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Why Are Tamales Mushy? Reasons & How to Fix it!

Why Are Tamales Mushy?

There are several different styles of tamales that originate in Mexico, Central, and South America.

Tamales are made from masa and a variety of filling that is then steamed in a wrapping such as a corn husk or banana leaf.

The uncooked tamales are then steamed.

While they are steamed, they should never be mushy or soggy once cooked. So what makes your tamales mushy and how do you fix the issue?

Why Are Tamales Mushy?

If your tamales are mushy, the wrapping is usually the cause. If you do not properly wrap your tamales and go to steam them, the masa will end up absorbing too much moisture. Make sure that you are not filling your tamales too much. Too much filling will prevent you from being able to tightly wrap them. Cooking time can also affect the texture of your tamales. They take a while to steam. While it may be tempting. Taking your tamales out early will result in them being mushy. When cooking your tamales, you should stick to the cooking time.

Why Are Tamales Mushy?
Why Are Tamales Mushy?

What Goes Into Tamales

One of the most common variations of tamales that we usually see in the United States is the Mexican version.

The dough that you use to make the tamales is called masa harina.

While hearing the word ‘dough’ makes many people think of flour, this is an entirely corn-based mixture.

You can also have a variety of fillings, from meat to vegetarian options. If you are making meat, you cook it beforehand.

All of the fillings are mixed with a chili mixture, which is dependent on the region in which your tamales are based.

When constructing your tamales you need a husk or casing. You then spread the masa across it and add a filling in the center.

Always keep in mind that you need to be able to wrap the filling within the masa and the casing.

While tamales aren’t a food that is known for having a crispy texture, when they are mushy or soggy, they are unappealing.

Do not fill tamales too much or else they might become mushy
Do not fill tamales too much or else they might become mushy

Masa Harina

While you can find masa harina dough in some grocery stores, many people prefer to make their own.

This gives you more control over the level of moisture and elasticity. If you plan to mix your own masa harina dough, you need to get dried masa harina.

Although it is a dried corn product, if you get cornmeal, you will not have the same end result.

Tamales need to be wrapped correctly so they do not become mushy
Tamales need to be wrapped correctly so they do not become mushy

How to Wrap Tamales

If you are using corn husks for your tamales, you cannot just use them as is. When you purchase corn husks from the grocery store, they are dried.

In a bowl of water, make sure that your corn husks are completely covered and allow them to soak for around two hours.

This process gives your corn husks the ability to wrap your filling without cracking.

Once your corn husks are hydrated, remove them and pat them dry with a paper towel. You don’t want any added moisture.

When adding your tamale filling, you want to spread the masa harina evenly, this prevents it from cooking unevenly.

You then want to add just enough filling that it can still be covered by the masa harina.

Pull the sides of the corn husks together in a fold that makes sure that the filling is inside of the masa harina.

You don’t want to see anything coming out of the husk. Fold the edges down and then place the folded edge down to steam your tamales.

Do not take tamales out too early when steaming them as they can become mushy
Do not take tamales out too early when steaming them as they can become mushy

Why Time Matters

Like with anything, cooking time matters. Steaming is a process that is designed to slowly cook the food to allow the release of more flavor.

When steaming your tamales, if you do it for too short of a time, your result will be undercooked masa.

You will know that your masa is undercooked because it will have a mushy and doughy texture.

You want to have your tamales be solid when you unwrap them from their casing.

If you are using corn husks, a common tell to look for is that you can see the lines of the corn husks on your tamales.

You want to steam your uncooked tamales for one to two hours.

If they’ve already been cooked, to properly reheat them, you should steam them for around 15 minutes.

Not cooking your tamales long enough isn’t the only way that you can end up with mushy tamales.

If you steam them for too long, your masa harina will overcook and break apart. This allows for moisture to seep into your tamale and will cause it to be mushy or soggy.

If you are using corn husks you need to hydrate them before use
If you are using corn husks you need to hydrate them before use

Filling Can be Tricky Too

Your tamale filling can have a big impact on whether or not your tamales are mushy. Because you are steaming them, there is often the misconception that the filling should not be cooked prior.

However, if you do not cook the filling enough, then you will find that whatever meat you have selected has released extra moisture or fat during the process.

Filling that hasn’t been given enough time before being filled into your masa dough will cause your tamales to be mushy.

Cooking your filling in a chili mixture before adding it to the masa allows the filling to absorb more of the flavor.

What this method is intended for is to add more flavor and spice to your tamales. While you can add sauce on top of your tamales, that is not the traditional method, so you want the filling to have a good flavor and less moisture or fat.

If you pick a filling that is high in fat content, such as pork or beef, a little extra time on the stove can remove more of those fats. You should also drain your filling before adding it to your masa dough.

Frequently Asked Questions About Why Are Tamales Mushy

Can you put raw meat into your tamales?

You should not put raw meat into your tamales. Not only will the added moisture from the meat cooking make your tamales mushy, but it is also difficult to fully cook the meat filling without burning the outside of the tamale.

Can I fix mushy tamales?

If you’re concerned about your tamales being mushy, check one first. If you open the husk and it is mushy inside, you’ll want to continue steaming it.

Conclusion About Why Are Tamales Mushy

When it comes to cooking your tamales, if you have mushy or soggy tamales, it usually comes down to either the wrapping or the filling.

If your tamales are not wrapped properly, too much moisture can get into the wrapping and will result in soggy dough.

The filling will also affect your tamales’ texture.

If you have a filling that hasn’t had the fat cooked out, or has too much moisture, that will absorb into the dough.

While you don’t want dry tamales, you also don’t want them to have too much moisture.