieties are also common, often including fresh or dried fruit.