How many calories are in a homemade tamale with pork?

A tamale is a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa or dough, which is steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. Tamales are often filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, chilies or other ingredients. They are a popular comfort food in Mexico and many Latin American countries.

What are the main ingredients in tamales?

The main ingredients in tamales are:

  • Masa harina or masa de maíz – This is a special corn flour made from dried corn that has been treated with limewater. It gives tamales their distinctive taste and texture.
  • Lard or vegetable shortening – Fat is essential for making the masa dough smooth and pliable. Lard is traditional, but vegetable oils can also be used.
  • Pork, chicken, beef, cheese, chilies, beans – These are common fillings, with pork and chicken being especially popular for tamales.
  • Corn husks or banana leaves – These leaves are used to wrap and steam the tamales.
  • Sauces and seasonings – Spices like cumin, garlic, onion, oregano add flavor to the masa and fillings.

So the main components are the masa dough, a fatty element like lard or oil, fillings, and the corn husks or banana leaves used for wrapping.

Calories in the different tamale components

To determine total calories, we need to look at the calorie density of the different ingredients that go into tamales:

  • Masa: Corn masa has about 370 calories per 100 grams. The amount of masa in a tamale can vary based on size but is often around 120-150 grams.
  • Lard: Lard contains about 900 calories per 100 grams. A couple tablespoons might be used to make the masa dough.
  • Pork: Pork shoulder or other cuts used for tamale fillings provide about 179 calories per 100 grams.
  • Chicken: Chicken breast has about 165 calories per 100 grams.
  • Cheese: Queso fresco or other cheeses can range from about 350-400 calories per 100 grams.
  • Beans: Refried or black beans provide about 130 calories per 100 grams.
  • Corn husks: The husks and banana leaves used to wrap tamales are very low calorie and provide about 25 calories per 100 grams.

So fillings like pork, chicken, cheese will contribute the most calories, along with the fatty masa dough itself.

Calorie range for different tamale styles

Based on these ingredient calorie counts, a tamale can range from around 150 calories for a small, plain tamale with no filling, up to 300-400 calories for larger, meat-filled varieties:

Tamale Type Estimated Calories
Small plain tamale, no filling 150 calories
Chicken tamale 250 calories
Cheese tamale 300 calories
Pork tamale 350 calories
Large pork tamale with cheese 400 calories

As you can see, fillings, size, and any additional ingredients can impact the calories significantly. A small tamale may have 150 calories, while a large pork and cheese tamale could contain 400 calories or more.

Factors impacting calories in homemade tamales

For homemade tamales specifically, there are several factors that can alter the calorie counts:

  • Ingredients: Using higher calorie meats like pork or adding cheese will increase calories versus lower calorie fillings like chicken or beans.
  • Amount of masa: More masa means more calories from the corn flour and any added fat.
  • Size: Bigger tamales mean more calories than smaller, bite-sized tamales.
  • Cooking method: Frying tamales before steaming can significantly increase the calorie content versus just steaming.
  • Sauces: Topping tamales with high calorie sauces like crema, mole, or cheese sauce adds more calories.

Home cooks can customize their tamales in many ways, all of which impact the final nutrition profile. Keeping tamales small, using lower calorie fillings, and minimizing extra toppings or cooking in oil will help keep calories in check.

Calorie range in a homemade pork tamale

For a homemade tamale specifically filled with pork, the calorie count may be estimated as:

  • Masa dough (150g): 150 x (370/100) = 555 calories
  • Pork filling (100g): 100 x (179/100) = 179 calories
  • 2 Tbsp lard: 2 x (900/100) = 18 calories
  • Corn husk: Negligible, less than 10 calories

So for a medium sized homemade pork tamale:

Total Calories = 555 + 179 + 18 = Around 752 calories

This estimate is for a moderately sized tamale with about 150g of masa and 100g of pork filling, plus a couple tablespoons of lard in the dough. The actual amount can vary based on preferences and ingredents on hand.

How to reduce calories in homemade tamales

There are some easy ways to lighten up homemade tamales if you are looking to cut calories:

  • Use chicken, turkey, shrimp or beans instead of higher calorie pork.
  • Skip any cheese and use low calorie vegetables like spinach or zucchini in the filling.
  • Cut back on lard – switch to olive or canola oil instead.
  • Make tamalitos or smaller sized tamales with less masa.
  • Steam instead of frying before steaming.
  • Avoid drizzling with crema, cheese sauce, or other high calorie toppings.

With a lighter touch, it’s possible to enjoy tamales for around 300 – 400 calories. Simply swapping the pork for chicken, omitting cheese, and focusing on fillings like veggies can remove hundreds of calories without sacrificing satisfaction.

How does a homemade tamale compare to store bought?

Comparing homemade tamales to those purchased at restaurants, grocery stores or from tamale vendors can vary significantly.

Some key differences include:

  • More lard/oil – Home cooks may be heavier handed with the fat.
  • Larger portions – Homemade tamales may be made bigger than machine-produced ones.
  • Frying – Many homemade versions are fried before steaming.
  • Ingredients – Home fillings often have more cheese, cream, pork.
  • No nutrition labels – Harder to get calorie counts for homemade food.

On the flip side, commercially made tamales may include more preservatives or fillers to extend shelf life or cut costs. But in general, homemade tamales are likely to be higher in calories due to more lard, bigger portions, and richer fillings.

Reading nutrition labels can give calorie counts for store bought tamales. For example, a beef and cheese tamale from a popular brand contains about 300 calories. A homemade version is likely to contain at least 400+ calories depending on size and ingredients.

How to enjoy tamales as part of a healthy diet

Here are some tips for enjoying tamales while maintaining a healthy diet:

  • Practice portion control – Stick to 1-2 small or medium tamales.
  • Balance with lower calorie sides like beans, rice, salad.
  • Avoid extras like dipping sauces, cheese, or crema.
  • Fill up on veggies and protein during other meals that day.
  • Opt for chicken, shrimp, or veggie stuffed tamales.
  • Skip refrying and use healthier cooking methods.
  • Make modifications like using less fat in the masa, no cheese in fillings.

Tamales can absolutely be part of an overall nutritious diet. By practicing moderation, making smart substitutions when homemade, and focusing on lighter styles, it’s possible to enjoy authentic tamales without going overboard on calories.


A homemade tamale with pork filling is likely to contain around 700-800 calories, depending on size and amount of filling. This can be lowered by using leaner meats like chicken or vegetarian fillings. When making tamales at home, limiting portion sizes, reducing fat in the masa, and avoiding frying can help control calories. Enjoying tamales in moderation along with nutritious sides and other meals can allow you to indulge while maintaining a healthy diet.

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