The Surprising Reason It's Better to Cook With Canned Pumpkin
Professional chefs from our Test Kitchen explain one of this season's biggest baking hacks.
By Emma Kumer, Digital Editorial Intern
Shutterstock / Warren Price Photography
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.
It's Much, 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 long and laborious process that requires scooping seeds and stringy stuff, baking, pureeing, and straining. (Feeling ambitious? We'll walk you through the process step-by-step.) Truth is, making pumpkin puree in its entirety is grueling and tedious, most likely requiring between 90 minutes to two hours. On the other hand, with the right can opener, it takes about five seconds to crack open a can. In times as hectic as the holiday season, those extra minutes really add up.
It Just Works Better
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," 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 the meticulous process of desserts, however, 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.
It's Not the Same Type of Pumpkin
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 percent of the nation's canned pumpkin. Instead of using the typical jack-o'-lantern breeds, the company has developed their own variety known as the Libby Select. These fruits are 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 designed to be ideal for baking.
It's Readily Available Year-round
Most people might only make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen, they're cooking holiday food year-round. In fact, the professionals bake and photograph the magazine recipes up to six months in advance, which means it's pretty difficult to find a patch of premature pumpkins. Luckily for them, canned pumpkin is always in stores, no matter what time of year it is. If you're trying to make pumpkin bars in July or pumpkin soup in February, canned pumpkin is the only way to go.
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For these reasons, it's hard to deny that canned pumpkin is the clear winner in our pie-baking endeavors. However, when you're carving those jack-o'-lanterns, don't throw away the insides just yet. Fresh pumpkin seeds, on the flipside, taste amazing when roasted.