Want to know how many types of tamales there are in Mexico and which are the best ones? Read on to learn all about it!
As you may know, Mexico is renowned for its delicious and diverse cuisine, with a vast array of traditional dishes passed down through generations.
One such dish that has become a staple in Mexican cuisine is the tamale, a savory snack or meal wrapped in corn husks.
While most people are familiar with the classic pork or chicken tamale, this delicious dish has countless variations throughout Mexico.
In this blog post, we will explore the many types of tamales found in different regions of Mexico, each with its own unique ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques.
Whether you are a seasoned tamale lover or a newcomer to this beloved dish, prepare to be seduced by the rich diversity of Mexican tamales.
What is a Mexican tamale?
Tamal is a corn-based dough, filled with different types of ingredients, usually wrapped in corn, banana, and maguey leaves.
It is believed that tamales date back to 250 B.C. and in pre-Hispanic times they were cooked for great feasts, to thank the fertility of the land, and as an offering to the dead.
15 most popular types of Mexican Tamales
Although there are over 500 types of tamales in Mexico, I will list the 15 most popular ones. Enjoy!
1. Green tamales
It is impossible to know which are the best Mexican tamales, each one has its own special touch that makes it become the favorite of many.
So let’s start by learning about green tamales from Mexico City.
They are a preparation of corn dough that is filled with pork or chicken and tomato sauce with green chili.
In addition, it is very likely to find the green tamales prepared in an elongated shape, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed.
They are part of people’s diet so at any tamale stand around the city you are sure to find them.
Many accompany their green tamale with cafe de olla, atole, or champurrado made of corn flour but also with a bolillo (a type of baguette) transforming it into a tamale subway better known as “Guajolota.”
2. Chaya tamale
Another type of Mexican-style tamale is the Chaya tamale, very common in the south and southeast of the country.
Chaya is a shrub cultivated since pre-Hispanic times, its leaves are used as vegetables and provide different types of nutrients.
In addition, it is a plant of great importance for gastronomy because it is the base of many dishes in this region.
- In Yucatan, Chaya tamales are served with chiltomate, and in Tabasco with tomato sauce and cream cheese.
- In Chiapas, they are stuffed with pork and served with tomato sauce.
- In Campeche, they are stuffed with pork stew and served with tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds.
What are corundas and uchepos? Both are another way of making tamales in Mexico, they are typical of the state of Michoacán, but at this point, I will only talk about corundas.
Corundas are tamales made with corn dough, mixed with lard, milk or water, and salt, and wrapped in corn cane leaves.
They are of Purépecha origin and have a peculiar triangular shape.
Also, when they are served, it’s common to accompany them with an abundant amount of green and/or red sauce, cream, and grated cheese.
To achieve its triangular shape, put a small amount of dough on one end of the sheet and start rolling it up to form a triangle.
Now continuing with this list of different types and flavors of Mexican tamales, it is time to learn about uchepos.
As I mentioned before, uchepos, like corundas, are typical of Michoacán but they are also found in Guerrero, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi.
To prepare the dough for uchepos, ground corn kernels, milk, sugar, cream, and salt are mixed until the right consistency is achieved.
In Guerrero the dough is made with corn and salt, they are usually similar to corundas because they’re also triangular.
In Guanajuato, they are prepared with milk, corn, sugar, and cinnamon, and in San Luis Potosí with butter, cinnamon powder, corn, cream, and sugar.
Uchepos from both Michoacán and Guerrero are served with green or red sauce and some may be stuffed with pork.
5. Zacahuil: The largest type of tamale in Mexico
Zacahuil is another type of tamale, but not just any tamale, this one can measure up to 5 meters long.
The zacahuil is typical of the Huasteca Potosina and is made with chicken.
It is made with corn dough, pork lard, ground chile, spices, shredded pork, chicken, or turkey meat and wrapped in banana leaves.
Zacahuil is cooked in a wood-fired oven and what I find surprising is that it can take between 10 and 12 hours to cook.
There are two versions of its origin:
It is said that the first zacahuil was made with human flesh from the Mexica leader Huehuetli (as punishment) who had massacred lots of women.
On the other hand, the other version says that it was a food that was prepared as an offering to the ancient harvest gods.
6. Oaxacan tamales
Next on the list of the different types of tamales that can be found in Mexico, is the Oaxacan tamales (my favorites!).
Oaxacan tamales are prepared with corn dough and filled with black mole, green or red sauce, and also shredded pork or chicken.
Their exact origin is unknown, but they are distinguished because they are wrapped in banana leaves and have a rectangular shape.
It is common for Oaxacan tamales to be eaten as breakfast or dinner and to be accompanied by a cup of café de olla, atole, or champurrado.
7. Sweet tamales
The typical sweet tamales from Mexico City are also made of corn flour.
Possibly you already know or have heard about “tamales de dulce” but if you haven’t, it is time for you to learn about this tamale flavor.
Although nowadays you can find many sweet flavors such as cajeta (caramel), blackberry, cinnamon, etc., pink tamales and pineapple tamales are generally called sweet tamales.
Pink tamales are sweet, they are made with corn dough, lard, sugar, and in some cases raisins.
Because a few drops of dye are added, they get their famous pink color, some time ago the color was obtained from cochineal.
Pineapple tamales are also considered sweet tamales, they are prepared with corn dough, pineapple, lard, and sugar.
The tamales de dulce are wrapped in corn husks and have a very good flavor that makes them a favorite of many children and adults.
8. Ayocote tamales
Ayocote is a plant native and cultivated in Mexico from which a kind of beans that measure from 2 cm long is obtained.
Therefore, they are the largest beans that we can find in the country, there are different varieties and we can find them in purple, brown, red, and pinto.
The dough for ayocote tamales is made of corn, lard, and salt, and is filled with ayocotes seasoned with bay leaf, thyme, onion, and avocado leaf.
This type of tamale does not have a specific leaf to be wrapped, in some places they are wrapped in corn leaves and in others in banana leaves.
Finally, ayocote tamales are even offered as an accompaniment to some dishes, similar to a tortilla or bread.
9. Chanchamitos: A dumpling type of tamale in Mexico
Chanchamitos are typical of southeastern Mexico. But why is it called Chanchamito?
The word chanchamito comes from the Mayan “chan chan” which is interpreted as a little ball of bread or stuffed dough tortilla, cooked on the comal.
Therefore, chanchamitos are dumpling-shaped tamales, typical of southeastern Mexico, and the way they are prepared depends on the region.
For example, in Tabasco, the dough is mixed with lard, broth, and achiote, and filled with chicken, pork, or chicken.
On the other hand, in Veracruz, they are known as chan chan and make them with corn dough and their filling is usually chicken and mole.
In Yucatan they are called chanchames, their dough is mixed with pork lard, beef broth, and red sauce filled with pork and chicken in ko’ol sauce.
Finally, the main characteristic is that when they are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, both ends are tied together to form a little oval ball.
10. Tamales Veracruzanos (tamal ranchero)
Another well-known type of tamale in Mexico is the tamale Veracruzanos, so obviously they could not be missing from this list.
As their name indicates, these tamales are a typical dish from the state of Veracruz and some people also know them as tamales rancheros.
They are made of corn dough mixed with broth and lard, filled with chicken or pork meat in ancho chile sauce, green sauce or mole, and hierba santa (sacred leaf).
In addition, tamales veracruzanos are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, although the texture is softer than other tamales.
These tamales are part of the daily diet of the Jarochos (Veracruz natives), you can find them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they are also part of their celebrations.
11. Chicken Mukbil: The favorite type of Mexican tamale for the Day of the Dead
Mukbil is a Mayan word and means buried, in this case, mukbil chicken refers to the way the dish is cooked.
This type of tamale is typical of the Yucatan Peninsula but specifically of Campeche and Yucatan.
Its dough is made of corn with pork lard and meat broth, its filling is a preparation of chicken with pork meat, some spices, onion, and chili.
It is prepared in a mold where banana leaves are spread, a layer of dough is added, the filling, another layer of dough and finally covered with banana leaves.
Finally, the mold is placed in an earth oven which is sealed with firewood and that is where the tamale is cooked, when it is ready it is dug up and ready to be eaten.
Because its elaboration process is laborious, it is only prepared for an important celebration or to place on the altar of the Day of the Dead.
12. Mole tamales
Now it’s time to learn about mole tamales, this flavor is one of the most common in Mexico.
Mole tamales are made in the same way as green tamales, the only thing that changes is the filling.
As with most tamales, corn dough is the main ingredient, and is usually filled with shredded chicken with red mole, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed.
Also, mole tamales are usually accompanied by a bolillo (a type of baguette), transforming them into a famous guajolota, as I mentioned before, a tamale subway.
Vaporcitos are another type of tamales typical of the state of Yucatan, but due to the proximity to Quintana Roo, it is also possible to find them there.
To make vaporcitos, corn dough is mixed with pork lard and filled with espelon beans, chicken, or ground beef.
They are also wrapped in banana leaves and when served they are accompanied by a tomato sauce.
You may wonder why they are called vaporcitos, this is because, like most tamales, they are steamed (vapor).
14. Brazo de Reina: The most “unknown” type of tamale in Mexico
Brazo de Reina (Queen’s arm) is also known as dzotobichayb, a word that comes from the Mayan Ts’o tobil chay and means corn dough with chaya.
The Queen’s arm tamale is prepared with corn dough with chaya leaves and filled with boiled eggs and ground pumpkin seeds.
They are wrapped in banana leaves and at the time of serving it is accompanied by a red sauce prepared with tomato, habanero peppers, salt, pepper, and epazote.
It is called brazo de reina because of the shape it was given since colonial times and it has been adapted to the shape of a tamale.
Since this is a vegetarian tamale, it is commonly consumed during the Holy Week.
15. Rajas con queso (poblano peppers and cheese)
Finally, let’s talk about one of the most popular and beloved types of tamales in Mexico. The rajas con queso!
In the state of Tlaxcala, the corn dough is mixed with lard, tomato peel water, and aniseed.
They are filled with Poblano bell pepper strips, tomato, panela cheese, and epazote.
While in Zacatecas the corn dough is prepared with lard and broth, and filled with poblano bell pepper strips, tomato, cilantro, and Chihuahua cheese.
And in Mexico City, the corn dough is mixed with lard, tequesquite water, and chicken broth.
But its filling is tomato sauce, cheese, and serrano or jalapeño bell pepper strips.
Best types of tamales in Mexico: Conclusion
I think that out of all the tamales available in this country, the tamales de rajas, along with green, sweet, Oaxacan, and mole tamales, are the most popular.
If you get to try and/or cook any of these tamales, don’t forget to share your experiences with us. See you next time and buen provecho!