Masa For Tamales (with masa harina)

If you love tamales but don’t have access to fresh masa from the grocery store, then this post is for you. All you need is a few simple ingredients to make the best masa for homemade tamales.

A large bowl with masa for tamales.

About Tamale Masa

Tamales are all about a good and flavorful masa. Without a good masa, your tamales can turnout soggy, too hard or just plain bland.

In Mexico we make them with with two different types of masa: 1) Prepared nixtamalized corn masa (found at latin stores or homemade) or 2) with masa harina.

Ingredients Icon Graphic.

What Is Nixtamalization?

Nixtamalization is a Mexican tradition the way corn is prepared. The Aztecs and Mayans learned that if they boiled their corn with limestone or ash from the cooking fire, it changed its qualities for the better.

It resulted in softened kernels with enhanced aroma and flavor. The nixtamalization process is also more nutritious since it makes vitamins like niacin already present in the corn available for absorption by the body.

And that’s how fresh masa is made!

Fresh masa is best but…

My number one option for making tamales will always be using fresh masa. But if you can’t buy fresh masa, there’s still hope. For you, there’s masa harina.

Masa harina

This flour is a traditional ingredient in Mexican cuisine. It’s so versatile since it’s more available worldwide and has a longer shelf life that the fresh kind. The dry dough, is made from corn that has been specially treated.

Making masa flour can be a cumbersome task and it’s usually sold ready to use.

Masa harina is used to make corn tortillas, tlacoyos, these Tamales Verdes with Green Chile, Corn and Cheese. and a variety of other Mexican dishes.

Dough in a large bowl and with corn husks on the side.

Masa Ingredients

Are you ready to make the best homemade masa ever? Here is what you will need to get started (it makes 3 lbs & 4 oz of masa):

  • Masa Harina like Maseca. This is the most popular corn flour brand but there are others as well. Just look for one that says masa harina on the bag.
  • Vegetable shortening or lard – at room temperature.
    • Traditionally pork fat it’s used on tamales but vegetable shortening delivers the same consistency without the saturated fats.
    • Don’t use oil. For best tamales you need a solid vegetable shortening or lard.
    • Softened butter may also work as an alternative.
  • Baking powder
  • Table salt – for this recipe don’t use sea or kosher salt as we need a fine grain salt.
  • Broth – Use beef, chicken broth or vegetable for vegetarian/vegan tamales . It should be at room temperature. It should not be hot since it will melt the shortening too fast and it won’t reach the perfect consistency.

***Find the complete recipe with measurements below.

Ingredients in small bowls placed on the counter.
A branch graphic for posts.

How to make masa for tamales

Knead the shortening/lard:

  • In a large bowl, add the shortening/lard and knead with your hands, a hand mixer or a stand mixer.

If kneading by hand, the mixture will take about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the perfect texture and consistency. If kneading with a mixer, beat for 5 minutes on medium speed.

How do you know when the shortening is ready? The consistency will be lighter and clearer.

Knead the masa harina:

  1. When the shortening is ready, add the half of the masa harina, baking powder and salt. Knead/mix to integrate.
  2. When it’s crumbly add 1/3 of the broth and knead/mix until integrated.
  3. Add the remaining masa harina and integrate.
  4. Add 1/3 broth and integrate. Then add the remaining of the broth and knead for another 15 minutes by hand or 6 to 8 minutes at medium power in mixer. If using low speed, beat for 10 minutes or so.

Note: When using a hand mixer, I like to finish the last part of kneading by hand so that I don’t burn the mixer’s motor.

How do I know when the masa is ready?

The final result is very sticky dough. Also test by dropping 1/2 teaspoon of masa into a cup of very cold water. It if floats, it’s ready!

What happens if masa doesn’t float? Just keep kneading for another 5 minutes or until it pases the cold water test.

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Want to make sweet tamales? This recipe for Tamales De Elote is made with fresh corns and are wrapped in fresh corn husks. Give them a try!

Masa for Tamales in a large bowl.

How to make vegetarian/vegan masa for tamales

Fortunately this recipe can easily be made into vegetarian/vegan masa! Use vegetable shortening and vegetable broth to make a delicious masa. The flavors don’t change much when you use these substitutes as the main flavor comes from the masa harina.

Then you can proceed to add your favorite vegetable fillings to make delicious vegetarian and vegan tamales!


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How to Store

  • Fridge: To store prepared masa, place in an airtight container or freezer bags in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Freezer: Place in a tightly closed container or freezer bags and for up to 6 months.
  • Thaw in refrigerator before use.

    The dry masa harina lasts between 8 and 10 months stored in a cool, dark place, such as the pantry, fridge or even in the freezer.
Spreading masa on a corn husk with a spatula.

What is the difference between prepared and unprepared masa?

Prepared masa usually already has been mixed with lard or vegetable shortening, broth salt & baking powder. Just like recipe in this post.

Unprepared masa is usually just the ground corn in a solid form. Then you can add the ingredients to prepare it for the tamales. The unprepared masa can also be used to make sopes, corn tortillas and tlacoyos.

FAQs

Is masa for tortillas the same as masa for tamales?

Yes it’s the same masa. However, preparing the masa for tamales requires a little more work by adding the lard/shortening and broth. Masa for tortillas only requires masa harina, water and salt.

Can you freeze masa for tamales?

Yes you can! Make the masa beforehand and keep it refrigerated in a tightly closed container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months. Thaw in refrigerator before use.

Can masa for tamales be left out overnight?

Masa should be refrigerated if it won’t be cooking in a few hours. Do not leave it out overnight as it will spoil fast. Especially if it has been prepared with the broth!

A large mixing bowl with a spatula and prepared masa dough.

💫 If you enjoyed this recipe I’d love it if you take 5 seconds to rate and review it below on the blog. It’s also super helpful to me and other readers if you share any changes you made to the recipe. I’m so grateful you’re here! 🙏🏼

Print Recipe:

Spreading masa on a corn husk with a spatula.

Traditional Masa For Tamales Dough With Masa Harina

Servings 3 lbs
Ana Frias
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 40 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Learn how to make Masa for Tamales from scratch using maseca. This is a traditional recipe and you'll love the results! Knead the masa by hand or with a mixer.

Equipment

  • hand mixer or stand mixer – optional
3 lbs

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups + 2 Tablespoons Masa Harina (500g)
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable shortening or lard (300g) at room temperature.
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ tablespoon table salt
  • 3 cups broth (can be beef, chicken or vegetable), (750ml) at room temperature.

Instructions
 

Knead the shortening/lard:

  • In a large bowl, add the shortening/lard and knead with your hands, a hand mixer or a stand mixer.
  • If kneading by hand, knead about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the perfect consistency. If kneading with a mixer, beat for 5 minutes on medium speed.

Add he masa harina:

  • When the shortening is ready, add the half of the masa harina, baking powder and salt. Knead/mix to integrate.
  • When it's crumbly add ⅓ of the broth and knead/mix until integrated.
  • Add the remaining masa harina and integrate.
  • Add ⅓ broth and integrate. Then add the remaining of the broth and knead for another 15 minutes by hand or 6 to 8 minutes at medium powder in mixer.

*Ana’s Notes:

This amount of masa makes about 35 tamales depending how thick you make them. 
How do you know when the shortening is ready? The consistency will be lighter and clearer.
How do I know when the masa is ready? The final result is very sticky dough. Also test by dropping ½ teaspoon of masa into a cup of very cold water. It if floats, it’s ready!
What happens if masa doesn’t float? Just keep kneading for another 5 minutes or until it pases the cold water test.

ADD YOUR OWN PRIVATE NOTES

Whenever you come back to this recipe, you’ll be able to see your notes.

NUTRITION

Serving: 0.25cup masa | Calories: 150kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 40mg | Potassium: 2mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g

The nutritional information and US conversions are calculated automatically. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this data. If this is important to you, please verify with your favourite nutrition calculator and/or unit conversion tool.

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Recipe Rating




3 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    There us nothing better than homemade tamales! This masa is spot on. Thanks for the recipe since I never know how much shortening to add. Happy holidays!