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Jan 2, 2007 02:43 PM

Pasteles and Tamales--the difference??

What is the difference please--any easy recipes would be appreciated-thanks

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  1. Pasteles are made with a masa that includes grated green bananas and/or plantains and yautia, a type of root that includes taro. Tamales are generally made with corn masa. I've never made either, but given the descriptions of the process, I wouldn't attempt either without the guidance of someone much more experienced.

    1. Pasteles are the Puerto Rican, Dominican, Venezuelan or Trinidadian (is that a word?) verion of the tamale. Here's a definition from Wikipedia.

      I started a thread for you on Home Cooking requesting pastales recipes. There are a few links in this thread to recipes.

      The only thread on Home Cooking about pastels didn't have a recipe.

      Tamales ... it depends on the country. Here's another wiki article.

      There are so many region-dependant verstions of tamales. A good book for understanding the difference is Tamales 101: A Beginner's Guide to Making Traditional Tamales.

      If you are determined to make these dishes, this might be a good book because there are a number of hints for simplifying the process.

      I use it more for a quick reference on different tamales. The problem I have with the book is the cheese they suggest ... often Monterey Jack.

      As far as Chowhound recipes for tamales, this search of Home Cooking might get you started:

      The book Tamales 101 says that the difference between the Puerto Rican and Trinidadian pasteles is the Trini version uses masa rather than plantain dough.

      Both usually have a filling that usually has pork, cured ham, garlic, green bell pepper, onion, cilantro, olives, capers, raisins, etc.

      It is savory and sweet. There are variations.

      With a standard issue Mexican tamale, the filling usually has a little heat to it ... not always, but a good percentage of the time. There are also sweet Mexican tamales where the flavor is mixed into the masa rather than used as a filling.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Pastel is also the general Spanish word for pastry, including cake and pie (pay). See for example this Spanish wiki entry for Pastel

        The application to a tamale like item is regional. Humita is the Andean equivalent.

        Torta is also used for cakes, with the exception of Mexico where it refers to a sandwich. The article also mentions 'ponque', the Columbian term, which is derived from the English 'pound cake'.


        1. re: paulj

          Yeah, that's a good point. I was all hyped up at a local bakery when one of customers mentioned pastales until I realized later they just meant cake. With the mention of tamales though I am guessing the question was about the Puerto Rican tamale version.

      2. Tamales & pasteles, are basically the same thing. The difference is in the mass and the fillings.
        - Most caribbean countries use a mass of grated/mashed green plaintains & yautia, with puerto rico also using mashed/grated yuca, but that's usually only found in the countryside.
        - Most north/central/south american countries use a "corn masa" or corn flour, which differs from fine to extra fine depending on the country, some even use fresh kernels, boiled then mashed/grated.
        - The tamale/pastel is wrapped either in corn husks (mostly north/central/south america) or plantain leaves (mostly caribbean & Panama)
        - A tipical tamale/pastel is made with a pork filling, and also raisins, capers, red/green peppers, etc.. but this depends on country. also some use cubed/diced chicken.

        9 Replies
        1. re: nfiniti

          Tamales in South America are wrapped in banana leaves. I have to go to the US or Mexico to get dried corn husks to make Mexsican style tamales.

          1. re: nfiniti

            Maybe you are being hyperbolic by saying that tamales and pasteles are basically the same thing, but I would say they are merely vaguely similar. They're certainly in the same family of foods, but only as much as pad thai and spaghetti alla carbonara are both noodle dishes (yes, now I am being hyperbolic). I'm only familiar with the pasteles of Puerto Rico, and the tamales of a few parts of Mexico.
            The pasteles I grew up with were usually wrapped in parchment paper, usually with just a strip of banana leaf inside for flavor. A full banana leaf wrapper was used almost exclusively for special occasions. The use of plantain rather than corn masa changes the character greatly, with pasteles usually having a much higher moisture level than tamales. This is exacerbated by pasteles being boiled where tamales are steamed. The meat in a pastele is typically also much higher in moisture than that in a tamale, being stewed for a long time in a thin liquid, where tamales typically use either roasted meat, or meat stewed in salsa. The additional flavorings are also quite different, as Puerto Rico and Mexico use very different flavor profiles in their cooking.
            I would say that pasteles and hallacas are very similar, however, and Mexican tamales seem to have a lot in common with the tamales of non-Carribean South America.

            1. re: danieljdwyer

              But I repeat, Mexican tamales and South American (including here in Colombia) tamales have little in common. Mexican/Guatemalan tamales make my top ten faves; while the local tamales I can do completely without.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                What are Colombian tamales like? I've never been south of Nicaragua, so I was just going by the use of corn masa.

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  Large, streamed in banana leaf, maize meal based, large chunk of shattered chicken, some carrot, chunks of potato, very very very oily. No chile, lots of salt.

                  I have to bring masa harina and corn husks back with me from Mexico or the US to make tortillas and tamales.

                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Ecuador has something closer to a tamale, an humita. It is wrapped in corn husk. The masa might use a fresher corn, and a savory filling is rare. More commonly they are plain (de sal) or anise flavored (dulce). I have found frozen Central American 'tamales de elote' which are similar (using butter instead of lard as the fat). I eat them warm with butter and syrup (like pancakes).

                3. re: danieljdwyer

                  Also, I meant to add, it is typical for Puerto Ricans to eat pasteles with ketchup. I would imagine ketchup on tamales would make many Mexicans cringe.

                4. re: nfiniti

                  "Tamales & pasteles, are basically the same thing"

                  Not in Cuban cuisine. Pasteles are a pastry. Most commonly guava but can be varied from coconut to even ham and cheese.

                  1. re: Steve

                    The same in Panama... pasteles could be either savory or sweet like (meat pie in Panama is a "Pastel de Carne"... or a Pineapple Pie "Pastel de Piña" so it is always on pastries.

                    Tamales are always savory.

                    And when we use Yuca or Plantain "masa" or dough etc.... we call it empanadas or (Carimañolas for yuca, empanadas (for either sweet plantains and corn or flour).

                5. Where I come from Pasteles are like empanadas (either made of flour or corn) and Tamales are made of a corn dough (in my country again, we don't know what Masa Harina is).. So we cook the corn and then grind it and then spice it with "sazon" stuff it with chicken or pork.. grilled onions, peppers, dried plums, olives and raisins... and wrapp it with banana leaves...

                  I will try to come up with a recipe for you if you are interested in making tamales =)

                  Pasteles I am still curious to see what types of pasteles you meant.


                  3 Replies
                    1. re: bbqboy

                      Hi BBQboy I'm from Panama.. I clicked on your profile but it won't tell me where are you from too.

                      I am still looking for Panamanian food, it is so difficult in DC area... but I'm happy to have Cuban and Puertorrica options that's similar to my land =)

                      1. re: helenahimm

                        I'm in Southern Oregon. Lots of tamales here, no pasteles, as far as I know. But now you've got me searching.
                        PS: I'll bet your name is Helena. sorry. :)

                  1. Thanks for all your updates on tamales and pasteles--I love both of them--the sweet ones sound devine too-I love guava and guava tarts rocks too!