Where Did Tamales Originate?

Tamales keep and travel well, so they can be prepared in advance.
Tamales keep and travel well, so they can be prepared in advance. (Image: yelo34/iStock/Getty Images)

Though tamales are strongly associated with contemporary Mexican cuisine, these masa wrapped dumplings actually date back to pre-Columbian times. They have changed throughout the centuries and reflect the impact of many wars. Their corn and wheat flour wrappings are a testament to the fusion of cultures that resulted from the meeting of the Aztecs and their Spanish conquerors.

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Cultural Fusion

Spanish bakers who had come with the Conquistadors used wheat flour, while natives were using flour from the locally available corn. The tamale may have been a blend of European and Mexican styles, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s tamales were still classified as a Mexican food, and, depending on location, social class, and even time of day, they were often considered inferior to foods of European tradition. The tamale may not have been a high class food, but the upper crust still enjoyed its unique taste. While they did not prepare them at home, even the Mexican nobility ate tamales when they were out and about.

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