One very important step in making homemade tamales is knowing how to prepare corn husks for tamales. You’ll learn everything you need to know to make the stiff husk become soft and pliable and ready to make your tamales.
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What Are Corn Husks
Corn husks are the outer layers of ears of corn.
Dried corn husks are needed to make tamales, a traditional Mexican dish. The corn husks are separated from the ear of corn and the corn silk removed. They are then set out to dry for storage and later use or commercial production.
To make tamales, corn husks need to be rehydrated before they are filled with the masa and any tamale fillings of your choice.
In Mexico we call corn husks “hoja de maiz” or “hoja para tamal“. These types of corn husks are what most of the traditional tamale recipes will call for.
There is a type of tamale, called uchepos or green corn tamales, that use the fresh corn husks right off the ear of corn. Uchepos are made by blending fresh corn kernels from sweet corn with other ingredients. This corn mixture is then placed on the green corn husks and used as the filling.
Uchepos are definitely worth a try!
Please also note that there are lots of Mexican tamales recipes, particularly that come from Southern Mexico, which use banana leaves instead of corn husks. We’ll talk more about that another time.
Are Corn Husks Edible
No they’re not. Please don’t eat them. They are only used for wrapping and steaming the tamales. But once the tamales are cooked, they are pealed away and discarded.
Watch this funny clip. Except, do use a fork and a knife — no Mexican I know eats a tamal like a hot dog. lol
Where to Buy Corn Husks for Tamales
Thankfully we don’t have to do the drying of the corn husks because we can buy them at the grocery store or even Amazon sells them.
Locally you can check out the Hispanic food isle of your grocery store and they should carry them pretty much year-round. If you have a Mexican or Latin food store near you, they’ll definitely carry them as well as the masa harina or fresh masa you’ll need to make tamales.
How to Sort The Corn Husks
Once you have the corn husks you can begin the prep work to get started on making your tamales.
When I make tamales, I have a specific order that I follow. You can choose to do the same if you’d like.
I like to make the tamales filling the night before. This way it can be cool or at room temperature before using it to stuff the tamales.
If I’m making everything the same day I’ll get the corn husks going before I do anything else. This is to ensure they are pliable or super flexible.
The first thing you want to do is sort through the corn husks. We are looking to remove any corn silk, dirt or debris that may be on the husks.
You can use your hand or a damp paper towel or kitchen cloth to remove anything you find. Or give it a good shake.
You want to keep corn husks that are whole, not cracked in the middle and not too badly damaged. Also make sure that the long sides of the corn husk aren’t damaged either.
Black Spots on Corn Husks Safe to Eat
If you’re talking about fresh corn husks you want to make sure you toss out any that may have black spots on them. This could be a sign of mold. Don’t risk it!
Some dried husks will have small brown spots splattered on them. These are safe to use. Just take a good look to make sure it’s not mold. If so then toss those out and grab a new pack.
If you don’t want to use the safe ones for stuffing, you can always save them to line the bottom of the steamer basket.
Discolored Corn Husks
You’re also going to come across hojas that are discolored. They to are safe to use. It just really comes down to aesthetics. But again you can just use these to line your steamer pot with them.
How to Prepare Corn Husks for Tamales
Now that you’ve removed as much of the dirt and debris as possible, we can clean them thoroughly.
Place the corn husks in a sink or large colander and thoroughly rinse under warm water. Make sure you are separating the corn husks and really getting running water through them all.
Next you’re going to fill your sink with hot water and place the dried corn husks in it.
Make sure you move them around and that there’s enough water to properly hydrate all sides of the corn husks. They are of course going to float to the top but as long as you have plenty of water it’ll be fine. Or you can always place a large bowl or pot on top of the husks to push them down.
If you don’t want to use your sink you can always place the dried husks in a very large bowl or container or large pot and pour in the hot water over them. Then put a heavy bowl or item on the corn husks to push them down.
How Long to Soak Corn Husk for Tamales
Now we need to soak corn husks for at least 45 minutes, preferably two hours or longer if you want. Some people will leave the sorted corn husks soaking in the sink overnight. I don’t do this, but that’s another option if you’d like.
The longer you let them soak up the water, the more hydrated they’ll be and the more easily they’ll bend and fold.
This is what we want so we can fold our tamales without cracking or ripping husks and masa dough and the filling spilling all over the place.
As I previously mentioned, while the corn husks are soaking I make the filling — if I haven’t done so the night before, if I have then I’ll move on to making the masa.
I’ve already published my recipe for my easy Masa for Tamales without Lard, do check that out.
Do Fresh Corn Husks and Banana Leaves Need to Soak?
A banana leaf used for making tamales does not need to be soaked. It does however need to be slightly warmed and softened on a griddle to make it pliable for folding the tamales. Additionally the hard stems need to be removed and discarded.
But you can buy frozen banana leaves which are all ready to use and it’s usually just a matter of spreading the masa, adding the filling and folding.
Fresh husks don’t technically need to be soaked either. If you get the corn super fresh, the husks will be moist and bend easily. If you’re ears of corn are older and drier I highly suggest you soak in warm water too.
You would only need to soak fresh corn husks for about 45 minutes, though.
Drain The Corn Husks
Once the husks are soft and pliable then you can drain them. By this time too you should have the fillings and the masa ready to use.
Drain off all the water and place in a colander or strainer to drain off all of the excess water. You can give them a gentle squeeze and shake to help the process.
Don’t drain until you have the tamales fillings and the masa ready to use.
You want to make sure that they are not soaking or have large spots of water. You don’t want that extra water mixing with the corn dough and making a mushier masa. Additionally the excess liquid will require longer cooking times.
If you need to you can give them a quick wipe with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to soak up the excess water. But really just leaving them in the strainer should be sufficient.
Set Some Aside
Make sure that you set some extra hydrated corn husks aside so that you can line the bottom of the pot where you’ll be steaming your tamales. Additionally you may want some extras to cover the top of the tamales. This will prevent moisture from getting into the tamales fillings.
Additionally if you want to wrap them make sure to rip some into thin strip of corn husk.
(If you don’t have enough extra corn husks you can cover the pot with aluminum foil to prevent the steam droplets falling back into the tamales. I showed this in my birria tamales video.)
Ready for Your Tamales
That’s it, that’s all it takes to prepare corn husks for tamales.
Now you can grab your soaked corn husks, masa mixture, your tasty filling of choice and get started on making the most amazing homemade Mexican tamales.
So now you know how to prepare corn husks for tamales and next time you’ll be ready to make all types of tamales — be it with savory tamales fillings or sweet tamales fillings.
Can You Freeze Corn Husks
Yes you can. Actually corn husks freeze quite well.
Any leftover hydrated corn husks can stored in the freezer. Shake off as much of the excess water, allow to drain in a colander, then place in freezer safe bags.
Corn husks will keep for a few months in the freezer.
You can also store leftover hydrated husks in the refrigerator. Make sure to remove excess water and prevent them from spoiling. They’ll keep fresh for a few days.
More Tamales Making Tips
Make sure you read through all of the helpful tamales making tips in my series. If I haven’t answered one of your questions don’t hesitate to reach out.
- How to Prepare Corn Husks for Tamales
- Masa For Tamales | No Lard Recipe
- The Masa Float Test for Tamales
- How to Spread Masa on Corn Husks for Tamales
- How to Fold Tamales
- How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
- How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales on the Stove?
- How Long do Tamales Last
- How to Store Tamales
- What to Eat with Tamales | 24 Tamales Side Dishes
How to Prepare Corn Husks for Tamales
- hot water
- clean kitchen sink or a large container
- 1 pack dried corn husks
- Sort through the corn husks to remove any corn silk, dirt or debris that may be on the husks.Keep corn husks that are whole, not cracked in the middle and not too badly damaged. Also make sure that the long sides of the corn husk aren’t damaged either.
- Place the corn husks in a sink or large colander and thoroughly rinse under warm water. Make sure you are separating the corn husks and really getting running water through them all.
- Next you’re going to fill your sink with hot water and place the dried corn husks in it.
- Make sure you move them around and that there’s enough water to properly hydrate all sides of the corn husks. Or you can always place a large bowl or pot on top of the husks to push them down.
- Soak corn husks for at least 45 minutes, preferably two hours or longer if you want and until ready to use.
- Once the husks are soft and pliable then you can drain them. By this time too you should have the fillings and the masa ready to use.
Click here to get a copy of my tamales cookbook!
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…