Are Tamales Gluten Free? Ingredients To Look Out For

If you’re someone who loves Mexican, tamales are something you have had. If you want to have tamales at home because you love them so much, it might come across your mind to make them gluten-free.


Tamales are a Mexican dish or food which is cooked in a very interesting way – inside the leaves of bananas or corn husks! Too much of Tamales can be unhealthy but what if there are gluten-free tamales available? Amazing right? Well in this article you are going to find that out. 


Are Tamales Gluten-Free?

Let us address the most basic question first – are tamales gluten-free? The corn husk or the banana leaves are surely gluten-free. The filling can be made gluten-free, but only if the correct ingredients are added. Most fillings are no doubt gluten-free in their true sense, but you may want to check the ingredient list first. 

However, Tamales can sometimes contain gluten, depending on the corn flour used. Tamales that use masa harina are safe and gluten-free. Most store-bought tamales can contain gluten but homemade tamales will not contain gluten.

If one is allergic to gluten or has been prescribed by the doctor to not have it like if they have Celiac disease, do look at the packaging of the product before buying. With that being said, let us see the two types of tamales found: 

  1. Homemade Tamales

    Homemade Tamales will generally not contain gluten because when you are making them yourself, the gluten ingredients can sure be avoided. The corn husk or banana leaves will be gluten-free, but make sure that the filling, sauces, and corn flour are too.

  2. Store Bought Tamales

    Many brands make tamales and sell them. Companies that sell pre-made tamales have labels of ingredients used on the packaging. Gluten is a cheap and useful material, that makes foods stay good for a long time so most manufacturers make use of it. But companies that have the gluten-free stamp on their packaging ensure that it is up to the standards.

Gluten-Free Masa

Masa is corn that had been soaked in an alkaline solution to make it gluten-free. Some companies also implement other wheat-based ingredients so that the Masa stays fresh for a long and adds some extra taste.

Gluten-Free Tamale Fillings

Now, what about Gluten-free Tamale fillings? One should know which fillings are free from gluten and which are not. 

Fillings like fruits, natural cheese, veggies, beans, rice, quinoa, and non-breaded meats are gluten-free and can be used in the Tamales as a filling.

Fillings like wheat flour, processed cheese, breaded food canned food, sausages, and pasta are some of the food items which do contain gluten and should be avoided to make for a gluten-free tamale filling

Gluten-Free Tamale Sauces

Tamale Sauce is generally made with gluten-free ingredients, especially when the sauce is homemade. But the store-bought tamale sauces will not guarantee that it is free of gluten. If the sauce has these ingredients, it should be free of gluten –

  • Veggies

  • Garlic

  • Onion

  • Natural Cheese

  • Beans

  • Cinnamon and Chocolate

But make sure to know that if the sauce is made up of all-purpose flour, pork, chicken, sesame seeds, or anything canned, they are not gluten-free.

How Does Gluten Get Into Tamales?

The question is how can gluten get into your Tamales? In this regard, we will discuss two of the methods by which gluten can enter.

  1. Cross Contamination

    Even if the tamales are made without gluten, the transportation and processing from farm to store can cause gluten contamination. There are reasons why this happens – The cornfield is next to a wheat field. Or the corn is processed in a factory where wheat products are also made. To ensure that you don’t consume gluten, make sure to check the labels.

  2. Preservatives Or Additives

    The most common way by which gluten can enter into Tamales is through added preservatives. Some common ingredients are – Hydrolyzed Plant Protein and Vegetable Protein, Maltose, Dextrin, Vegetable gum, etc.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a larger protein, containing two smaller proteins – Glutenin and Gliadin. They are not at all safe for the body. Gluten is most commonly found in wheat products like barley, rye, kinds of wheat, etc. Finding out these ingredients in the ingredient list is more or less simple, but there are now many such food items that find a way to sneak in these items.

What Is A Tamale?

A Tamale is a traditionally steamed corn dough, also known as masa that is cooked within a corn husk. They are the most common Mexican dish after tortillas and burritos. They are a delicious Mexican dish of corn dough that is wrapped around meat, veggies, sauces, and other fillings and then wrapped in a corn husk to steam. The corn husk is peeled off before eating and is served with hot sauce.

What Is Tamale Made Of?

Tamale is made of Masa, which is corn dough. Corn is dried and cooked in water so that the kernel loosens up. The alkaline lime juices help to break down the corn to aid in texture, as well as improve digestion. The masa is turned into a paste with warm water which helps to maintain the shape.

Tamale Sauces

There is a variety of Tamale Sauces which we will now discuss:

Red Chilli Sauce- A chili sauce made of dried chili and some garlic and cumin. They are thrown into the mixer and a fine paste is made which is the red chili sauce.

Mole- A mole is a chocolate-based sauce that is earthy and varies from one region to other.

Verde Sauce- A Verde sauce is a mixture of tomatillos and jalapenos.

Red Salsa- Red Salsa is a mixture of red tomatoes, chili pepper, garlic, onion, and cilantro. It is an extremely flavorful and spicy sauce and can be eaten with any kids of snack like nachos.

Masa Vs Masa Harina

It is a common misconception to use Masa and Masa Harina to describe the same thing. But no, they are unfortunately not the same thing. The masa is ground corn, and the masa harina is when the ground corn is cooked with lime water. This process of cooking the masa makes it more digestible.


Is Masa Gluten-free?

Masa is made of ground corn so yes it is definitely gluten-free. If the Tamale is made of only masa, then it is gluten-free. But sometimes the masa is made up of not only masa but other ingredients as well. Do your checking before finally believing that it is gluten-free!

Are Pupusas Gluten-free?

Pupusas are a simple and delicious mix of masa, water, and salt. So it is a gluten-free dish. If one is buying pre-made pupusas then one must make sure to look at the ingredient list. If there is wheat added to it, then it is not gluten-free. Check the filling of the pupusa too.

Is There Gluten In Corn Flour?

Corn flour is made of finely ground corn. If the packaging says gluten-free, then it must be so. Again, there may be a risk of the corn flour being subjected to the risk of cross-contamination from plants and mills.

Are Tamales Dairy Free?

Tamales are dairy-free mostly. Tamales which are made of cheese fillings might not be dairy free. There is not only a growing intolerance towards gluten intolerance but also lactose intolerance. People who have the problem of both need to be extra cautious whenever they want to have Tamales. The filling is your hands but the tamales, whether or not it is made up of pure corn flour, whether it is cross-contaminated, all are difficult to figure out.

Are Costco Tamales Gluten-free?

Yes, the Costco tamales are gluten-free. It is printed in bold on the packaging. But we would advise checking the ingredient list once more just to be sure.

Are Trader Joes Tamales Gluten-free?

If you normally see the packing of the Trader Joe’s tamales, you would say they are gluten-free as there is no such evidence on the back. 

With the growing demand for gluten-free products, the manufacturers sometimes put up the label “Gluten-free” just to increase sales.

Are Corn Tortillas Gluten-free?

As long as the Tortillas are made of corn only, they are gluten-free without a second thought. If wheat is added to the corn mixture then it is not free of gluten anymore.


With the growing intolerance toward gluten, more and more people are trying to avoid it as much as they can. It is a tough job to lead a gluten-free life, but once it is your habits, the job is done. Living a gluten-free life is beneficial, even though the benefits might not be visible to you at present.

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