If you like cornbread, you're going to absolutely love sweet corn tamales (tamales de elote)! Sometimes referred to as uchepos, this recipe includes freshly ground corn kernels and can be served savoury or sweet.
Your next breakfast, snack, or dessert is calling your name!
Uchepos are a special kind of tamal made from fresh corn instead of flour. They're sweet, light, fluffy, and delicious all in one.
What are tamales?
The word "tamal" stems from the Nahuatl word "tamalli," which loosely translates to "wrapped" in English.
These popular antojitos can be found all over in Mexico. They are served either sweet or savoury and usually made with corn husks, masa harina, and some type of filling (with no two tamales looking or tasting the same).
Many recipes nowadays call for lard, but tamales were supposedly created by the Mayans and lard didn't come into the picture until 1907 (more on this in the history section).
What are tamales de elote?
Where tamales de elote differ from other tamales is the use of blended corn on the cob in place of masa harina.
In Mexico, tamales may be enjoyed on all kinds of occasions like Las Posadas, baptisms, and during the Day of the Dead festival. But to be honest, tamales are great at any time of the year!
The best part about tamales de elote is that they can be enjoyed on their own, sweet (with vegan condensed milk or crema), or savoury (with different salsas).
This ancient food has been traced back to Mesoamerica as early as 7000 BC.
Tamales were prized for their portability, and it's been written that hunters and soldiers would carry them for quick energy while walking long distances.
The tamales eaten today are thought to be prepared much the same as the ones eaten thousands of years ago (minus some ingredients like lard, butter, or sugar).
Originally, they were cooked over hot ashes in a buried fire. However, the Spanish introduced pots and pans to the indigenous population, which sparked the technique of steaming tamales.
The Spanish also brought over new flavors and ingredients to add to tamales (like meat and lard). Fast forward to today and you can find a wide variety of tamales — both savoury and sweet.
Here is where the fun begins! You can serve your tamales de elote on their own or with sweet and savoury toppings like:
Whichever way you top them, these sweet corn tamales are vegan and gluten-free if you follow the recipe!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Taste: not to be confused with the sweet corn you may be familiar with, elote blanco (white corn) is generally firm with more starchy flavors. If you can't get your hands on elote blanco, just use whichever type is local to you.
Health: corn is high in antioxidants, particularly vitamin C. Not only that, corn is full of fiber, which keeps you full in between meals. Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet and has been shown to lower cholesterol levels (your heart will thank you).
Taste: in order to adjust the sweetness in this recipe, we've added sugar. Depending on the variety of corn you use, you may have to go up or down on the amount. Taste it and play around with the flavor that suits you best!
Health: although sugar is by no means a healthy ingredient, we say it's okay to consume in moderation. You may not agree, but we think it's necessary to enjoy food and make healthy choices most of the time. That's just us though!
Taste: to add a rich and buttery texture to our vegan tamales, we usually opt for vegetable shortening, vegan butter, or sometimes coconut oil. While you wouldn't find any fat (vegan or not) in a traditional uchepos recipe, it is often added nowadays for more flavor and texture.
Health: much like sugar, the fat content found in vegetable oils isn't the healthiest ingredient, but it provides a better flavor and texture. If you want to make your uchepos healthier, half or even skip the fat altogether.
Taste: with an odorless and flavorless addition to the mixture, use baking powder for its special properties. This ingredient will prevent your vegan tamales from turning out too dense. The goal is light and fluffy!
Fun fact: baking powder works well in any recipe since it contains both an acid and a base (activating once it gets wet). On the other hand, baking soda needs to be combined with an acid, like lemon juice, to work.
If you have questions about this tamales de elote recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: cut the tops and bottoms off of the corn cobs. Shuck the cobs carefully and save the husks for later. Cut the kernels off the cobs and mix them together in a blender until you have a smooth paste.
Step 2: add the vegetable shortening to a mixing bowl and beat with your hands or an electric mixer until whipped. Add in sugar and keep on mixing!
Step 3: once smooth, add salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and vanilla and combine until incorporated (cinnamon and vanilla are optional but totally delicious). Pour in the blended corn paste to the mixing bowl and stir everything together.
Step 4: add a few scoops of corn mixture to the wide end of a corn husk. Keeping it horizontal, fold one side of the husk over the center, then tuck the other side on top to form a tube shape.
Step 5: where the dough ends, pinch the bottom and fold the husk upwards. If the husks are small, secure the tamal by wrapping another husk around it the opposite way. Continue this process until the rest of the batter is gone.
Step 6: add some water to the bottom of a large stockpot. Place a steamer rack inside and cover it with a layer of the leftover corn husks. Lean the tamales around the steamer in an upright position. Continue working inwards in a circular fashion until the pot is full.
Step 7: cover the tamales with another layer of corn husks and a tea towel on top. Put the lid on your pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and steam the tamales for 70-80 minutes.
Step 8: to check if they are fully cooked, remove 1 tamal at 70 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes, then attempt to open the husk. If the tamal separates from the husk fairly easily and feels spongy, they are ready. If the dough still sticks to the husk quite a bit, continue steaming for an additional 5-10 minutes.
Step 9: when the tamales are finished cooking, let them rest for about 15-20 minutes for the best texture. Serve your sweet corn tamales while still warm on their own, with crema, or salsas of choice. Happy eating!
You will absolutely love tamales de elote! They make a great on-the-go breakfast, quick snack, or dessert. Just follow the storage instructions below to keep them fresh.
These vegan tamales will last in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. To keep them moist and flavorful, store them with the husk on.
Tamales de elote freeze well too, which is why it's a great idea to make a double batch. Just allow them to cool completely, then store them in your freezer (husks on) for up to 3 months.
If you want soft, fluffy, and warm tamales again, steam them for about 10-15 minutes. Adjust the time to be longer if your tamales are frozen.
You can also warm your tamales de elote in the oven at 350 degrees F. Line them on a baking sheet or wrap them in tin foil and bake for 10-15 minutes.
If you want to save time, try making the mixture a day or two before assembling the tamales. Or, make them to completion and freeze them uncooked for up to 6 months. All you have to do when you're ready to eat is steam them as per the recipe card.
💭 Pro tips
Here are some tips and tricks we learned while experimenting with this uchepos recipe:
- Whip the fat. Make sure you whip the vegetable shortening to give the tamales a lighter, fluffier texture.
- Use a different fat. If you don't have vegetable shortening then you can easily substitute vegan butter or firm coconut oil.
- Check on the water. It's important to make sure the steamer doesn't dry out. You can place a heat-safe object in the bottom to hear the water boiling if you're worried.
- Double or triple this recipe. This recipe can be time-consuming to make, so we recommend doubling or tripling it to have quick snacks for the future.
- Double wrap the uchepos. If your corn husks end up being too small, try using two instead of one so you have more room.
🍴 Tasting notes
These sweet corn tamales are such a fun dish to make. You're going to love them! They're:
If you try this tamales de elote recipe, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
Sweet Corn Tamales
- Mixing bowl
- 6 cobs of corn (elotes) ($1.66)
- 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening ($0.02)
- ½ cup granulated sugar ($0.03)
- ½ teaspoon salt ($0.01)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder ($0.01)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- First, cut the tops and bottoms off of the corn cobs. Shuck the cobs carefully and save the husks for later. Cut the kernels off the cobs and add them to a blender. Mix until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Add vegetable shortening to a mixing bowl and beat with your hands or an electric mixer until fluffy. Add in sugar and continue mixing.
- Once smooth, add salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and vanilla and combine until incorporated. Pour in the blended corn paste to the mixing bowl and stir everything together (the consistency will be like a very thick batter at this point).
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of corn mixture to the wide end of a corn husk. Keeping it horizontal, fold one side of the husk over the corn mixture, then the other side over top to form a tube shape.
- Where the dough ends, pinch the bottom and fold the husk upwards. If the husks are small, secure the tamal by wrapping another husk around it the opposite way. Continue this process until the rest of the batter is gone.
- Add about 3-4 cups of water to the bottom of a large stockpot. Place a steamer rack inside and cover it with a layer of the leftover corn husks. Lean the tamales around the steamer in an upright position. Continue working inwards in a circular fashion until the pot is full.
- Cover the tamales with another layer of corn husks and a tea towel on top. Put the lid on your pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and steam the tamales for 70-80 minutes.
- To check if they are fully cooked, remove 1 tamal at 70 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes, then attempt to open the husk. If the tamal separates from the husk fairly easily and feels spongy, they are ready. If the dough still sticks to the husk quite a bit, continue steaming for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Note: make sure to keep a close eye on the water level of your pot during steaming. You don’t want to end up with a dry pot!
- We use vegan butter, refined coconut oil, and vegetable shortening interchangeably in this recipe. You can use whichever one you prefer or have on hand.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more tasty snacks and sweets, check out our:
- Savoury tamales for a subtle change in flavor and texture, these tamales are made with masa harina and dried corn husks.
- Strawberry tamales for an juicy, sweet, and fruit-infused version of this snack you're going to love!
- Gorditas de piloncillo for thick corn cakes smothered with piloncillo syrup and cinnamon.
- Plátanos fritos to enjoy caramelized plantains bursting with sweetness and served with jam and crema.
If your tamales mixture is too runny from extra juicy corn, try adding 1-2 tablespoons of masa harina at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. Note: it should be like a very thick batter.
If your mixture is too thick, try adding 1-2 tablespoons of water or plant milk until you get to the right consistency.
To ensure this recipe is vegan, use vegetable shortening, coconut oil, or vegan butter. However, you can make this recipe more simple by omitting the vegetable shortening (although the texture and taste will differ).