How To Reheat Tamales

Tamales are one of the oldest foods to come out of Mesoamerica. There are records of them being made and consumed as far back as more than 5000 years ago, with some anthropologists estimating them to be as old as 8000 years. They are hearty, difficult to prepare, and extremely filling.

As such, they were usually only made for special occasions. They were just too hard to make to eat them all the time Nowadays though, the science of cooking has become advanced enough that we have a different problem: Rather than not having enough tamales, we can have too many. So, how do you reheat tamales?

Tamales can be reheated in the oven, as well as in a crockpot. All you need is some aluminum foil to help them warm up, and about twenty minutes to cook them. The crockpot will take a bit longer, but it can also give them a more authentic texture.

Reheating In The Oven

Reheating in the oven is probably the easiest and most accessible way to reheat tamales (since not everyone owns a crockpot). This is where the aluminum foil mentioned earlier comes in as well.

Begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap the tamales individually in a layer of aluminum, then place them on a baking sheet. Heat for twenty minutes and they will be ready to go when they come out!

The purpose of the aluminum is related to the properties of both the tamale and the aluminum itself. To begin with, aluminum is highly “conductive”. A material’s conductivity determines how much energy can pass through them. Some elements, like gold, are highly conductive of electrical energy.

Aluminum is conductive of thermal energy, and as such can pass more heat into the tamale than the air in the oven would by itself. More heat going into the tamale means that it gets warmer quicker, but in addition to that, it will be cooked more thoroughly than it would otherwise.

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The big thing you have to watch out for when reheating leftovers is cooking them all the way through. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends food be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. A layer of aluminum wrapping will help ensure that this happens.

Luckily, tamales are so starchy and corn-based that they are uniquely good at retaining heat. This means that they are pretty conductive themselves, and will be pretty easy to heat. All the same, give them twenty minutes. Just to be safe.

Reheating In A Crockpot

To reheat your tamales in a crockpot, begin by setting the crockpot temperature to high. Place the tamales in the crockpot and sprinkle some water on them. Do not worry too much about overdoing the water—the crockpot will keep them from getting soggy as long as you do not submerge the tamales.

Leave the tamales in there for about an hour. It will take a while, but it will make a huge difference in the quality of your tamales. Making tamales in a crockpot is different than making them in an oven because where an oven uses pure heat, a crockpot also uses pressure to “cook” the food inside.

This makes crockpots different, but not that different from ovens. The outcome is, eventually, the same: Cooked food. Pressure and heat have a strong relationship in the field of physics, and one can frequently be used in place of another in a chemical reaction. Heat, however, has a side effect pressure does not: Burning.

Crockpots can, technically, burn food. It is possible. But it is not as probable, whereas in an oven it is almost an expected outcome if you make a mistake.

Earlier, it was mentioned that food should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees (170 degrees if you want to play it safe). Crockpots still do this, but they do it without the risk of burning the outer layer of the tamale. It takes longer, but that is the tradeoff: They do not burn the outside, but they take a while to cook.

Which Is Better: Oven Or Crockpot?

This question is in some ways easy to answer. The crockpot is better if you want your tamales to taste as if they were just made fresh. Because they will be cooked all the way through without burning, they will also be cooked more evenly. This will help their texture feel natural. It will also help them keep their flavor.

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Reheating tamales in the oven will not always deprive them of their flavor, but it is a possibility if you leave them in the oven for too long. The issue comes when you dry them out, as much of the flavor of many foods will be found in the juices secreted by the ingredients. It is wrong to call these secretions “grease” though.

These juices will oftentimes be made of the oil the food is cooked in, but they are not the wasteful byproduct that the word “grease” implies. The juices given off by tamales, in particular, are where most of the flavor and nutrients of its ingredients end up after the heat of cooking and reheating have separated them out.

This is yet another reason to choose reheating by crockpot over reheating by oven. But this does not mean that reheating by oven is completely without merit.

The biggest advantage that reheating in the oven yields is time. You do not always have an hour to slowly reheat your tamales by crockpot. Ovens are genius inventions because they respect your time.

More to the point, not everyone has a crockpot, or the money to get one. It is hard to find an apartment that doesn’t come with an oven at this point in history. So, in just about every way, reheating tamales in the oven is more convenient. Really, it comes down to preference for that reason.

You will not be deprived a life changing experience if you reheat your tamales in one rather than the other, so do what works for you.

Are Tamales Safe To Reheat?

Yes, most of the time. Tamales can contain a wide variety of ingredients that keeps their shelf-life from being set in stone. There is a good rule of thumb, and that is derived from the United States Food and Drug Administration’s directives stating that leftover food should be consumed within four days of storing.

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If you want to be properly safe, lower this by a day if your tamales contain any sort of meat. There are plenty of tamales that contain no meat at all, and those should be safe until the end of the four day limit. Any long than that however, and whether they are safe to eat or not, they will not taste good at all.

The reason for any food having a shelf life in a freezer is that once a food is cooked, even if it is sealed in an airtight container it is vulnerable to colonization by bacteria. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended four day limit is a product of bacteria’s tendency to multiply.

After four days, bacteria goes from multiplying steadily, to being able to explode in population. The reasons for this are not important, as there is really nothing you can do to stop it from happening besides simply eating the food before it happens.  

In Conclusion

Tamales are a Mesoamerican food with a long history. That history is somewhat shrouded in mystery however, as they were never the symbol of a noble house, nor the centerpiece of a widely recognized celebration.

Rather, they were used to celebrate personal victories. Child birth, weddings, things of that nature. As such, they are a food of the people. They are made to give energy, taste good, and be made from commonly found ingredients. And just like many foods of the common person, they are delicious when reheated.

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