Substitute for Corn Husks When Making Tamales

Tamales are especially delicious when they’re fresh, but what if you can’t find the corn husks you need to make this tasty dish? The truth is, corn husks can be difficult to find in a regular grocery store, so sometimes it’s necessary to find alternatives.

There are a number of things you can substitute for corn husks when making tamales, including banana leaves, chard, aluminum foil, cabbage leaves, parchment paper, wax paper, turnip leaves, and even coffee filters, among others.

The Best Alternatives for Corn Husks

Fresh corn husks are an important component of tamales, but since you don’t actually eat them, it is possible to replace corn husks with numerous other items. These include the following:

Banana Leaves

Banana leaves used as substitute for corn husks when making tamales

Banana leaves are the most popular replacement for corn husks. They have a slight banana flavor and can be found at most Asian or Mexican food stores. You’ll want to cut out the center rib of each of the leaves. Other than that, you’ll be using the leaves just as you would corn husks.

Aluminum Foil

Many people don’t think of using aluminum foil when making tamales without corn husks, but it really does work. There’s a couple things to keep in mind here. First of all, aluminum foil has no taste or smell to it, so you don’t have to worry about it changing the taste of the tamales. Second, you can reuse aluminum foil several times, so it is a cost-efficient way to make tamales.

Cabbage Leaves

Cabbage leaves have a nice earthy flavor and taste especially good in tamales made with pork or chicken. If your tamales are going to be a little sweet, you might want to consider adding 1-2 teaspoons of sugar when you’re making the dough. The leaves really do add a lot of flavor to your tamales, regardless of what type they are.

Parchment Paper

The good thing about using parchment paper instead of corn husks is that the texture is very similar between the two. The paper also does a great job of keeping the liquids from seeping through and giving the tamales a mushy taste and texture. To use this type of paper, wrap your tamale filling before you steam it on the stove or drop it into boiling water the traditional way.


Chard leaves used as substitute for corn husks when making tamales

Leaves of chard are very close to corn husks in many ways, but there is no corn or gluten in them. Also, they usually don’t come conveniently packaged, so you may have to cut them up yourself. Plus, they can be difficult to find. But they taste great when used for making your tamales.

Wax Paper

Wax paper is not only a great alternative to corn husks, but it is also very cheap and super-easy to find. You use them exactly as you would corn husks, and you can usually use the same roll of wax paper for tons of tamales, which makes this a very cost-efficient corn husk substitute.

Turnip Leaves

Turnip leaves are very flexible and shaped almost exactly like corn husks. It’s super-easy to roll the turnip leaves around the masa, which means closing off the tamale on the ends is easy to do. One suggestion is to blanch your turnip leaves before using them. Why? Because they tend to be a little bitter otherwise, and blanching them will give them a great taste that complements the tamales.

Coffee Filters

Coffee filters are like corn husks in a few ways. They have a similar texture and are shaped a lot like corn husks. You can even lay them flat on your table and wrap them tightly around the filling without having them crack or tear.