If you’re like me, you love a good tamale. Originating in Mexico, tamales are popular around the world because they’re easy to make, easy to store, and delicious. However, some people are left guessing when it comes to figuring out how long tamales will last before going bad. The short answer is that it depends. There are many factors to take into account such as what’s in the tamale, how it was cooked, and how you’re storing it. Let’s take a closer look at these factors and see if we can figure out the best way to store tamales and how long they last when stored properly.
Take Into Account the Ingredients
I know you probably already know what a tamale is, but let’s refresh our memory anyway. A tamale is made from corn flour masa dough that’s filled with other ingredients and then wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk. Some of the most common types of tamales include pork tamales, chicken tamales, vegetarian tamales, and cheese tamales. Sometimes fruits are used to make sweet tamales as well. Honestly, you can put whatever you want in a tamale and the banana leaves are optional.
The point here is that what you’re putting into your tamale can affect how long it will stay good. As a general rule, meat tamales will go bad faster than fruit or cheese. Chilies, on the other hand, will likely stay good longer than most other ingredients. Since most tamales are made with a variety of ingredients, you have to take into account the ingredient that goes bad the quickest. Even so, there are other factors to consider in addition to the ingredients themselves.
Cooked vs Uncooked Tamales
Surprisingly, whether or not a tamale is cooked or not has no major impact on how long it will last when it’s being stored properly. However, an uncooked tamale will go bad much faster at room temperature regardless of how it is stored.
A good way to remember how long tamales are good for under most circumstances is the 4-1-6 rule. Tamales are good for 4 hours left sitting out, 1 week in the refrigerator, and 6 months in the freezer. Just remember if the tamale is uncooked it will go bad in about an hour if it’s sitting out at room temperature.
Storing Tamales for Maximum Freshness
Just because a tamale hasn’t expired yet doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. This is especially true if you stored it improperly. This being the case, let’s go over several ways to store your tamales so that they last longer and taste better.
Storing Tamales the Refrigerator
There is more to storing tamales in the refrigerator than just throwing them in there on a plate and hoping for the best. Using an air tight bin is your best bet, but you can use a ziplock bag or plastic bag with a vacuum sealer as a reliable alternative. Any air-tight plastic container works really.
If you don’t have access to an airtight container, just wrap the tamales in plastic wrap or put them in a plastic bag. While this method may not seal in the flavor like an air tight bin or bag, wrapped tamales should remain safe to eat for about a week. Remember, this applies to raw tamales as well as cooked tamales.
Storing Tamales in the Freezer
If you want your tamales to last as long as possible like I do, then storing them in the freezer is a good idea. In fact, storing tamales in the freezer using a vacuum sealer can keep them from going bad for close to a year in some cases. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, then using an airtight freezer-safe container is the next best thing. You can also use plastic wrap if you have no other options.
The important thing to remember is that your freezer itself can play a big part in determining how long your tamales last. If your freezer isn’t keeping a consistent temperature, the tamales can frost over and/or develop freezer burn. The best way to prevent this is to make sure that your tamales are sealed in an air-tight container to prevent oxidation and dehydration. Even so, issues with your freezer can shorten a tamale’s lifespan by a couple of months or more in some cases.
Storing Tamales at Room Tempurature
Sometimes it is necessary to store tamales at room temperature temporarily. This could be for a variety of reasons such as keeping cooked tamales fresh before eating them or keeping uncooked tamales safe before cooking them. Regardless of the reason, you have to take this seriously because they will go bad very quickly most of the time, especially if they’re uncooked.
The easiest way to store tamales at room temperature is to just wrap them up in a plastic wrap. It doesn’t necessarily have to be air tight, but if you’re worried about flies or other bugs getting on them, then it might be a good idea. You can also store them in a plastic bin if you’d like, or put them in a device such as an instant pot, microwave, pressure cooker, or oven. Just don’t forget about them.
Storing Large Batches of Tamales
When it comes to storing a large batch of tamales you have to take a few things into account. Firstly, uncooked tamales can become damaged if a ton of them are stuffed into a single container. For example, if you shove a dozen tamales into a plastic bin or wrap them all up together, some of them may become crushed or misshapen because of how fragile uncooked tamale dough can be.
The best way to store large batches of tamales is to put them in small groups. This will allow you to wrap them more tightly if you’re using plastic wrap and/or a sealing device. When storing your tamales in a bin, this strategy will prevent them from crushing one another. Of course, if they’re cooked, you have a bit more freedom when it comes to storing leftover tamales since they won’t be damaged as easily.
Reheating Leftover Tamales
We’re not going to get into how to cook raw tamales since I’m sure you probably already know that. Instead, let’s go over how to reheat tamales so that they taste as good as possible. As you probably know, how you store your tamales can have a big impact on how fresh they are and how they need to be reheated. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the best reheating methods for cooked tamales.
Reheating Tamales in an Air Fryer
If you have an air fryer, it is one of the easiest ways to reheat tamales. Place the tamales on the airfryer basket and heat them for 10 to 12 minutes at 375ºF/190ºC. If your tamales have been stored in the fridge or at room temp, just decrease the cooking time a bit so that you don’t burn them.
Reheating Tamales with a Steamer/Instant Pot
You can also use a hot steamer/instant pot to reheat tamales as well. Just add a cup of water, place the tamales in the steamer basket, and set the device for five minutes. Keep in mind that frozen tamales may need 10 to 15 minutes and extra water.
Reheating Tamales in the Microwave
While reheating tamales in a microwave is even faster, it isn’t the best method since it can dry them out. You can counter this problem by wrapping each tamale separately in a damp paper towel. Sometimes cornhusk wrappers are also used. In any case, heat the tamales in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes and throw them in again if they need more time. If your tamales are frozen, you can use the microwave’s defrost option or let the tamales thaw in the refrigerator first.
Reheating Tamales in the Oven
Reheating your tamales in the oven is somewhat of a last resort. This method tends to dry them out like the microwave and it takes much longer since you need to preheat the oven and flip the tamales halfway through. If your tamales are frozen, be sure to let them thaw in your refrigerator before reheating them using your oven. Also, make sure that you wrap your tamales in tinfoil before reheating. The tamales should be heated for 10 minutes, flipped over, then heated for another 10 minutes.
Getting The Most Out of Your Tamales
If you love tamales as much as I do, then you hate seeing them go to waste. This is especially true if they’re homemade since it would be a shame to waste all the time and effort that went into making them. Always make sure you have a proper way to store your tamales before making/purchasing them so that you can store them for longer and enjoy them when you’re in the mood.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that reheating a tamale that’s gone bad will make a difference. A bad tamale is a bad tamale and no amount of reheating is going to fix it. If your tamales smell bad or have visible mold, just throw them out and make or buy some more. Tamales are awesome but they’re not worth getting sick over.