Find out in this post what tamales are made of, if they’re gluten-free, and what you need to know about where gluten may hide in tamales.
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Do you love to visit Mexican restaurants and enjoy tamales? Or do you come from a family who makes tamales regularly and wondering how this food fits into your gluten-free diet?
Tamales are a delicious Mexican food that are made of a few ingredients and cooked in a unique way – inside the leaves of bananas or plantains or corn husks.
What many folks love about tamales is that they’re a complete meal in themselves, with a protein from the filling, carbohydrate that holds the filling together, and fat from the lard that is used.
Whether you make them yourself, buy them at the store, or love to order them from restaurants, we’re going to get all your questions answered about how tamales fit into a gluten-free diet.
What are tamales?
Tamales are a delicious Mexican dish of corn dough that’s wrapped around meat, vegetables, or chilis, then wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf. This is then steamed and cooked.
The corn husk or banana leaf is peeled away prior to eating, so you can enjoy the delicious steamed tamale that’s been cooking inside. They’re often served with salsa or hot sauce.
Read on: Gluten-free Mexican food
What are tamales made of?
Tamales are made of masa wrapped around a tamale filling, then covered in corn husk, banana, or plantain leaves and steamed. Tamales can come with a variety of different fillings, like meat, cheese, chili peppers, and even fruit for sweet tamales.
Is masa gluten-free?
Masa, or masa harina, is a dough that comes from ground corn that has undergone nixtamalization. This means the corn is soaked in lime water, cooked, then dried and ground up to a flour that’s used to make tamales or corn tortillas.
Since masa comes from corn and is naturally gluten-free, masa is considered to be a gluten-free ingredient. You’ll want to be aware of how the masa is processed to ensure no cross contamination has occurred on the manufacturing lines.
Read on: Is corn gluten-free?
Read on: Gluten-free Tortillas
Read on: Gluten-free Tortilla Chips
Read on: Do corn tortillas have gluten?
Are tamales gluten-free?
The corn husk, banana or plantain leaves are naturally gluten-free. The filling can be gluten-free, but it will depend on what the ingredients are that are added. Most fillings are gluten-free, but if you’re buying store-bought tamales, review the ingredients list.
Tamales can sometimes contain gluten, depending on the corn flour that is used. Masa harina is ground corn flour, making it naturally gluten-free. Tamales that use pure masa harina are safe for a gluten-free diet.
Tamales are sometimes made with corn flour that contains gluten. You’re most likely to find these tamales in packaged foods from the store rather than if you were to make them at home yourself or even at restaurants.
For prepared tamales, you can review the ingredients list before purchasing to know if there are any gluten-containing grains added to the masa harina corn flour.
Of course, if you are sensitive to gluten even at the trace level amount, like if you have Celiac’s disease, you’ll want to be sure to look for a gluten-free label on the product’s packaging. This will ensure that there’s no more than 20ppm of gluten in the product and is considered safe for someone with Celiac’s disease.
Read on: Is corn flour gluten-free?
Do homemade tamales have gluten?
Many homemade tamales are gluten-free, because they are made with masa harina that is naturally gluten-free. The way to ensure your tamales are gluten-free that you make at home is to not use any gluten-containing ingredients in your recipe.
Use masa that doesn’t have added gluten-containing grains. Use filling ingredients that don’t have added flour or gluten, and are naturally gluten-free like meat, vegetables, and chilis. Be aware of spices and seasoning blends that you add to your tamales for hidden gluten.
Know which sauces are gluten-free and if you make them from scratch, you don’t add any gluten-containing ingredients to your recipe.
Are sauces used for tamales gluten-free?
Depending on the brand of sauce or if your tamales are homemade, you can easily find gluten-free sauces to serve with your tamales.
Mole sauce is traditionally not gluten-free, as it contains thickeners that contain gluten. However, you can easily make adjustments to accommodate for a gluten-free diet.
Mole verde is generally considered safe for a gluten-free diet, as long as the broth used doesn’t contain gluten.
Salsa of most varieties is generally gluten-free both homemade and from the store.
Crema is considered safe for a gluten-free diet, although it does contain dairy. This is something to take into account if you are also following a dairy-free diet.
Are my favorite tamales gluten-free?
If you love tamales and are wondering how you can enjoy them on your gluten-free diet without having to make them yourself, you’re in luck. I’ll also talk about some places you’re likely to find premade tamales, and review some brands as to whether they’re safe for a gluten-free diet.
Are restaurant tamales gluten-free?
This will depend entirely on the restaurant that you visit. It’s in your best interest to ask the server if the masa contains gluten and if there is flour in the restaurant’s sauces or fillings.
Are Costco tamales gluten-free?
The brands that Costco carries continually rotate, so it’s hard to give a definitive answer as to whether all tamales that Costco stocks are gluten-free.
It’s also important to note that brands that Costco stocks may vary from region to region and store to store.
The best and easiest way to ensure the tamales you find at Costco are gluten-free is to look for a gluten-free label and review ingredients lists before buying.
Are Delia’s tamales gluten-free?
According to the Delia’s website, their tamales are gluten-free. This Texas-based company makes tamales that are shipped and packed frozen, so you can make them at home.
Are Trader Joe’s tamales gluten-free?
Trader Joe’s tamales do not seem to contain gluten-containing ingredients, however they also don’t have a gluten-free label.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, be aware that a gluten-free label ensures that the company has tested that there is less than 20ppm of gluten in the product.
I would believe that this product has no gluten, but also that it has a chance of cross contamination with gluten-containing ingredients during processing.
Are tamales dairy-free?
Depending on the filling, tamales can contain dairy or be dairy-free. Most ingredients in tamales are gluten-free, but you’ll want to be aware of any cheese in fillings or dairy in the sauces that you use after the tamales are cooked.
If you follow a dairy-free diet in addition to avoiding gluten, this is what you’ll want to consider before buying or making your own tamales at home.
If you’ve been wondering how tamales fit into your gluten-free diet, I hope this post has given you all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether to eat them.
Remember that tamales can easily be made to be gluten-free, but you’ll want to review ingredients lists or talk to the chef if you’re at a restaurant to be sure. If you make your own tamales at home, it’s really easy to ensure your tamales are completely safe for your gluten-free diet.