When it comes to cooking up a fantastic tasting 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 hack, we asked our Test Kitchen experts to weigh in.
Canned pumpkin is much easier
If you’re attempting to make a pumpkin recipe, you can’t just scoop the pumpkin right out of the shell. Instead, 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 do it).
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 explained. “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 said.
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 Magazine, Libby’s Pumpkin 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 known as the Libby Select. These plants produce squash that is more oval, less vibrant in color and much more flavorful. The final product that comes from Libby 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 five days.