Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lizette . Lizette Wonders, “How do you make tamales?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lizette !

Ancient Mayan and Aztec warriors and hunters relied upon them as a tasty, portable food. You can find them easily all throughout the Mississippi Delta area. Making them is a popular Christmas tradition in many parts of the world. What are we describing? The tamale, of course!

The heart of a tamale is a doughy filling made of masa, a special type of ground corn flour. Masa dough is spread inside of a covering — usually a corn husk, banana leaf, or plantain leaf — and then filled with a variety of other ingredients.

During the last stage of the cooking process, the tamale is steamed or baked until the dough becomes firm. The tamale can then be unwrapped and easily eaten on the go.

Historians believe tamales date back approximately 9,000 years and trace their roots to South America, Latin America, and Mexico. Because they're so portable, tamales were popular with the hunters and warriors of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans.

The earliest tamales were probably unfilled and eaten like bread. Over time, basic fillings, such as beans and squash were added.

After Europeans arrived in the New World, a variety of fillings likely became popular, including beef, pork, chicken, capers, and olives. Today, tamales are often filled with different types of meat, cheese, peppers, and sauces.

As Latin American culture has spread around the world, the tamale has become a popular food in many areas. For example, in the United States, tamales are extremely popular throughout the Mississippi Delta area and Louisiana.

Historians believe tamales may have been introduced to African-American populations in those areas by Mexican laborers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Others think they could've crossed the border even earlier during the Mexican-American War.

Making tamales can be a time- and labor-intensive process, since there are many different ingredients to prepare (masa, meats, and sauces) and many different steps that must be repeated (wrapping and steaming). That's why many families make tamales during a tamale-making party known as a tamalada.

In fact, many families now incorporate a tamalada as a part of special occasions, especially Christmas. A tamalada can be a great way to gather many family members together to enjoy each other's company while making dozens of tamales. For many people, the tradition of the tamale is as much about making them as it is eating them.

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