dried corn husks

Corn Husks

Corn has been a central part of the Mexican diet and culture since ancient times. Not only is it eaten fresh in its many varieties, its dried kernels are used for an infinity of things, including masa to make everything from tortillas to tamales. It’s husks are also treasured as an ingredient to wrap and cook food in. Tamales, of course, have remained the wrapped and cooked food par excellence in Mexico. Methods have varied from steaming, to cooking over comales or the open fire, to cooking in underground pits.

Now, the use of fresh or dried leaves for wrapping and cooking foods is not exclusive to Mexico. Grape leaves were used since ancient Greece and banana leaves in the Philippines, to name some. In Mexico, there has been a large variety of ingredients for this use like banana leaves, avocado leaves, chaya, hoja santa leaves, large spinach leaves and even some exotic flower leaves. Still corn husks, fresh or dried, have been and remain a crucial one.

Corn husks not only help keep the food in place, they also keep it moist, seal in the flavor, and impart their own essence, fragrance and taste. The flavor and aroma vary depending on whether the corn husks are fresh and tender, fresh and mature or dried.

To assemble, fresh corn husks are carefully taken from ears of corn, washed and used to wrap some types of tamales, usually those made from fresh corn like the famous Michoacán uchepos. However, most tamales that use corn husks use them dried, as they can be stored for a long time – as long as they are not stored in a sunny or moist area – and are available year round.

To use dried corn husks, they need to be soaked for about 10 minutes in warm water to make them pliable, thus preventing tears or breaks and making them more flexible for folding around the masa. I usually start soaking them as I begin to make my tamales, and they are ready by the time I am ready to form my tamales. Nothing happens if you soak them for hours on end. The husks are also used to line the tamaleras or steamers to keep the water away and steady the tamales.

Corn husks are most commonly sold dried, stacked together in plastic packaging. In Mexico, you will see them in abundance hanging from market stands. They are becoming more available in the U.S., as well. Look for them in the Latin aisles of your supermarket, at your local Hispanic or international market, or online. If you happen to get more than you need, you can give some to your kids, for them to fashion puppets or dolls…


29comments inCorn Husks

  1. Misty

    Jan 14

    I made tamales for the first time and have store the extra soaked overnight husks in a zip lock bag in the fridge can I freeze them this was still wet and thaw on my next time?

    1. Pati Jinich

      Jan 15

      I have never done this Misty, you may try, but my guess is that they might crack a bit when thawed 🙂

  2. Cynthia

    Jan 03

    Hola Patí! Question: Can I still use the corn husks I bought early last year to make tamales? Or even how much longer do I have to be able to use them? Thank you so much for your help Patí! Bendiciones!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Jan 06

      Hola Cynthia! As long as your husks have been stored in a dry place, have no mold and are still pliable after soaking them, you can go ahead and use them, enjoy!

  3. Terri

    Jan 24

    I am trying to find organic corn husks, don’t see them anywhere. Are they not available to your knowledge? Thank you.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Feb 10

      Hi Terri, I think some of the leaves in the market are actually organic, but you have to double check in the packaging. Online, I think once I saw them on Etsy.

  4. Jerry Rosales

    Jan 11

    I boiled my hoyjas to get them ready faster and it worked well just make sure to rinse them in warm water to keep them from burning your hands

    1. Pati

      Jan 11


  5. Britton Stewart

    Jan 10

    I have never used corn husks for cooking before. Since I love Mexican cooking, I will look forward learning how to use them, so that I can cook with them.

    1. Pati

      Jan 11


  6. Uerry Flores

    Jan 21

    Not a good idea to reuse tamale husks. They lose flavor from the first process. The husks provides it own flavor to the masa and the tamale in whole.

  7. carlosperdue

    Jun 14

    Anyone hear of boiling and reusing corn husks?

    1. Pati

      Jun 16

      I know about soaking them in hot or warm water to soften then and make them pliable… But haven’t heard or read about boiling for reusing

      1. carlosperdue

        Jun 16

        Hmm. Thanks. A friend of mine did it and they were fine.

  8. gloria lopez

    Jan 01

    Hola Pati,
    I love going thru your recipes. My abuela ,Wela, was a fabulous cook. Alas, she never used a recipe. I wish I had paid more attention.

    I wanted to comment on drying the wet corn husks. My daughter puts a few at a time in a salad spinner.

    Again, thank you for the stories & history of Mexican cooking.

    Gloria Lopez

    1. Pati

      Jan 02

      That is a good idea… I love that you called your abuela Wela 🙂

  9. Azucena

    Apr 07

    Hi Pati Is it possible to find organic corn husk? I make organic tamales meaning using organic ingredients but using regular corn husk. A customer recently mentioned if I could use organic husk too. As you know corn husk uses sulfites as preservative. Thanks PS I love your recipes.

    1. Pati

      Apr 08

      Hola! I think they have some at Whole Foods.

  10. Mike

    Feb 26

    We’ve been hosting tamales parties on an almost annual basis for several years now, and the one issue that we haven’t resolved is how to dry the husks after soaking them. The concern has been, I believe, that if the husks are too wet the tamales get soggy. I’d like to know if you think we should even bother with drying them, and if so, how would you recommend doing it? Since we will typically make at least a couple hundred tamales, using cloth or paper towels runs through a lot of those very quickly.

    Thank you!

    1. Pati

      Feb 27

      Hola Mike, Your tamales parties sound fun! I drain the corn husks into a colander, and then I pull them from the colander as I make the tamales. No need to dry with a towel.

  11. J.D.

    Jan 23

    Hello, is there a technique to minimizing the deep wrinkles that just won’t go away even after soaking? Seems like there are so many of those in the bag and they never result in a clean looking tamale. I bought one of those spreaders and it doesn’t get in the grooves so I stick with a spoon but it’s time consuming. Any help is appreciated.

    1. Pati

      Jan 28

      Hola J.D., Are you soaking them in hot water?

  12. julia

    Dec 27

    Im,concerened that the corn husk my parents used for tamales were not fresh. they were stored from last yrs xmas . They had black spots on the edges looked like mold . which we have alot around the house. I quiestioned but they just looked at me like if I was nuts. They dont realize how bad mold is. any info on this can husk have mold after storage

    1. Pati

      Dec 29

      HM. Yes. Dried corn husks should be kept tightly sealed in a dry (not moist) and not sunny area of your kitchen. If some of them have discoloration or aren’t even, that is ok, just natural differences. But if all of them seem to have brown or black moldy spots then I would go back to the store and complain, and get a fresh new bag.

  13. Ross

    Dec 24

    May corn husks be used from domestic field corn rather than sweet corn?

    There are lots of husks available after a harvester has gone thru a plot of field corn. Not being a farmer, I am concerned that MAYBE farmers use a spray poison on the crops to kill pests that would stay on the husks. Would they do the same with a plot of sweet corn?

    Would it be a different story if I found dried corn husks for the purpose of cooking packaged in Mexico?

    Lots of Corny Questions 🙂
    Thank you.

  14. melinda

    Dec 22

    I started much too late in the day at my first attempt to make tamales…….I’ve already soaked the corn husks, can I just put them in a bag in the refrigerator until tomorrow? Thanks for you input!

    1. Pati

      Dec 23

      Yes! If they dry up overnight, soak them in warm water, again, for a few minutes when you are ready to make the tamales.

  15. Teri

    Jan 31

    I just purchased your cookbook, beautifully done and so excited to try meals I have never tried. I do a large amount of canning including corn. Do you know the process to properly prepare and dry the corn husk? I try to save money anywhere I can. This would be so helpful when doing 100 tamalies.

    I’m so happy I watch RMPBS and found your show. You are a breath of fresh air, and so delightful to watch.

    1. Pati

      Jan 31

      Hi Teri,
      Thank you so much for buying my cookbook! The process of drying corn husks is beyond simple: Simply remove them from the corn cob, place them on a mat or large baking dish and set out to dry in a sunny and dry place. If the temperature is nice outside, you can just leave them outside. Before you store them, make sure they are completely dry.
      Thank you for watching my show!

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