do tamales contain gluten

Tamales are a beloved traditional Mexican dish that consists of masa (a dough made from corn) filled with various ingredients such as meat, cheese, or vegetables, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. But for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, a common question arises: do tamales contain gluten?

The Ingredients of Tamales

To determine if tamales contain gluten, we need to examine their ingredients:

  • Masa harina: The main ingredient in tamales, masa harina, is made from dried corn kernels that have been treated with an alkaline solution, known as nixtamalization. This process transforms the corn into masa, which becomes the dough used to make tamales. Masa harina is naturally gluten-free, as it is simply corn.
  • Fillings: The fillings of tamales can vary widely. Popular options include meats like chicken, beef, or pork, as well as vegetarian options like cheese, beans, or vegetables. These fillings are typically gluten-free.
  • Spices and seasonings: Spices and seasonings used to flavor tamales might include ingredients such as cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, or onion powder. However, these individual spices are usually gluten-free.

Based on the ingredients commonly used in tamales, it appears that they are generally gluten-free. However, it’s essential to remain cautious, as cross-contamination is always a possibility.

Cross-Contamination Risks

While tamales themselves may not contain gluten, the risk of cross-contamination exists, especially in commercial kitchens or when purchasing pre-made tamales. Here are a few potential sources of cross-contamination:

  • Shared equipment: If tamales are prepared in a kitchen where gluten-containing products are also made, there is a risk of cross-contamination. Shared equipment or utensils can inadvertently transfer gluten to the tamales.
  • Corn husks: Corn husks are used to wrap tamales, but it’s possible for them to come into contact with gluten-containing substances during storage or preparation.
  • Fillings: While the fillings themselves may be gluten-free, it’s important to check for any added gluten-based ingredients like soy sauce or modified food starch.

To minimize the risk of gluten cross-contamination, individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease may consider making their own tamales using certified gluten-free ingredients and ensuring separate kitchen equipment is used.

Gluten-Free Tamale Alternatives

If you can’t find or make gluten-free tamales, there are alternative options to consider:

  1. Plantain leaves: Instead of using corn husks, some traditional Latin American recipes use plantain leaves to wrap the tamale, providing a different flavor and texture.
  2. Cassava flour tamales: Cassava flour, derived from yuca roots, is a gluten-free alternative to masa harina that can be used to make tamales.
  3. Other Latin American dishes: Explore other Latin American cuisine options that are naturally gluten-free, such as arepas, pupusas, or empanadas made with gluten-free ingredients.


In summary, tamales themselves are typically gluten-free, as they primarily consist of masa harina and fillings that do not contain gluten. However, cross-contamination is a potential risk, so individuals with gluten sensitivities should remain vigilant, particularly when consuming commercially made tamales. Making gluten-free tamales at home or exploring alternative Latin American dishes can be a wonderful way to enjoy these delicious treats without worrying about gluten.