Why It’s Better to Use Canned Pumpkin for Fall Baking

You might think that fresh is always best, but for fall baking, canned pumpkin is king. Find out why our Test Kitchen prefers a can over any pumpkin patch pick.

When it comes to cooking a fantastic meal, we’ve always heard that fresh is better. There’s no denying farmers market strawberries or tomatoes just off the vine add incredible flavor to a dish. However, there’s one exception to this rule: cooking with pumpkin. Even professional cooks testify that canned pumpkin is superior to fresh puree for cooking.

To get to the bottom of this puzzling baking best practice, we asked our Test Kitchen experts to weigh in.

Is Canned Pumpkin Really Pumpkin?

Libby's canned pumpkinBrianna Griepentrog/Taste of Home

In recent years, we’ve come across a number of people worried that canned pumpkin puree is a mix of butternut squash and other squashes. The rumor started on social media and took off across the internet. People were outraged about having eaten “squash pie” and “squash spice lattes.”

Yes, canned pumpkin is really pumpkin. But this bright orange puree comes from a squash that looks nothing like the jack-o’-lanterns we know and love! There’s no strict botanical definition for pumpkins, which are, in fact, all squash. You might be used to seeing giant orange pumpkins every fall, but they’re not the only variety of pumpkin out there.

The kind used in most canned pumpkin is Dickinson pumpkin, a variety of Cucurbita moschata, and was developed by Libby’s, the brand that sells most of the cans in the US. This type of pumpkin is called Libby’s Select, and it’s most definitely pumpkin, even if it might not look like the pumpkins we know and love. The off-white pumpkins still contain the classic orange pumpkin flesh, which goes straight into the can The Libby’s can also states that pumpkin is the only ingredient, so rest assured—you’re baking a 100% pumpkin pie.

Why Should I Use Canned Pumpkin?

Canned pumpkin is much easier

If you’re attempting to make a pumpkin recipe, you can’t scoop the pumpkin right out of the shell. It’s a process that requires scooping seeds and stringy stuff, baking, pureeing and straining. It can take up to two hours to make pumpkin puree—and then you still have to bake the pie! It’s a lot of work during a hectic holiday season (though, if you’re feeling ambitious, we’ll show you how to make pumpkin puree).

Canned pumpkin works better in recipes

The texture and taste of canned pumpkin is impossible to mess up, but the same can’t be said for fresh puree.

“The major drawback to making your own pumpkin is inconsistency in moisture content and sweetness,” Taste of Home‘s kitchen operations manager Beth Jacobsen explains. “This is the benefit and curse that comes with all fresh produce. You would be playing a guessing game as to how much water to add to your puree if it’s too dry or how much liquid to remove from your recipe if it’s very wet.”

For recipes that combine the pumpkin with liquid, such as soups, this isn’t as important. When it comes to recipes that require precision, like baked goods, let’s just say that it’s not as easy as pie. “The consistency may have a significant effect on baking recipes where hydration and sugar levels can make a big difference,” Jacobsen says.

Not all pumpkins are the same

No matter how well you can puree a pumpkin, you’ll never reach that canned consistency simply because you’re using a different squash. According to Forbes, Libby’s is responsible for producing 85% of the nation’s canned pumpkin. Instead of using the typical jack-o’-lantern varieties, the company has developed its own variety. The plants produce squash that is more oval, less vibrant in color and much more flavorful.

The final product that comes from Libby’s Select pumpkins is going to be different from any homemade pumpkin simply because it’s bred for baking.

The canned stuff is always available

Most people might only make pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and forego pumpkin the rest of the year. But serious pumpkin fans want pumpkin more frequently, perhaps when fresh pumpkins just aren’t available. For availability and convenience alone, canned pumpkin is the best option.

Canned pumpkin just tastes better

Sure, canned pumpkin might be easier to use and more readily available, but that might not be enough to convince some (even some Taste of Home staffers). That’s why we actually put canned pumpkin and fresh pumpkin head to head in a taste test. In the end, the canned pumpkin won out on flavor alone. When you combine that with the ease of use, availability and consistency, you just can’t beat canned.

Canned pumpkin FAQs

Now that you know you should be adding a can or two of pumpkin to your shopping cart, get the answers to a few of your most pressing questions.

Q: What are canned pumpkin ingredients?

A: If you look at a can of pumpkin, it has just one ingredient: pumpkin. Canned pumpkin is just made by steaming and pureeing squash, so there are no added ingredients in any major brand.

Q: Is canned pumpkin cooked?

A: Yes, it’s cooked. It’s been steamed and pureed. It’s safe to eat right from the can, but we think it tastes better in a pumpkin cheesecake.

Q: How long is canned pumpkin good for?

A: Unopened, canned pumpkin will last until the expiration date printed on the can. Once opened, canned pumpkin can be kept in the fridge for up to five days.

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