Guatemalan Tamales – Tamales Guatemaltecos

Guatemalan Tamales Video (scroll down for recipe)

Part two in my Christmas Around the World series! Christmas in Guatemala, focus on: TAMALES!

Guatemalan tamales are quite different from the Mexican tamales you may be more familiar with. These tamales are wrapped in banana leaves for one thing, which imparts a grassy floral scent, and they are two or three times larger than tamales made in corn husks. One of these tamales is probably enough for a meal on its own!

These are fairly labor and time intensive, so I suggest you plan to spend half a day making them. The sauce (recado) must be made first — it’s a thick, mole-like salsa of tomatoes, chiles, pepitas and sesame seeds — and you can make it a few days ahead of time if you like, to save time on the Day of Tamales. The masa for these is thinner than that used in Mexican tamales and the fillings are typically pork or chicken with additional touches of capers, olives, raisins, bacon, and bell pepper. You can customize them as you like.


guatemalan tamales

Guatemalan tamales are hard to picture naked

Guatemalan Tamales Recipe — Printable!


Guatemalan Tamales – Tamales Guatemaltecas

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4.8 from 18 reviews

  • Author: Hilah Johnson
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: 10-14 1x


  • For the Salsa Colorada:
  • 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 guajillo chiles
  • 2 ounces pumpkin seeds
  • 2 ounces sesame seeds
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon achiote (annatto) powder
  • 1 ounce of lard
  • 1 pound lean pork, cut into strips
  • For the Masa:
  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 6 cups water or broth
  • 1/2 cup lard or butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Fillings:
  • Sliced green olives
  • Capers
  • Thin slices of (roasted, peeled) bell pepper
  • Raisins
  • Banana leaves, about 2 pounds, and/or aluminum foil sheets


  1. Make the salsa first. Place tomatoes and garlic all on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until very roasted. (if you want to roast your bell pepper for the filling, halve it and roast it now, too)
  2. Toast the dried chiles on a heavy skillet for a few seconds until fragrant. Cut out stems, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  3. In the same dry skillet, toast the seeds and cinnamon stick for a few seconds until nutty. Put into blender container.
  4. Pulse a few times to make a coarse powder.
  5. Now add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, soaked chiles (discard the soaking liquid) and half a cup of the chicken broth. Blend. Add more broth if necessary to make a thick, smooth salsa. It should be about the consistency of a milkshake.
  6. Strain through a fine sieve and put into a pot with the meat strips and simmer about 15 minutes (or longer if you like) to cook the pork
  7. For the masa, combine the masa harina and water in a large pot. Use a whisk to remove lumps. Bring to boil, stirring, then simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Add the lard, oil, and salt. Stir and cook over low heat another 10 minutes. It should be about the consistency of porridge. Set aside.
  8. Cut the banana leaves into squares about 12×8 inches. Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves one at a time for about 45 seconds each. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  9. To fold tamales:
  10. Lay a banana leaf on a clean flat surface. Plop about 3/4 cup masa into the center of it. Top that with about 1/4 cup of the salsa and a piece of pork. Arrange any other fillings you like in the center of the masa and spoon a little more salsa over the top. Fold the side closest to you over the masa, and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself so that you end up with a long, skinny rectangle. Fold one long end under, then pick up the package like an ice cream cone and give it a little tap to get filling settled. Fold other long end over. Set aside
  11. (If banana leaf cracks, wrap the package in a sheet of foil.)
  12. Line a very large pot with the imperfect banana leaves and add about an inch of water. Stack tamales inside, seams down.
  13. Cover tightly and steam for 1.5 hours.
  14. Cool and serve

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Other Guatemalan Recipes


This radish salad might be a nice accompaniment to the tamales.

Tres Leches Cake

Pastel de tres leches is claimed by many Latin American countries and is often made for special occasions, such as Christmas.


This video (in Spanish) demonstrates a dessert made from ripe plantains. They are boiled in their peels with a cinnamon stick for 15-20 minutes, then peeled and mashed into a puree. The filling is pureed black beans, sugar, cinnamon and occasionally chocolate that is cooked together then cooled. Shape the plantain “dough” with oiled hands into discs about 1/3″ thick and 4-5 inches across. Fill with a small amount of the beans and fold over, pressing to seal the beans inside and form it into a torpedo shape. Fry in hot oil until browned on all sides. Once crisp, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sugar!


  1. Medini on December 11, 2013 at 4:33 am

    While using the banana leaves, hold the rough side (or the back side) to an open flame for about less than half a second and move fast till you cover the entire leaf. It will slightly change colour, and it will not tear. I am from Bangalore, South India, and in our cuisine we use banana leaves quite often 🙂

    • Hilah on December 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      Thank you, Medini! I will try that next time! Seems a little easier and more water-wise 🙂

      • Kristina on December 4, 2016 at 4:05 pm

        That is what i do for the banana leaves as well. I also make my masa out of rice since i learned how to make tamales when i was in Huehuetenango.

        • Hilah on December 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm

          Interesting. Thank you, Kristina!

        • Sandy Bernstein on December 10, 2016 at 1:47 pm

          Yes. Rice flour is more authentic. I learned from a grandmother from Quetzaltenango. We did sweet and red tamales for Christmas.

          • Cheryl on July 17, 2019 at 7:57 pm

            Do you have the recipe for the Christmas tamales ?they are the best thing I have ever eaten, they were from Quiche’, chicken with a red sauce

          • Erick Racancoj on January 6, 2022 at 9:22 am

            Not sure If there’s something else more authentic than corn in Guatemala. There are a few options when it comes to tamales such as corn tamales, rice tamales and potato tamales, sweet and salty tamales (made from corn and rice I think). I’m from Guatemala and don’t recall the rice tamales flavour since I was so young. But anyways! Guatemalan tamales are so yummy in my tummy!

        • Cynthia Rosen on December 28, 2016 at 3:17 pm

          Yes, it is rice. That is the most fabulous part of the tamales from Guatemala. Amazing, almost slightly gelatinous texture using the rice.

          You can do make the rice flour by putting the rice in a food processor or blender. Grind to a medium fine. Like large grains of coarse sand.

          You can throw some corn flour in to help with the cohesiveness. Example: 3/4 cup rice flour (you make) and 1/4 cup masa flour.

          If you use store bought rice flour it will be too fine and your tamale will have a mush texture. You want to have the rice still recognizable.

          Good luck! Yum!

          • Hilah on December 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

            Thanks, Cynthia!

        • David on November 20, 2017 at 7:15 pm

          Hey Kristina….how do you make your masa with rice?

      • Anthony on October 20, 2018 at 12:56 pm

        Hey hilah! Quick question how much water do I put in the pot too mix it with the masa? And how much masa do I put? Also my sauce is really smooth is that good?

        • Hilah on October 21, 2018 at 8:20 am

          Hey Anthony, the recipe card has all the measurements. And yes, the sauce should be smooth

        • Candi on December 24, 2021 at 4:29 pm

          When using rice, the dough should be shiney and pretty thick. Like hard to stir thick. As far as how much broth…I boil a whole chicken, then when it is fall apart tender I strain out all the chicken and use the broth for the dough. Usually is about 1/2 a stock pot. Once I have my broth I add a ton of lard so that the rice will cook better. When it stops absorbing the lard and is shiney, the dough is ready. I also boil a pork butt roast and then pull the meat out and use the pork broth to boil potatoes to make a potato dough. I make both potato and rice tamales every other Christmas. My sauce is a bit different and my filling. The sauce varies really family to family. For the filling I shred both the chicken and pork together and heavily season with garlic powder, onion powder and salt. The salt gets absorbed into the dough so if you don’t salt enough it will be bland. I use a slice of thin bell pepper and a plum for filling. So it goes Plaintain leaf (banana leaves have a different taste), dough, meat, slice of pepper, plum and then sauce. Then stack in pot and steam. I also line my pots with the plaintain leaf scraps. I also trim my leaves prior to soaking in hot water (like boil water and pour over leaves in the sink amd let them soak). The leaves have a hard spine at the top so that has to be trimmed so you can fold them. I cut about an inch down from the spine, maybe 2.

  2. Larry Johnson on December 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Well, that’s a very fine wrap.

  3. Emily Roberts on January 4, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Very informative! You are too funny! My husband says your recipe is accurate.

  4. James on February 10, 2014 at 2:31 am

    I was introduced to Guatemalan tamales by a coworker who’s mother makes them for Christmas. One bite and I was in love!

    • Hilah on February 11, 2014 at 10:23 am

      I hope you try making them yourself some time, James! Better yet, have your coworker’s mom come over and show you. 😉

  5. Maria on August 26, 2014 at 2:25 am

    Hi Hilah, I’m from Guatemala and I found your tamale recipe pretty much spot on. The consistency of the masa looks a lot like that of the tamales my grandmother makes, and so does the color of the recado. One advice though, next time you make them try adjusting the proportions of masa vs salsa when you assemble them. The ones we eat here are about 40% recado and 60% masa (a LOT of recado). But either way, good job!! These are hard to make.

    • Hilah on August 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Thank you so much, Maria! It’s really good to hear I was close with these tamales. That makes sense, too, since I always had quite a bit of recado left over. It’s so good, I just ate it on rice, though 😉

    • Ashley on August 2, 2020 at 5:50 pm

      My hubby is from guatemala and he loves these tamales, but he agrees they need much more sauce.

  6. Melissa on August 31, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Thank you SO much for posting this recipe. My husband is from Guatemala and we have always adored the tamales. We have to drive 2 hours to be able to buy them.
    We will be attempting to make these this year!

    • Hilah on September 1, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Oh fantastic, Melissa! I hope y’all have fun making these. The banana leaves can be unwieldy and a little frustrating so be sure you’re both in a good mood before you start 😉 and have some snacks and drinks ready. It’s kind of a long process, but definitely rewarding! 🙂

  7. Ronnie on October 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Hello, I married into a Guatemalan family and fell in love with the food immediately. I’ve always been told that are labor intensive but still want to make them. I will be trying your recipe as they look very much like what I’m used to. I love to cook and have impressed the family with my own recipes but this is sure to grab attention. Having said that, not only does your recipe seem accurate but you were fun to watch and made it less intimidating for sure. I love the occasional crap or ass that slips out! Thank you

    • Hilah on October 25, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Thank you, Ronnie! Please follow up if you can and let me know how your relatives approve of this recipe. 🙂 Guatemalan tamales are a little more work than Mexican tamales, but totally worth it.

    • Beth on February 8, 2022 at 3:21 pm

      Ronnie, I also married a guy from Guate and love the Guatemalan style tamales. I have found the best way to learn is from the family if possible. My mother in law was a fantastic cook and I helped assemble them with her and the family.
      That’s the best way to really learn how to make these.
      ***A Note for the banana leaves***
      if you place them in boiling water for about 30 seconds to 1 minute it softens them so they’re not so hard to fold around the filling. Buen Provecho!!!

  8. Charles on November 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Hello; The name is RellenitOs, not rellenitAs :o}

    • Hilah on November 29, 2014 at 10:47 am


  9. Lilian on December 29, 2014 at 3:19 am

    Hi, Im from Guatemala, I did tamales once with my grandma… I live now in Australia and was looking for recipes… I cant find achiote… do you know another name for it, and the other thing is can you write down the name of the Chiles instead of chile Guaque? Please!
    Then… I hope I can find banana leafs.
    Thank you very much… and I will send you a picture of my tamales if you want to! 😀

    Very pleased that you like our tamales 😀 <3
    all though our recado is a little bit red, not orange, but maybe is the effect of the other chiles… even do I love the effort to wrap them in banana leafs… really makes a big difference! Thank you, thank you!!! God bless you big time!

    • Hilah on December 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Lilian!
      Annatto is another name for achiote. I don’t know another name for the guajillo chiles, but you could maybe substitute dried New Mexico or California chiles, or cascabels. You might have to order them online from a spice shop. I’ve heard from other people in Australia that chiles are hard to get there.
      Also check the frozen section of the store for the banana leaves.
      Hope you make them and please send me a picture!

      • Karla on December 23, 2016 at 11:39 pm

        Hello Hilah
        Try looking for chile cascabel y chile pasilla. Banana leaf will be in produce most of the time. I also mix maza & a 3rd portion od rice flour.

        • Hilah on December 25, 2016 at 5:44 pm

          Thanks, Karla!

  10. Juan Carlos on December 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Hi I was born in Guatemala and I have been in the US for 45 years and sadly all the old recipes are being lost as the older generations pass away. Your video inspired me to learn how to make them and pass on this tradition to my kids. Great job. Thanks.

    • Hilah on December 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

      Hi Juan Carlos,
      I’m so glad this recipe inspired you! Have fun making them with your kids and please let me know how they compare to the ones you grew up on in Guatemala.

    • Christina L Ramirez on December 23, 2020 at 10:53 am

      You can purchase a book online called Cocina Guatemalteca by Catalina Figueroa vda. de Balsells
      It has all the authentic recipes and is in Spanish. I use it all the time to make my husbands favorites from home.

  11. Connie on December 31, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hello, just wanted to thank you for the tamale recipe. My husband is from Guatemala and he tried making them last year for Christmas. they didn’t turn out so well. I used your recipe this year and made mesa tamales and potato tamales with it. my husband was overjoyed and thought they tasted as good if not better than home. If you can find a recipe for Paches, which is potato tamales. you should try them. they are wonderful. again thank you and happy New Year.

    • Hilah on January 1, 2015 at 10:41 am

      Wonderful! I’m so so happy about this, Connie. 😀 I’ve never heard of potato tamales, so thank you for telling me about them!

  12. Rosie on February 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Made the RELLENITOS and my Guatemalan husband said “I’ll never tell my mom this, but yours were better”. I used abuelita chocolate. The hardest part was the plantanos sticking to my hand while in torpedo shaping mode. I sprayed Pam on my hands each torpedo;). Once they cooled they disappeared! I never even had time to sprinkle the sugar. Next will be the tamales. Thanks for making me look like a rockstar! Rosie

    • Hilah on February 11, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Hooray, Rosie! 😀 Great tip about spraying your hands to help shape them.

  13. Jose on April 13, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Hello, when my Aunt visited from Guatemala she would make tamales & she did 3 different type one from harina, one from potato, & one from rice. I really love the ones made from potato. unfortunately she does not visit as often as she did. I’m go to try your recipe with my wife and later try substituting the harina with the other two. thanks

    • Hilah on April 17, 2015 at 8:49 am

      Let me know how the substitutions go, Jose!

  14. Angela Baldwin on May 30, 2015 at 4:38 am

    It was hard finding a recipe for these but you made them look fun and easy to make! Your video was so fun to watch. I loved the happy Christmas decor. Great video. Thanks so much!

  15. Dalia on June 13, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Nice job. Ive only tried these tamales made by rice, masa is an interesting addition.

    • Hilah on June 13, 2015 at 7:41 am

      I would like to try that. I think I’ve also seen recipes for making these with potatoes, too.

  16. lizzie on December 23, 2015 at 3:27 am

    It’d be amazing if you are awake this early. I’m about to make these but I realized you talk about Annato in the video but the recipe doesn’t have it listed! 🙁 how much do we put in?? And already in a powder or in the little seed form?

    • Hilah on December 23, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      Oops! It’s a teaspoon of ground achiote

  17. Karen Gonzalez on December 19, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Hilah, we’ve made these two years in a row now and we love them! We thought we’d lost our beloved tamales because none of us knew how to make them, but your recipe is perfect and spot on, just like the ones we had in Guatemala. Thank you so much. They are perfect!

    • Hilah on December 20, 2016 at 7:36 am

      That makes me SO HAPPY, Karen! 😀 Truly. Merry Christmas!

  18. Judy Velez on December 21, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Hello Hilah! Where did you get your enamel pots with the handles?

    • Hilah on December 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Hi Judy! I got it at Fiesta Mart in Austin. Around this time of year, they are pretty commonly found at Mexican/Latin American grocery stores because they are perfect for tamales!

  19. Kim on December 23, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Just curious for the Tamales how long do you cook the meat in the sauce?

    • Hilah on December 25, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Kim, just cook until it’s done. Pork strips should only take about 15 minutes simmering

  20. Lisa Prague on December 27, 2016 at 1:47 am

    I am SO excited to find this recipe. I was sharing a holiday memory from over 10 years ago with a friend and decided I needed to do some research on the web. My son was born in 2004, and I was lucky enough to have a doula come into my life from Central America (I sadly don’t remember which region) to help out after he was born. She invited me to make tamales with their family that year. It was a festive all day affair with many people helping. The main things I remembered were the raisins and the banana leaves, so that is how I started my search. Your recipe sounds pretty similar! One interesting thing their family did was to soak the raisins in red wine before adding them to the tamale. Not sure if I will take these on this year, but I have added your link to my holiday cooking file and hope to try them out at some point!

    • Hilah on December 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Hi Lisa!
      I hope you try making these tamales some day. I bet your son is old enough now to be a good helper! 🙂

  21. Emma Lavilla on November 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    I’m married with a man from Central America and for years I’ved been trying to cook Tamales but I can’t get it right.
    I found your recipe I tried to cook it was delicious my family & friends like it … so I’m giving you 5 stars . Thank you!

    • Hilah on November 12, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Hooray! That is great to hear, Emma 😀

  22. Shelly on December 21, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    HEllo o was just wondering I bought the frozen banana leafs so I was woudering do i unthaw then prior to soaking the or do keep them frozen and then soak them for a minute thanks

    • Hilah on December 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      Just thaw them. They should be soft enough to fold the tamales once they are thawed. If not, you can dip in boiling water briefly.

  23. Shelly on December 22, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Thank you hilah happy holidays hopefully I can pull these tamales and tres leche cake off ?

  24. Lene Tome on January 4, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    How many carbs are in this?

  25. Ethelmae Palmer on August 14, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    enjoyed reading all these blogs i am an eighty 83 yes women whose once dated a spanish man in my 50s they asked to come over an maybe i would like to make tamales for Xmas with them i being a white lady and always like eating the tamales but never making any sure i said so i did and i loved loved loved making them it was like when little girl in Los Angeles, ca i use to make mud pies in the mud and dryed in the sun the musa in my hands was fun fun fun the spanish family was glad i came cause i spread musa all day wish i could that time over probaly both times MUD and MUSA

    • Hilah on August 15, 2018 at 7:30 am

      I’m so happy this recipe brings back sweet memories for you, Ethelmae

  26. Jaymee on October 29, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Hello Hilah, I made tamales a few times and learned from a guetamalan family. These are great the only thing I did different was soaked 8 oz of rice over night and ground that up and added to the masa. The other thing I did was use a grinder for the spices so that way u have more sauce and u can skip trying to strain it. I also boiled my tomatoes garlic and peppers for 20 minutes instead of roasting… It really is quick. The only problem I have is my banana leaves are tearing, someone told me to boil them for ten minutes but I have read some of the comments I have an electric stove so I can’t catch them with the flame

    • Hilah on October 29, 2018 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you Jaymee for those tips!
      About the banana leaves, if you buy them frozen and then thaw them out they will be much more pliable than cooking fresh ones.

  27. Christina L Ramirez on December 23, 2020 at 10:54 am

    You can purchase a book online called Cocina Guatemalteca by Catalina Figueroa vda. de Balsells
    It has all the authentic recipes and is in Spanish. I use it all the time to make my husbands favorites from home.

  28. Josefina on December 26, 2020 at 8:12 am

    These sound pretty good. I’m from Guatemala, we do the sweet ones. Add the abuela chocolate, tomitillos,use the canned plum tomatoes a onion.we lightly cook the seeds and the peppers then grind all. Then strain all. We use prunes. Raisins. Whole green olives and extra sauce when assembled.The masa we use is lard.salt.1 cup rice flour to 2 cups masa ( white rice flour can be found in a bag).. cooking and stiring till good.some corn husks some banna leaf…any way any tamale version is Amazing. Enjoy

  29. Jackie Ramirez on November 25, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    Soooooo happy to find this recipe! I was intimidated at first but decided to try and make tamales since they are delicious and my whole family loves them. I’m saving this recipe to use again and again! My Guatemalan family was very impressed with how they turned out! I skipped the cinnamon, capers, olives and what not only because we don’t care for those fillings. I used pork ribs for the meat and added slices of broiled red bell peppers.
    I ran into a few issues while making them so when they turned out fabulous I had to pat myself on the back big time!
    Wondering if I can use the leftover sauce?? I think I’m ready to make more!
    Thank you so much for sharing and explaining things!

  30. Sasha on November 29, 2022 at 10:53 am

    Hi there. How much oil do I add to the masa? I don’t see it listed in the ingredients. Thank you.

  31. chris on December 19, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    Excellent except the masa in the tamales I had in Guatemala was much creamier — they had the consistency of mashed potatoes. I used shortening instead of lard; next time I will at least double the shortening to 1 cup to achieve the creamier consistency.

    I wasn’t able to get full banana leaves so I used parchment paper and added 3/4 tsp anise to the masa harina. Anise has a similar taste to the flavor imparted by banana leaves.

    When I was in Guatemala I heard that some make tamales with rice flour and others with potatoes instead of masa harina as others have noted. However, I never got the chance to try these.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe as Guatemalan tamales are very distinct from other types of tamales. Guatemalan food is extremely underrated and definitely little known outside of Guatemala.

    • chris on February 20, 2024 at 9:36 am

      i agree

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