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Increased maíz/corn costs force some tamal, tortilla makers to raise prices

Associated Press Writer

Dec. 25, 2007 (AP): Tamales,…is plural for tamal. What is a tamal?—a Mexican dish made of ground meat seasoned with red pepper, rolled in corn meal (masa harina), wrapped in corn husks (hojas), and subsequently steamed. They are especially popular during the holiday season.

Alamar Pérez and Estella Trinidad
of La Paloma

Each Christmas season since 1984 Gilberto Carrillo’s family has wrapped thousands of tamales by hand, but this year he must charge customers more than ever for the tasty holiday favorite.

It’s a routine that keeps his family business in El Paso, Tamales Lupita, and other tamale shops very busy. But rising expenses have forced them to pass on the costs to customers. Carrillo said his store charged $11 per dozen last year and now it’s at $12 per dozen.

“Everything is going up, meat, corn husks, minimum wage, everything,” he said as a line of customers filled his shop.

The increases don’t seem to be affecting demand too much.

But while a dollar a dozen may not seem like a huge jump, in the tamale-selling business where customers often order several dozen at a time, it adds up quickly. Especially for the smaller shops that appear to be the most affected by the higher prices.

Tamale makers blame the jump in corn prices on the country’s efforts to use corn for ethanol-infused fuel. Corn prices have risen about 55 percent since 2003, along with the price of petroleum products needed to ship and package it, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Ruben Leal, president of Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory, said he has had to raise prices by about a dollar a dozen in recent years.

Because his 57-year-old business serves thousands of handmade tamales a day—Leal wouldn’t say just how busy his shop is—he’s been able to keep prices low at just $6.50. But that may not last for long, he said.

“We’re going up to $7 next year and $7.50 in ‘09,” Leal said.


Maíz en el norte
At Taquería Salazar in Adrian, Michigan, the price of a dozen tamales remains at $6.50. The tamales are hand-made by the Salazar family. Prices at MexicanTown Bakery in Detroit have risen to $8.95, also due to masa and corn husk prices.

Alamar Pérez, co-owner of La Paloma in Toledo, says the popular south end store has been maintaining its sales prices at $7.00 per dozen even though the prices for corn-related products have sharply increased. The Pérez family has been in business as a bakery—which also sells a variety of Latin products including hot, fresh tamales—for 25 years.

Prices for a dozen tamales at El Aguila  in Fremont, Ohio are $7.75. According to co-owner Felicia Obregón, “our tamales are offered every day and can be purchased with hot or mild seasoning.” El Aguila has been in business for 35 years and while machine wrapped this favorite Christmas dish is made at the bakery, which is located at
1810 W. State Street.

Santiago Martínez, owner of Toledo-based La Perla, informed La Prensa that La Perla sells a dozen tamales for $8.00, with the rising corn prices being the reason for recent increases. La Perla is a Midwest wholesaler of tortilla and masa-based products, but it will also manufacture flour tortillas in about one month. La Perla also has a retail outlet of Latino products on Hill Avenue.

Just how the price hikes will ultimately affect the tamal, or the tortilla industry for that matter, remains to be seen, but tamal and tortilla makers say there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

“It affects everybody who deals in corn-related products,” Javier Angel, co-owner of El Camino Restaurant (West Toledo) and El Camino Sky Restaurant (Oregon, Ohio). 

Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.






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