How much do Tamales cost?

Last Updated on May 19, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Tamales are a popular food in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. These savory corn dough delicacies wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves have been part of festive meals and celebrations for centuries.

But with so many varieties of tamales and places to buy them, how much do tamales cost?

This article provides an in-depth look at the costs associated with different types of tamales from various sources. We’ll break down the expenses that go into homemade tamales, compare prices from vendors and restaurants, and explore why some specialty tamales command higher prices.

You’ll also find useful tips for saving money on your tamale purchases and making tamales affordably at home.

How Much Do Tamales Cost?

Tamales cost anywhere between $1.50 and $15 depending on several factors, out of which, one of the most important is the ingredients used. Homemade or restaurant, the fillings, and components usually influence the price of tamales to quite a big degree. Here’s a look at cost ranges for different kinds.

Traditional pork, chicken, or beef tamales: The most common. From $1.50 for homemade up to $3 from vendors.

Gourmet tamales: Specialty meats, cheese, sauces, and ingredients push cost to $4 – $8.

Vegetarian tamales: No meat keeps ingredient costs down, but smaller demand means still $3 – $5.

Sweet fruit tamales: Made with sweet corn masa, fruits, and sometimes chocolate or cream. A special treat at $4 – $6.

Vegan tamales: Dairy-free masa and plant-based fillings mean costs of $4 – $7 per tamal.

Large event or wedding tamales: Bigger size, fancy presentation, and custom ingredients can be $8 – $15 per tamal.

You might also like our articles about the cost of cheesecake, crepes, or Baklava.

Frozen tamales: Save on labor by buying frozen. The cost is $35 – $60 per dozen.

So traditional, meat-filled tamales tend to be cheaper, while specialty diets, ingredients, sizes, and decoration add to the price.

Everyday Fun Finds notes that Costco Del Real Foods Pork Tamales are priced at $18.79 USD for a bag containing 15 tamales​.

Shopping with Dave mentions the Homestyle Pork Tamales from Padrino Foods at Costco, with a package of 12 tamales priced at $13.99, equating to a cost per meal of about $2.33 when serving two tamales per person.

The Cost of Homemade vs. Restaurant Tamales

Making tamales at home allows you control over the ingredients, preparation, and of course – the cost. But what exactly goes into the price of homemade tamales?

Ingredients: For a batch of about 36 tamales, you may need:

  • 2 cups of masa harina ($3-$4)
  • 1⁄2 cup of lard or vegetable shortening ($0.50)
  • 1 Tbsp of baking powder ($0.30)
  • 2-3 cups of broth ($0.50)
  • Corn husks ($2-$3)
  • 1-2 lbs of meat or other fillings ($3-$6)
  • Seasonings and spices (cumin, garlic, chili powder, etc.) ($2)

Total ingredient cost: About $12-$18, or $0.30-$0.50 per tamal.

Time and labor: Preparing the masa, fillings, and assembling tamales takes 5-8 hours. For ease, value your time at $15/hour.

Total labor cost: $75-$120, or $2-$3 per tamal.

Total cost of homemade tamales: About $3-$4 per tamal.

Now let’s look at the costs of purchasing tamales from a restaurant, food truck, or local vendor:

Ingredients: Higher quality than homemade, often with specialty fillings.

Time and labor: Professional tamale makers are skilled and efficient. Makes up the bulk of costs.

Overhead: Rent, utilities, insurance, marketing. A factor in prices.

Profit margin: Restaurants need to make a profit from tamale sales.

Typical restaurant tamale prices: $1.50 – $5 per tamal; often $2.50 – $3 on average.

As you can see, homemade tamales can be made for under $1 in ingredients. But once you account for labor time, costs are closer to restaurant prices. The convenience of buying tamales versus making them accounts for the extra dollar or two in cost.

What Goes Into Tamale Pricing?

To understand what impacts the cost of tamales, it helps to know what traditional tamales contain and how they are made.

Authentic tamales start with a dough called masa which is made from specially treated cornmeal or corn flour called masa harina. This masa dough is combined with salt, baking powder, lard or vegetable shortening, and broth or water. The masa is then spread onto a corn husk or banana leaf and filled with savory fillings. Common fillings are shredded pork, chicken, beef, beans, cheese, chilies, and vegetables.

The tamales are then folded into little packages and steamed until the masa is firm and the fillings are hot and delicious. Making tamales is labor-intensive and time-consuming. It can take hours to make the masa, prepare the fillings, and assemble and tie each tamal. Then they need to be steamed for at least an hour.

From the ingredients to the cooking process, making tamales requires a significant investment of time, effort, and money. That’s why genuine, hand-crafted tamales are more expensive than mass-produced versions.

How Tamale Prices Vary By Region

Tamales FillingsThe costs we looked at use average U.S. ingredient prices. But tamale prices around different parts of Mexico, Latin America, and the US can vary widely.

Mexico: $1 – $2 per tamal is common. Street food vendors sell them cheaply (around $1.25) using local ingredients. High volume keeps prices low.

California: Gourmet tamales at restaurants – $3.50 – $5. Mexican deli takeout – $2 – $3 per tamal.

Texas: The popularity of tamales means fierce competition. Prices range from $8 – $15 per dozen, or around $1 per tamal.

Midwest: Less competition means slightly higher prices. Tamales at restaurants average $3 – $4 each.

New York: Being so far from the border and Mexico means ingredients are marked up. Tamales average over $5 per piece.

Worldwide: Outside the Americas, tamales are a specialty import. Prices in Europe or Asia start at $5 per tamal.

As you can see, proximity to Mexico and tamales’ popularity in the local cuisine influence prices greatly. Where they are a beloved staple, competition keeps tamale prices low. But where tamales are hard to come by, you’ll pay a premium.

Bulk Buying and Catering Tamale Product Prices

Looking to serve tamales at a party, or event, or as a holiday gift? Buying tamales in bulk or catered can lower the per-unit cost.

For homemade tamales, making a double batch saves on labor time and ingredient costs. Catered tamales allow you to purchase from a professional kitchen without the effort. Here are some average bulk and catered tamale prices:

  • Homemade bulk batch for party or gifts – $1.50 – $2.50 per tamal
  • Restaurant take-out of 1-2 dozen – $18 – $30 per dozen
  • Catered appetizer tamales – $3 – $4 per piece
  • Catered meal tamales with sides – $6 – $10 per person
  • Delivery fees – $20 – $50

Ordering a large quantity can get your per-tamal cost down as low as $2 for homemade or $3 for catered. Share the love and savings of tamales!

Tips for Saving Money on Tamales

Here are some great ways to get delicious tamales on a budget:

  • Make them yourself following an easy recipe during a tamalada with friends
  • Go for simpler fillings like shredded chicken, salsa, or beans
  • Buy Masa harina in bulk; the most expensive ingredient
  • Use a veggie or avocado oil instead of costly lard
  • Substitute water for chicken or beef broth
  • Buy corn husks in bulk online or at Latin markets
  • Shop local Latino markets and carnicerias for deals
  • Check the frozen section for value 5 dozen bags
  • Time your purchase around the holidays for sales
  • Join rewards programs at grocery stores for discounts
  • Use coupons, promo codes, and apps for restaurant deals
  • Purchase and freeze extra around the holidays when prices drop

With some planning and clever substitutions, you can make delicious tamales easily and affordably at home.

Seasonality and Festivals Impact on Tamale Prices

Tamales are a traditional holiday and celebration food in Mexico and Latin America.

This means demand for tamales spikes during certain times of the year, which can raise prices. When tamale season arrives, keep these price changes in mind:

Christmas: Tamales are an essential part of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts across Mexico and Latin America. Their popularity means costs can be 15-30% higher during the holidays.

Day of the Dead: These special sweet tamales flavored with anise and orange zest are only available around the November holiday. Expect to pay a premium.

Las Posadas: This 9-day festival reenacts Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Tamale prices may go up for the parties.

Cinco de Mayo: Tamales are always on the menu for this Mexican holiday’s feasts. Prices edge up for the celebrations.

Local Festivals: Many Latin American towns have tamale festivals celebrating local tastes. Vendors may raise prices to offset the costs of participating.

When essential for celebrations, tamales become a hot commodity. Savvy shoppers can offset the increases by buying early, freezing extras, or making their own for the festivities.

Tamale Quality vs Cost

With tamales, there’s often a tradeoff between cost and authenticity or quality. Handmade, gourmet tamales made with organic, locally sourced ingredients will always cost more than factory versions using commodity ingredients and fillers.

As a buyer, you’ll have to decide where your priorities lie on the spectrum of quality vs. cost. If you want authentic tamales made the traditional way, be prepared to pay $3 – $8 per tamal. If you just want to enjoy the flavor, grab a $1 frozen tamal made with conventional ingredients.

For the best balance, make your own using quality ingredients. With practice, you can craft incredible tamales for around $2 each. Tamales are meant to be shared and savored, so find options that fit your budget while keeping their special flavors.


With their complex blend of masa, fillings, herbs, and more, tamales are far more than just a meal. They connect people across generations through food, stories, and laughter.

This guide breaks down the array of factors impacting tamale pricing. With planning, creativity, and a little effort, you can find or make quality tamales at affordable prices. Seek out bargains during the holidays when they abound. Try your hand at making tamales from scratch with friends. Or splurge on the gourmet versions for a special treat.

However you enjoy tamales, they taste best when shared with family, friends, and community. The joy of tamale season doesn’t have to break the bank. Use this pricing knowledge to indulge smartly in one of Latin America’s most delicious traditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to make tamales?

Making tamales is a time-consuming process, requiring several hours from start to finish. To make a batch of around 30-40 tamales by hand, expect the entire process to take 4-6 hours.

Here is a rough timeline for tamale preparation:

  • Making the masa dough: 1-2 hours
  • Preparing fillings: 1-2 hours
  • Assembling the tamales: 1-2 hours
  • Cooking/steaming tamales: 45 mins – 1 hour
  • Cooling/setting after cooking: 30 mins

The process involves preparing the masa dough, letting it rest, assembling each tamal one by one, then finally steaming the batch in a tamale steamer or pot. Most of the time comes from cooking the meat fillings, hand-spreading masa, and individually assembling each tamal. But the hands-on effort results in incredibly tender, freshly made tamales.

What are the traditional fillings for tamales?

Tamales can be filled with almost any kind of savory or sweet ingredients. However, there are certain classic fillings that are traditionally used for Mexican-style tamales:

  • Shredded pork in red chile sauce
  • Shredded chicken in green salsa
  • Ground beef with spices and chile peppers
  • Refried beans or black beans
  • Cheese-queso fresco or Oaxaca are common choices
  • Roasted vegetables like zucchini, peppers, and onions
  • Salsa verde or salsa roja
  • Stewed fruits for sweet tamales

The most popular are slow-cooked meats like pork, chicken, and beef. Tamales provide a delicious way to use up leftovers and transform them into a portable meal. Vegetarian tamales are also very common, especially during Lent. Sweet fruit tamales make for a wonderful dessert.

Can tamales be frozen and reheated?

Yes, tamales freeze exceptionally well. Freezing cooked tamales allows you to enjoy their homemade flavors for months after making them.

To freeze tamales:

  • Let them cool completely first before freezing, about 1-2 hours.
  • Separate tamales and place them in freezer bags or airtight container with wax paper between each.
  • Squeeze out excess air and seal.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months.

To reheat:

  • Thaw tamales overnight in the refrigerator or for a few hours at room temperature.
  • Remove husk or foil.
  • Place in a steamer basket and steam for 20-30 minutes until hot throughout.
  • Or wrap in a damp towel and microwave in 30-second bursts until hot.

Reheated tamales won’t be quite as moist or soft as fresh, but they still make for an easy, delicious meal with all the comfort of homemade tamales! Enjoy them within a day or two after thawing for best quality.

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