The Difference Between Delta Tamales And Mexican Tamales

Tamales are absolutely iconic — and for good reason. A steamed corn "cake" of sorts and the trademark husk (which can act as a convenient plate), the tamale is a unique dish that has been cherished for centuries (via Mesagrapevine). As noted by Serious Eats, tamale originated in Mexico, but once "Mexican laborers [migrated] north from Texas" for work, the beloved dish began to take on a slightly different composition and flavor profile. The Mississippi Delta tamale, as it came to be known, is the result of Mexican invention, African American influence, and a unique flavor that is redolent of the American South. 

The Southern Foodways Alliance has formally denoted a particular region in the U.S. as "The Hot Tamale Trail," which has some of the most tried-and-true establishments dishing up Delta tamales throughout the south. The name "Delta tamale" hails from the Mississippi Delta, per Wide Open Eats. While its roots are in Mexico, there are differences between the traditional Mexican tamale and the Delta version.

What differentiates the two types of tamale?

Technically, the original tamale uses masa harina, while Delta tamale oftentimes uses any variation of cornmeal, reports Wide Open Eats. Furthermore, the Mexican tamale is steamed, while the Delta tamale is simmered. The Delta tamale is also sometimes served with the cooking liquid, which essentially becomes a sauce of sorts, while the Mexican tamale is served as is. Of course, there are many other iterations and many modern variations of the Delta tamale that have been developed more recently, including deep-fried tamale or cooked with chili. Mexican tamales may include beans, cheese, vegetables, and varying meats. Southern Foodways also notes that Delta tamale is generally smaller in size than its Mexican counterpart. 

Beyond these variations in ingredients and preparation, the tamales are also quite different visually. The Delta tamale, for example, is usually served with a sauce, while the traditional tamale is served encased in its iconic husk. Also, while traditional tamales can be found at stores and restaurants throughout the U.S., the Delta tamale is quite tricky to find or eat outside of the southern U.S. No matter where you buy it, you can always find a recipe to make at home. There's even a Delta Hot Tamale Festival, an annual celebration of the Delta tamale, that takes place in Greenville, Mississippi. Tamales are popular, and no matter what the variation, the enduring food is sure to be celebrated (and consumed) for years to come.