ta·ma·le | \ tə-ˈmä-lē \

Definition of tamale 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: cornmeal dough rolled with ground meat or beans seasoned usually with chili, wrapped usually in corn husks, and steamed


geographical name
Ta·ma·le | \ tä-ˈmä-lā \

Definition of Tamale (Entry 2 of 2)

town in northern Ghana population 371,351

Keep scrolling for more

tamale Has Origins in South America

Hot tamale is sometimes used figuratively, as in our second example, to suggest sexual attractiveness, but it's the word's literal use that puts it in an interesting category. How many English food words can you name that derive from Nahuatl, a group of languages spoken by native peoples of Mexico and Central America? You've probably guessed that "tamale" gives you one; it came to us (by way of Mexican Spanish) from the Nahuatl "tamalli," a word for steamed cornmeal dough. Add to the menu "chili" (from "chīlli," identifying all those fiery peppers); "chocolate" (from "chocolātl," first used for a beverage made from chocolate and water); "guacamole" (from āhuacatl, meaning "avocado," plus mōlli, meaning "sauce"); and "tomato" (from "tomatl"). Top it all off with "chipotle" (a smoked and dried pepper), from "chīlli" and "pōctli" (meaning "something smoked").

Examples of tamale in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The process of making all those tamales starts at 1 in the morning. Alex Kiesig, idahostatesman, "'I love this city': Eat your way through the Capital City Public Market," 6 July 2018 That said, Mosier swears that her pork tamale pie, which uses pork butt (a fatty cut of meat), keeps for a year or more without issue. Ac Shilton, Outside Online, "Stop Wasting Money on Prepackaged Backpacking Food," 1 May 2018 Best items: the jalapeño-cheese tamale bites from Mariposa's Latin Kitchen. Bud Kennedy, star-telegram, "More pizza is in Magnolia's future at Chimera. (And yes, more bacon burnt ends.) | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 7 Mar. 2018 What looks good: Sweet tamale cakes with Sriracha mayo, sticky-sweet apricot-sesame cauliflower wings, miso creamed kale, and, for breakfast, a creamy oatmeal smoothie. Aliza Abarbanel, Bon Appetit, "5 New Vegetarian Cookbooks We're All About This Spring," 5 Mar. 2018 Or rabbit tamales with wolfberry jam and squash salsa. Dominic Armato, azcentral, "Helio Basin Brewing Co. brings Arizona cuisine to Phoenix brewery, but fascinating menu feels out of place," 6 June 2018 The roasted heirloom squash with harissa tamale and last year's tomato jam is a big hit and believe me most of [the diners] are meat eaters. Dana Mcmahan, The Courier-Journal, "How Louisville chefs re-imagine menus when you're just too hot to eat," 3 July 2018 Across from San Diego, more than 100 asylum-seekers gathered Monday in a large plaza at the Tijuana side of the nation's busiest border crossing, alongside pushcart vendors selling oatmeal, tamales, burritos and smoothies. chicagotribune.com, "Undeterred by Trump, asylum-seekers line up at the border," 7 June 2018 Nothing Costa Rican, but Salvadorean or Honduran is very similar with tamales and arepas. Michelle Kaufman, miamiherald, "Meet South Florida's World Cup fans: Group E," 31 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tamale.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tamale


1854, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tamale


Mexican Spanish tamales, plural of tamal tamale, from Nahuatl tamalli steamed cornmeal dough

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tamale

Listen to Our Podcast about tamale

Dictionary Entries near tamale






Tamalpais, Mount


Statistics for tamale

Last Updated

6 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tamale

The first known use of tamale was in 1854

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tamale



English Language Learners Definition of tamale

: a Mexican food that consists of seasoned ground meat or beans rolled in cornmeal, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed


ta·ma·le | \ tə-ˈmä-lē \

Kids Definition of tamale

: seasoned ground meat rolled in cornmeal, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tamale

See words that rhyme with tamale

Spanish Central: Translation of tamale

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tamale

Comments on tamale

What made you want to look up tamale? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


an open space surrounded by woods

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!