Origins of the Tamale
The origins of the tamale derive their name from the Nahuatl word “tamalii,” which means “wrapped food.” No one is certain when and who invented tamales. However, some historians trace it to as far back as 3000 B.C, when the people of the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico hybridized wild grasses to produce what we know today as corn. The cereal grain, eventually gaining significance in the region as a sacred plant and the main source of food in Meso-American civilizations (particularly that of the Mayans and Aztecs), was used to make tamales.
The making and consumption of tamales was well established by the 16th century in the Aztec empire, around which time the Spanish conqueror and explorer Hernan Cortes (c. 1485-1541) arrived in that section of the New World presently known today as Mexico. Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun (c. 1499-1590) mentioned tamales in his compilation of Aztec diet features in his 12-volume history series on the Aztec civilization, “Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana” (“General History of the Things in New Spain”).