Plate of husk-wrapped tamales on a plate
The History Of Tamales, One Of The World's Oldest Recipes
Records suggest tamales may date back 10,000 years, making them one of the oldest dishes still eaten today. They were first made from teocintle, the plant that would become corn.
For ancient Mesoamericans, tamales served a practical purpose. Hunters and soldiers ate them while away from home, and they were eventually served at feasts and religious rituals.
For the Aztecs, tamales were a key part of religious festivals, weddings, and funerals, and they were stuffed with anything from beans to shrimp, deer, rabbit, fish, and frogs.
Although conquistadors tried to quash tamales, the food proved resilient. When the Spanish introduced pigs and cows, pork and beef quickly became popular tamale fillings.
Tamales are also popular throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean, with each region producing unique tamales like the sweet Brazilian tamales called pamonhas.
In North America, native tribes have eaten tamales for centuries, and the food was even absorbed into African American cuisine in the form of hot tamales made of corn meal.
Today, tamales are vital to Mexican national identity, and over 500 types exist like the zacahuil, or "party tamale," which is 1 to 5 meters long and can feed up to 100 people.