How Long Can You Freeze Tamales? The Complete Guide

For some reason, tamales seem to be overlooked when it comes to Mexican food. Burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas always seem to dominate the Mexican food landscape, despite some of them being more Tex-Mex than truly Mexican. But honestly, tamales should get more love than they do. Not only are they extremely tasty, but they’re an important part of Mexican culture as well. 

It’s believed that tamales, which originated in Mesoamerica, have been prepared for between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. Yup! They originated between the years 8,000 and 5,000 BC. And more recently, the Maya and Aztec peoples would prepare them as food that they could eat on the road. Since then, they continue to be an important part of Mexican culture and cuisine and they are still frequently eaten at large gatherings or events. 

So, if you too like to make a large number of tamales due to the somewhat difficult and time-consuming nature of preparing them, you may be wondering how you can store all of them. Well, storing tamales in the freezer is a great option. But, how long you can freeze tamales? You can freeze them for six months. 

Read on for a complete overview of everything you need to know about storing tamales. You’ll also learn the best ways to reheat them after freezing. Let’s get started!

How Long Can You Freeze Tamales For?

You can freeze tamales for up to six months without seeing any changes in the taste or texture.

However, this shelf life is if you make sure to take the proper steps and freeze them properly. By doing this you can enjoy tamales days, weeks, or even months after cooking them. 

How Do Fillings in Tamales Affect Freezing?

Most tamale fillings tend to freeze rather well, assuming that you take the proper steps that it may call for and some can be easier than others.

However, there are some fillings that don’t freeze particularly well. So, you should take this into consideration when freezing the tamales as how well it turns out can depend on what fillings are inside. 

Some of the fillings that don’t freeze well include soft cheeses, creams, or vegetables with high water content. So, you should be wary of the end results if you happen to have any of these items in your filling. 

Freezing Uncooked vs Cooked Tamales

Cooked tamales are generally more commonly frozen than uncooked tamales since it is easier to make a large quantity and freeze the leftovers.

It’s also quicker to reheat pre-cooked frozen tamales after they’ve thawed, which saves a lot of time. Additionally, when you freeze cooked tamales, the tastes from the fillings are frozen at their peak of flavor, so when you reheat them, the taste and texture are very similar to when they were first cooked. 

Masa, which is the corn-based dough that wraps the filling, is both perishable and delicate. When masa dough is frozen, it has the tendency to fall apart, which is one of the main reasons that uncooked tamales aren’t frozen as frequently. 

So, when it comes to actually freezing the tamales, the wrap may come apart and ruin the whole tamale if the masa fails. However, you can still freeze uncooked tamales if you do it properly.

How to Freeze Cooked Tamales

Freezing cooked tamales is the ideal way you should freeze tamales. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of you do it – it’s pretty easy. 

  • First, separate the tamales you want to eat right away from the ones you want to freeze once they’ve been cooked. This is due to the fact that the first stage in freezing tamales is to let them chill.
  • Now, let them cool completely. They should reach room temperature before you do anything further, but this shouldn’t take long – no more than one hour. It’s important that you don’t leave them out too long, though, as this will expose them to bacteria.
  • Then, wrap each tamale in plastic wrap and place them in the container(s) or freezer bag(s) that you plan on using. By using a freezer-safe container you can prevent them from getting squished from other items in the freezer. It also does a better job at keeping smells out. But, they can use a lot of space.
  • Finally, label the bag or container and then place them in the freezer. 

Can You Freeze Tamales in Foil?

Yup, tamales may certainly be frozen in foil. Instead of using plastic wrap to firmly wrap the tamales, use aluminum foil instead. After wrapping the tamales in aluminum foil, place them in a big freezer bag and close them securely.

How to Freeze Uncooked Tamales

As I’ve mentioned, the best way to freeze tamales is when they’re cooked. However, you can freeze uncooked tamales as well. Here’s how to do it:

  • Prepare the tamale filling as you usually would.
  • Depending on your personal preference and whether you have any husks to hand, you can either pack the filling into the husk now or freeze the filling to be added to a husk after thawing.
  • Once you’ve prepped them, and whether you’ve used a husk or not, place tamale/tamale filling into a freezer bag or airtight container. Ensure that there is no excess air in the container to prevent freezer burn.

How to Defrost Tamales

Depending on the cooking method you use to reheat your tamales, you may not actually need to defrost them first.

If you do need to thaw them before cooking, by far the best way to do this is by leaving them overnight in the fridge. By following this approach, you allow the temperature of the tamale to safely increase without running the risk of exposing it to danger zone temperatures.

Best Ways to Reheat Tamales

Now that you know how to freeze tamales, both cooked and uncooked, let’s get into the five best ways to reheat them. 

In a Crockpot

Using a crockpot is probably the best way to reheat tamales. By reheating them in the crockpot you can get the same moist texture and flavor as the day you cooked them. And you can also avoid having to defrost the tamales if you use this method. 

To make tamales in the crockpot, fill it about ⅓ with water and set it aside. Preheat the slow cooker on medium. Place the tamales in the crockpot after removing them from the freezer. Allow it to sit for 8-10 hours.

In a Steamer

Using a steamer is a similar method to using a crockpot but it’s much quicker. But, the speed comes at a price. You won’t get the same results as you do when using a crockpot. 

First, fill the steamer halfway with water. You may add some stock cubes to the steamer to give it a little more flavor if you’d like.

Next, take the frozen tamales from the freezer and put them into the steamer after the water is hot. Exactly how long it will take depends on how many tamales you plan on cooking. The more you put in, the longer it will take. But for four to five tamales it should take about 40-50 minutes. 

In the Oven

Using the oven is another great way to reheat the tamales. You don’t get the same texture or flavor infusion as when you use the steamer or crockpot, however. 

First, preheat the oven to 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, take as many tamales as you like from the freezer. Remove the tamale’s banana leaf or corn husk casing. The tamales should then be rewrapped in aluminum foil or baking paper. Wrap it securely to remove any air from it.

Place the tamales on the rack in the oven after it has reached the proper temperature. Keep them about two to three inches apart to allow the heat to circulate evenly throughout. Tamales should be cooked for around 20 minutes. Flip the tamales every 5-10 minutes.

On the Stovetop

Reheating tamales on the stovetop can give them a nice and crispy texture. 

First, allow the tamales to thaw and then remove them from the husk or wrapping. After that, heat a teaspoon of cooking oil in a pan. Olive oil works well and is safe to use. If you don’t have olive oil, you may use another oil like sunflower oil or vegetable oil.

Cooking oil should be heated for around three minutes on medium heat. When the oil heats up, it begins to smoke somewhat. Place the tamales in the pan and cover with a lid to speed up the cooking time.

Tamales should be cooked for 5-10 minutes. Every two to three minutes, flip the tamales until they are light golden and crispy.

Place them on a dry paper towel once they’ve finished cooking. This will absorb the tamale’s cooking oil. Allow it to settle for about five minutes before eating.

In the Microwave

Using the microwave is the least recommended method and should only be used if you’re short on time as it will dry them out. 

First, defrost the tamales. Then, wrap each tamale in a moist paper towel once it has thawed. When reheating, the wet paper towel will help protect the tamales from drying out.

Place the tamales on a microwave-safe dish, spacing apart. This will allow the heat to distribute evenly throughout the dish. Tamales should be heated for around two to three minutes. If the tamales are still firm, warm them for about two minutes.

How to Cook Frozen Uncooked Tamales

If you’ve frozen uncooked tamales, you have fewer options than their cooked counterpart.

The first method is to allow the tamale to defrost in the fridge overnight. Once it’s defrosted, use a steamer to cook the tamale as you would if it was fresh. Obviously, if you froze the filling separately you’ll need to follow this approach and let the filling defrost before wrapping it in a husk and cooking.

Alternatively, if you froze the tamale already wrapped, you can cook the tamale in the steamer from frozen, without defrosting first.

Can You Refreeze Tamales?

You can refreeze tamales but it’s not recommended to. This is because after the tamale has thawed, it is very soft. And if it’s frozen again, the texture will likely worsen.

So, to avoid having to choose between refreezing them and throwing them away, try to portion them before freezing so you can only defrost what you plan on eating.