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Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Alpha Foods

Southwest Tamale and Chik'n Verde Tamale

Southwest Tamale from Alpha Foods

We've reviewed tons of burritos, burrito bowls, "tamale pies" and even pupusas. But today bring us our very first tamales.

Archaeologists believe tamales have been around at least since Aztecs and Mayas in Central America, and there's some evidence they were being made over 8,000 years ago. Today they are made with nixtamaled corn masa - a cornmeal treated with lime. It's mixed with water to form a thick paste and wrapped around a variety of fillings, from sweet to savory. Finally it's wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed.

Today's tamales come out of the package wrapped in the traditional corn husk. The first one we tasted, the Southwest Tamale (280 calories, 570mg sodium, 4g fiber), instructed us to put the tamale, in its wrapping, on a plate and microwave for 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, it was still cold to the touch, so back in it went for another minute.

We then unwrapped it to discover that it had a very microwave-burrito blowout at one end.

Southwest Tamale from Alpha Foods, after cooking

On the down side: it's mostly cornmeal - a very thick layer surrounds a small amount of corn and black beans with peppers and onions.

The upside is that the cornmeal is delicious - soft, smooth, and sweet with the distinct flavor of nixtamaled corn. The corn in the filling is still crunchy, the black beans give it an earthy flavor, and the chile in the sauce is not overly assertive.

The Chik'n Verde's packaging instructed us to take the tamale out of its cornhusk before microwaving, and this worked much better - after two minutes it was ready to eat.

Chik'n Verde Tamale from Alpha Foods

This has 290 calories, much more sodium (690 milligrams), and less fiber (2 grams), in a much thinner layer of masa.

Chik'n Verde Tamale from Alpha Foods, after cooking

Unfortunately, the masa layer is so thin that the tamale simply doesn't hold together. This definitely isn't something you can pick up.

We found the flavor of the filling a little odd. The "chik'n" has a grainy, almost sausage-like texture, but the sauce is spicy with tomatillos and jalapenos. The problem is that you're left with a strange, almost metallic aftertaste. We wouldn't recommend this one.

Two things to keep in mind about these tamales: masa cornmeal is normally gluten-free, so most tamales are gluten-free. These are not. Second, at $5.79 we're not sure they're worth the money.

Our mistake may have been choosing this brand of tamales for our first foray into tamales. We've seen Tucson Tamales on the shelf at our local Giant at a lower price point: we'll bring those in for tasting soon.

Posted: January 27, 2023