Belizean Tamales

It takes many hands to make Belizean Tamales. 

Belizean Tamales

Belizean tamales are a traditional Maya and Mestizo food.  There are many regional differences in tamales even within a small country like Belize! Corozal and Orange Walk districts have two varieties, Collado and Torteado.  Western Belize has a variety called Bollos (Source: Endevora Jorgenson). A fourth variety, called a Tamalito, is very similar to a Mexican tamale, and is typically sold as street food. I still hear the tamelito man’s bicycle horn and hawking: “Tamalitos! Tamalitos!  Aqui estan los Tamalitos!”.  This recipe is for traditional Belizean Toredado tamales from Corozal.

Unlike the Mexican tamale, Belizean tamales are not wrapped in corn husks but are instead wrapped in plantain leaves. This recipe might be a little difficult to make properly in the states or Canada, but it has been done. The accompanying images were made in Michigan in the dead of winter. It can be done!

Belizeans pride themselves with their individual take on the tamale. Some like lots of sauce (called cull), some like it tear-inducingly spicy, others like lots of bone-in chicken. Tamales vary in Belize by maker. My aunt makes them for sale, and she prides herself with the quality of her sauce and the large portions of chicken in each tamale. We’ll leave those choices up to you!

For Belizeans, making tamales is often a community effort.
Making Belizean tamales is labor intensive, and often a community effort.  Often Belizean women will gather together to make dozens of tamales at once for a large event, wedding, funeral, birthday party, or just to sell. With a little of the extra masa (often freshly ground) they will make atole, a warm and simple cinnamon-spiced drink to share as they work.


A Short Lesson on Belizean (Mayan) Names for Tamale Ingredients

Cull: Cull is the sauce in the tamale. Sometimes it’s spelled “col”; it’s a Mayan word (Ibid). Cull is a thick red gravy and is a chicken stock and recado seasoning based sauce.

Masa: Where “masa” is not available, Belizean tamales are wrapped in corn dough made with maseca brand corn flour, water, salt, oil or fat ie. lard.

Recado Rojo: Red Recado is essentially a Belizean (Mayan) curry of spices.   There is also a black recado, commonly used in soups like chimole and relleno. Recado a combination of several dry spices, fresh annato seeds, garlic and onion.  These ingredients are blended into a paste and rolled into a ball. Recado is often sold in Belize as a slightly moist ball about the size of a quarter or shilling. Belizean recado is nearly impossible to find State side. If you contact us we can special order Belizean recado.


All in all there are 4 major components to Belizean Tamales:

Filling: Chicken or other meat
Filling: Assortment of vegetables

Belizean Tamales

Prep Time: 2 hours mins
Cook Time: 2 hours
Yields: 25-30 Tamales


  • Plantain leaves, Banana leaves or aluminum foil. For state-side folk: Plantain leaves can often can be found in ethnic grocery stores, look for: Pacific Islander, Thai, or Mexican stores.
  • Cull: (1 lb) Masteca Corn Flour, (4-6 tbsp) Red Recado, (6 cloves) garlic, (6) Oregano Leaves, (6) allspice seeds, (6) Apazote leaves, (1 tablespoon) whole Pepper Corn, (1 tablespoon) chile molido, or cayenne if you want it spicy, (3 tbsp) chicken broth powder - Consome de Pollo, (1) Chopped Onion
  • Corn Dough / Masa: For state-side folk: Masa can often be purchased from a Mexican shop. If this is not available, you can make your own from (4 lbs) Maseca brand corn flour, (1/2 gallon) water, (2-3 tsp)salt, and (2 cups) corn oil or lard
  • 1 - quartered cooked Chicken (cooked pork or beef can also be used)
  • 2 cups - Green peas
  • 4 - Habanero peppers minced or slices
  • 2 cups - green sweet peppers chopped into slices
  • 3 cups - Tomato slices
  • 3 cups - onion slices
  • 2 cups - minced cilantro leaves


  1. Cook chicken or other meats like you are making Stewed Chicken with Recado. Cut up chicken into at least 10 pieces. Set chicken aside. Keep broth - it becomes the base for the Cull.
  2. Make Masa: In a large bowl combine flour, oil (or lard), and salt. Slowly add water and mix to make a thick mound of corn dough. Corn dough needs to be soft and spreadable, but not sticky. Four pounds of Maseca makes about 25 to 30 corn dough shells. Masa can be covered with plastic wrap and set aside.
  3. Make Cull: Take the broth from cooking the chicken, strain out any pieces. Add 1lb Maseca Corn Flour, and stir to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a boil, let boil 3 minutes and then turn off heat.
  4. Prepare Plantain leaves: Boil water, submerge leaves. Removed from boiling water and wipe dry with a cloth. Cut into 12×12 inch sheets.
  5. Prepare the Masa: Pull fist-sizes pieces of dough off, and roll into fist-sized balls. Flatten each corn dough ball with the Maricona (a tortilla press) or by hand. Place flattened Masa ball on Plantain leaf. Keep in mind, you are going to fold the leave with the grain of the leaf.
  6. Start assembling the tamales! On a large table layout all the vegetable ingredients in bowls along with the Cull, Chicken pieces, and flattened masa on plantain leaves. Place a scoop (1/2 cup) of Cull in the center of the flattened masa. Then add pieces of chicken, a spoonful of green peas, onion slices, green pepper slices, tomatoe slices, cilantro, and a small scoop of habanero.
  7. Fold the tamale: Fold the tamales along the grain of the plantain leaf in half. After folded in half fold 3 sides of the plantain leave to contain all the ingredients. This can be tied with strips of plantain leaf, or it can be wrapped in a sheet of aluminum fold to keep it from unfolding.
  8. Steam tamales: Stack packages in an extra large steamer pot. Add water and steam for one hour.

Pro Tips

Habanero peppers can range in heat. We would recommend cutting your peppers into slices. Slices will still deliver flavor to the tamale, but if the pepper slice contains nuclear levels of heat, it can be removed while the tamale is being eaten.


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4 Replies to "Belizean Tamales"

  • comment-avatar
    Avril Morris April 21, 2017 (12:32 am)

    Today is 4-19-2017 @ 8:26 I am boiling 24 Tamales form your recipe and I can’t wait to eat it I follow the recipe step for step so I know it is going to taste good thanks for the recipe

    • comment-avatar
      chicapost June 5, 2017 (12:43 am)

      🙂 Fantastic, thank you for you comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed our recipe! I hope your tamales were excellent as well:) How did they turn out?

  • comment-avatar
    Larry Merrell May 5, 2018 (5:56 pm)

    I have visited Belize twice and had traditional tamales both times. After the first trip I had to have the recipe and found your site two years ago I have made them five or six times and they are just as great as the originals. We love very spicy food so I actually use extra habanero in my recipe. I have been able to find everything I need here in northeast Louisiana to complete the recipe including plantain leaves. I steam them in a very large pot (usually use for boiling crawfish) on my gas jet burner. I have this page saved to return to every time I prepare the “feast”, but I was wondering if you could email me the recipe and any other tips or information you might have about this and other Belizean dishes?

  • comment-avatar
    Sherelle November 2, 2018 (6:38 pm)

    I can’t see where you added the rest of the ingredients for the cull. I could only follow up to where you added the corn flour to the broth. Did you use the other ingredients from the cull section to cook the chicken?

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