KSAT News Now explores how tamales became a holiday tradition

UTSA professor shares origins of the San Antonio food staple

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This story first aired on KSAT News Now, our new bite-sized digital show. Stream it at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday on ksat.com, KSAT’s Facebook, YouTube and our free streaming app KSAT Plus.

You can find tamales almost anywhere in San Antonio and South Texas — especially around the holidays. And that isn’t much different than when our ancestors discovered them thousands of years ago, according to a local academic expert.

Ellen Riojas Clark, a professor in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the food dates all the way back to 8000 B.C. in Mesoamerica.

Tamales became a daily food for indigenous people for two reasons: 1) it could be made with one ingredient — corn, and 2) it could be considered “fast food” by the way it’s made and how easily it can be eaten.

“Back then, whatever ‘back then’ was, it was just this daily food. And then as they started adding other ingredients to them, it became more specialized and even the kings and royalty would eat tamales in a very special way,” Professor Clark said.

Today, almost every region in Latin American have their own version of a tamale — filled with everything from peppers and olives in Puerto Rico to pork or beans here in South Texas.

“Each tamale is made by hand. And it’s wrapped up just like a gift. So it is a gift that you unwrap and then you savor that that smell and that visual aspect of looking at your gift. And then, of course, el sabor, the taste of a tamale. It’s fabulous,” said Professor Clark.

Learn more about the history of tamales in the video above.

RELATED: KSAT News Now reveals viewers vote for best tamales restaurant in San Antonio

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About the Authors

A San Antonio native currently in her dream job as the executive producer behind KSAT special programming like Fiesta parades, Dia De Los Muertos and the Rodeo special. When she's not prepping for these productions, she's helping run KSAT's social media channels.

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

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