I can't cook, but I sure can Nuke!

Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tamalitos $3.99

Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tamalitos

  • Taste
  • Nutrition
  • Honesty in Advertising
  • Green Packaging
  • Value

Authentic & delicious, these “tamalitos” are just the right size for snacking or appetizers. And as usual, Trader Joe’s uses only natural ingredients. Just ignore the cooking instructions.

First an apology – it’s been a looong time since I’ve posted something new. No, I didn’t stop nuking my food, although it’s definitely time to replace my 10-year old microwave. But a friend of my wife said she needs some new suggestions for quick foods, which made me realize I never reviewed one of my new favorites, Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tamalitos. So here goes:

Tamal(e)s are a “masa” dish common throughout Central and South America, but living in San Diego, I am partial to the kind that are common in Northern Mexico. They are usually made out of a corn-meal stuffed with chicken or pork, cheese, onions, corn, and/or chiles, and a hint of lime. They are shaped into flattened tubes about 6″ long, wrapped in corn husk, and steamed. Note that there are many ways to make them, I’m just describing what is popular in my area. They are eaten for breakfast or dinner, and are particularly common during the holidays, when large batches are made and sold by street vendors.

Trader Joe’s sells both regular and vegetarian tamales, but these are bite-size versions of chicken tamales. It is a novel but welcome option, because normal tamales can be relatively heavy, a meal unto themselves. These “tamalitos,” on the other hand, are small enough to be eaten as a snack or as hors d’oeuvres. There are 4 per serving, which I agree is just the right amount for a hearty snack or even a light lunch. They are authentically made, in Mexico, by hand. A serving suggestion: these things beg to be dipped in something spicy, and I recommend Taco Bell’s hot sauce for them. I realize that seems like an odd suggestion (unauthentic sauce with authentic food), but trust me, it tastes great.

The packaging is a little disappointing. The box contains a heavy plastic bag containing the tamalitos, which are each wrapped in parchment paper (not corn husk). The box really isn’t necessary, and I’ve always felt that corn husk (or banana leaf, when you can find them that way) adds a little flavor, plus it’s a little more eco-friendly than paper. But it’s a minor quibble.

The cooking instructions are kooky – put some water on a plate, place the frozen (but still wrapped) tamalitos on the plate, cover with damp towel, wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic, zap ’em, and then let them “rest” (their word) for a minute. Then remove plastic, paper, and wrapping to get at ’em. What a pain, and totally unnecessary! My version: place tamalitos in a circle on a plate and zap, turning over half way thru. Unwrap & eat. Less time, less waste.

Nutritionally, tamales tend to be relatively heavy “comfort” food, and historically were made with lard. Fortunately for us Trader Joe’s uses canola oil instead, and the rest of the ingredients are all natural – I couldn’t find a single ingredient on the list that I didn’t recognize. They even go the extra mile by including some truly authentic ingredients such as Oaxaca cheese and Ancho & Guajillo chiles. Despite the wholesome ingredients, a serving size is relatively high in calories (300) and total fat (27%DV). But other than sodium (26%DV), everything else is relatively benign – saturated fat is only 11%DV and fiber is 14%DV.

All-in-all, I’d say these are a great buy at $3.99 for a box of 10 (~40 cents each!), they’re absolutely delicious, and I don’t feel (too) guilty about eating them. Plus I can go from crave to chow-down in under 3 minutes. I happily give the first Microwave King Editors Choice award of 2013 to Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tamalitos.

Calories per container: 300 (Caloric Density: 2.13)



  1. please do more reviews!!!!

  2. Where can I buy these wonderful Trader Joe’s tamilitos in Phoenix, Az. Our Trader Joes does not carry them. 🙁

    • Unfortunately it looks like they’ve been discontinued – I haven’t seen them in a couple of months. They have larger, standard sized tamales, just not these mini ones. Such a shame – I loved them!

      • Can’t they bring them back? They were easy to fix and delicious……so handy for appetizers.

  3. they are delicious!! I am having shoulder surgery and I wish I can find them for my son’s wedding appetizer. I am suppose to cook the food for that they and i am trying to make it easy for me. Can somebody help me with this information. The other regular tamales are too big.

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