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. But why is that, exactly? To get to the bottom of this puzzling baking best practice, we asked our Test Kitchen experts to weigh in.

First, Is Canned Pumpkin Actually Pumpkin?

Just like the predictable release of PSLs and new Halloween candy, the annual debate about canned pumpkin always emerges. Some folks insist that canned pumpkin is actually some sort of butternut squash and not the real deal (though you can make a delicious pie with butternut squash).

You can squash this debate easily: Check the label. The ingredient list on the most popular brands of canned pumpkin is short and sweet: pumpkin!

So, Why Used Canned Pumpkin Instead of Fresh?

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“Using fresh pumpkin sounds appealing until you try it once,” says Maggie Knoebel in our Test Kitchen. This might sound harsh, but hear Maggie out!

Canned Pumpkin Saves Time and Effort

“Making pumpkin puree is time-consuming,” says Maggie.

Making a batch of pumpkin puree from scratch can take an hour or more. You have to clean the pumpkin, remove the seeds (don’t toss ’em—make roasted pumpkin seeds instead), roast or steam the squash, puree it, strain it and let it all cool. That’s a lot of work and time! Get to know if you can eat pumpkin seed shells.

With a can of pumpkin, you just have to pop open the top. It makes these quick and easy pumpkin recipes so simple.

Canned Pumpkin Delivers Consistent Results

“Homemade pumpkin puree is consistently inconsistent,” says Catherine Ward in the Test Kitchen. That’s because the amount of water in each pumpkin varies. That means your homemade puree can either yield a perfectly lush pumpkin pie from scratch or one that’s unpleasant and watery.

Because canned pumpkin has the same texture can after can, “you’ll get a consistent result with your recipes every time,” explains Maggie.

Canned Just Tastes Better

When it comes down to pies made with fresh pumpkin versus canned pumpkin, our editors preferred the canned version.

Why? Our pros said that the pie made with canned pumpkin was more flavorful with a perfectly silky texture. Canned pumpkin also tends to have a more vibrant color, which makes all sorts of recipes, including pumpkin bread, look all the more appetizing.

And if the standard can of Libby’s isn’t for you, Maggie says, “our recent Test Kitchen-Preferred pumpkin taste test showed me how many types of puree are out there.”

Canned Pumpkin Is Cost-Effective

Maggie explains that opting for canned pumpkin is often better for your baking budget.

A sugar pie pumpkin (that’s the kind you want to use for cooking—not your standard Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin) will often run you around $5 at the pumpkin patch. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, you may need multiple for the right amount of pumpkin puree for your recipe.

In contrast, a can of pumpkin puree costs about $2 and all the prep work is done for you.

Canned Pumpkin Is Readily Available

Lastly, canned pumpkin is readily available at most grocery stores year-round—perfect for when you get a craving for pumpkin muffins in mid-June. If that sounds like you, be sure to stock up on a few extra cans. Canned pumpkin has a long shelf life, much like these other baking staples.

If you can’t find pumpkin at your grocery store, you can try these canned pumpkin substitutes.

Canned Pumpkin FAQs

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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.

  • What are canned pumpkin ingredients? Check the label! You’ll find that pumpkin is the only ingredient listed. Pumpkin puree is made by steaming and pureeing squash so there are no added ingredients.
  • Is canned pumpkin cooked? Yes, it’s already been cooked via steaming. It’s safe to eat canned pumpkin straight from the can, but it’s infinitely better baked into a pan of pumpkin bars.
  • How long is canned pumpkin good for? Unopened, canned pumpkin will last until the expiration date printed on the can. Once opened, leftover pumpkin can be kept in the fridge for up to five days. Use it up with these recipes that call for a partial can.

Open a Can! These Recipes All Start with Canned Pumpkin
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Emma B. Kumer
Emma Kumer is a marathon-runner, magazine-writer, and graphic design addict. She was a digital editorial intern for Taste of Home Magazine for Summer 2017. She is also a junior in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.