Freshly made tamales are delicious, but cooking them from scratch isn't always an option. Luckily, we found some pretty tasty frozen ones. Since tamales are traditionally steamed, many tamales will also microwave well. Specific directions differ by brands, but most recommend wrapping the tamale in a damp paper towel to help with the cooking process and to keep the masa moist. All of our favorites also gave directions for steaming, if desired.
Credit: Illustration: Christina Harrison Text: Daniel Boone

Taste Test Winner:

Trader Joe's Beef Tamale

Perfectly seasoned, shredded beef wrapped in moist corn masa is what made this tamale the unanimous favorite. One tamale is packed full of meat providing a lot of "bang for your buck" food-wise. Serve with a green salad to make a meal or enjoy one as a hearty snack. $2.49 for 2 tamales

Calories 240; Fat 13g (sat 2g); Protein 12g; Carb 26g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 0g; Chol 15mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 670mg; Calc 60mg

Others We Liked:

Trader Joe's Handcrafted Sweet Corn Tamales

Sweet corn kernels and masa are the predominant flavors in this vegetarian tamale. Most loved the creamy cheese and corn filling, but if you're not big on sweet corn, this may not be the tamale for you. $2.49 for 2 tamales, vegetarian

Calories 210; Fat 13g (sat 3g); Protein 6g; Carb 21g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 7g; Chol 15mg; Iron 1mg; Sodium 410mg; Calc 150mg

Trader Joe's Handcrafted Chicken & Cheese Tamales

The shredded chicken is well-seasoned and plentiful, and the tamale has a generous amount of cheese. Overall, we loved the taste; we just wish the tamale was a little bigger. $2.49 for 2 tamales

Calories 240; Fat 11g (sat 2.5g); Protein 6g; Carb 27g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 1g; Chol 15mg; Iron 1mg; Sodium 680mg; Calc 60mg

Things to Look For:

  • Saturated Fat: Tamales with both cheese and meat can be high in saturated fat, so check the nutrition facts. We found plenty of meat and cheese-based tamales with ⪯ 7g saturated fat.

Tamale Size: The size of tamales varies greatly among brands. Check the serving size, and make sure the tamale size or numbers of tamales per serving is worth the calories.

Gluten-Free: Masa is a corn-based dough which makes tamales typically safe choices for those needing to avoid gluten. However, check the label if you're sensitive since ingredients may have been added or made on machinery that's come in contact with gluten.

How We Tested

Only frozen foods that met Cooking Light’s nutrition guidelines were tested. Products were eliminated based on the following: lack of calorie and/or protein adequacy, lack of whole grains, presence of trans fat or hydrogenation, presence of significant added sugars, and presence of artificial coloring or sweeteners. All frozen foods were cooked according to package directions and taste tested by a panel of Cooking Light editors and staff. To ensure consistency, Breville microwaves were used to cook all foods.