Fresh vs. Canned Pumpkin: I put them to the test!

fresh pumpkin vs canned pumpkin for pie

Is fresh pumpkin worth the effort, or should you just used canned pumpkin?

A few nights ago I laid in bed, eyes wide open, pondering that very question (because thinking about food before bed is way more fun than counting sheep).

For the longest time I had never bothered to use anything other than canned pumpkin. Mostly because so many recipes just say to use canned pumpkin by default. It seems like the common thing to do.

I mean seriously, which do we all WANT to be better? The canned pumpkin, obviously. All you have to do is open a can. It’s so quick and simple. Fresh pumpkin requires extra work.

a sugar pumpkin for fresh pumpkin pie

But hey now, it’s not that much extra work, and I decided that it was time to see if the extra work is worth it. This extra work is basically just to cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, roast, and puree. Not difficult at all. So I set out to compare the two, to figure out whether fresh or canned pumpkin is the way to go.

In order to test, I first had to prep the pumpkin (make sure you buy a designated sugar or pie pumpkin). I scooped the seeds out with a melon baller (much like I did with my Maple Butter Roasted Acorn Squash). Save the seeds if you want to make roasted pumpkin seeds.

use a melon baller to seed a fresh sugar pumpkin

Place the pumpkin halves on a sheet pan to roast until tender.

how to roast fresh sugar pumpkin for puree

Scoop the roasted pumpkin from the skin, and puree in a food processor until smooth, like this:

fresh pumpkin puree from sugar pumpkin

Once I had the pumpkin puree cooked like this, my husband and I both did a blind taste test.

Here were my notes:

  • WOW pumpkin is not sweet at all. We think of it as sweet because it’s often used in desserts, but this stuff needs some sugar!
  • Both of these pumpkin purees taste far too yucky to tell which one is better, at this point. No more tasting until I add some sugar.
  • For now I will observe with my eyes, and I noted that the colors are very different.

So what I did is I made the exact same recipe for pumpkin pie, except I used the fresh pumpkin puree for one, and the canned pumpkin puree for the other.

This was the canned pumpkin mix:

canned pumpkin pie recipe

And this was the fresh:

fresh pumpkin puree for pumpkin pie

I stirred it all together, and here you can see the canned pumpkin mixture on the left, and the fresh on the right.

They vary quite a bit in color, don’t they?

side by side comparison of fresh and canned pumpkin

Here’s where my husband and I did another blind taste test, tasting the raw pumpkin pie filling (sweetened up this time).

Blind Taste Test #2 Notes:

  • This stuff tastes so much better with all the ingredients mixed in!
  • It is now painfully obvious which one is the canned and which one is the fresh, even though my eyes are closed and I don’t know which is which. There is a weird flavor with the canned pumpkin that now that I notice it, is pretty off-putting.
So I put the two pumpkin fillings into two identical pie crusts, on a sheet pan so that they could both bake evenly, on the same oven rack:

flaky pie crusts for pumpkin pie

Here’s what they looked like after being baked. The colors aren’t as different anymore. If someone brought me the pie on the left, even though it’s not as bright of an orange, I would still know it’s pumpkin pie.

side by side comparison of pumpkin pies

Finished product blind taste test #3:

  • What’s most funny about this experiment is that going into it, I thought there would be a clear answer based only on taste. What I found is that the biggest difference is the texture.
  • The canned pumpkin has a sort of cottage cheese/ricotta texture, whereas the fresh pumpkin has a more sweet potato-like, thicker, more velvety texture.
  • I personally think the fresh pumpkin pie texture is better. My husband agrees.
  • The canned pumpkin pie taste is seriously driving me crazy now. I’m not sure I can eat canned pumpkin again, because that canned pumpkin flavor is just so strong and unappetizing to me.

Pumpkin pie recipe using fresh pumpkin puree

So tell me, have you compared canned and fresh pumpkin, side by side? Maybe it’s time to see what you prefer! Have fun and let me know which you like better =)

My favorite pumpkin pie

Yield: 1 standard pie

My favorite pumpkin pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 small pie pumpkin, to yield 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 pie crust (you can use my recipe here)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds with a melon baller, then bake on a sheet pan for about 1 hour until fork tender. Scoop out all the pumpkin from the skin, and puree in a food processor until smooth. Measure out two cups of pumpkin puree, and set aside for later. EDIT: if you wish to have a thicker, denser pumpkin pie, let the pumpkin puree strain in a colander (line it with cheesecloth or a damp, thick paper towel) for an hour or so, to remove some of the water from the pumpkin puree.
  2. Bump the oven heat up to 400, and place your pie crust in a standard 9-inch pie plate. Blind bake the pie crust for 20 minutes, and be sure to either prick the dough all over with a fork, or fill the pie crust with a piece of parchment weighted down with pie weights, to keep the crust from bubbling up as it bakes.
  3. While the crust parbakes, make the pumpkin pie filling. Place 2 cups of the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, sugar, cinnamon, salt, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, eggs, and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth.
  4. Remove the par baked crust from the oven, and turn the heat back down to 350. Place the pumpkin pie filling into the par baked pie crust and place it in the oven (yes, you are starting the pie out at an elevated oven temperature, that's intentional), and bake the pie for 45-50 minutes (you know it's done when you jiggle the pan, the center part of the pie jiggles, but doesn't look liquidy). Let the pumpkin pie cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours before eating (this part is important). This will help set the texture of the pie and let the flavors develop a bit. Enjoy!
http://www.fifteenspatulas.com/fresh-vs-canned-pumpkin-i-put-them-to-the-test-my-pumpkin-pie-recipe/

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86 comments… add one

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  • avatar Susi November 7, 2012, 7:06 pm

    I may have missed it in the comments. I make several pumpkin pies this time of year. I have always used canned but want to try fresh pumpkin. I love the pie recipe I use though. Can I just substitute the fresh pumpkin for the canned or do I have to make other changes to the recipe? I am unsure if fresh pumpkin can be substituted in other recipes I may make as well. Thanks!

    Reply
    • avatar Mary November 8, 2012, 2:08 am

      I have always substituted equal amounts.

      Reply
      • avatar Susi November 9, 2012, 10:57 am

        Thank you! I think I am going to give fresh pumpkin a try this year. Sounds simple to prepare

        Reply
  • avatar CJ at Food Stories November 8, 2012, 10:58 am

    I love to do these kinds of experiments in my kitchen, too :-)

    Reply
  • avatar Mary November 22, 2012, 3:14 pm

    Yesterday, I tried something NEW. A friend gave me this tip- Bake the sugar pumpkin WHOLE! It was so much easier, too.
    No water needed in the roasting pan with no need to drain excess water from the finished puree, either.
    Peeling was a synch and cleaning the stringy, seedy was easier, too, because it was soft.

    I got the idea from a friend, so I didn’t actually follow any written directions, but this is what I did:
    Stabbed the pumpkins with about 6 times with a knife.
    Roasted at 350 degrees for 90 minutes (started checking at an hour, though).
    Allowed to cool about 30-60 minutes.
    Peeled. Mostly with my fingers, but also used a knife, in places.
    Cut in half and scooped out stringiness & seeds.
    Pureed in food processor.
    My 3 sugar pumpkins made 7 cups of pumpkin puree.

    For those who want to see pictures with directions, try this website: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/how-to-cook-a-whole-pumpkin-to-make-pumpkin-puree

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug November 22, 2012, 4:49 pm

      Thanks for sharing this Mary. I will definitely try it!!!

      Reply
      • avatar Laurel November 22, 2013, 11:15 am

        I’ve been doing that for years, but I’m so lazy I only stab them twice. I cook them at about 400 for an hour or until I like the way they feel when I stab them. It also works for kobucha and other small squash. Then I either roast the seeds or put them in my smoothies for added protein.
        BTW you should try this with one of those small dark green stripey pumpkin shaped squash, they’re denser and sweeter.
        Great post!

        Reply
  • avatar Vanessa December 11, 2012, 3:23 am

    Try using Japanese kabocha squash, it’s naturally sweeter, so you don’t need to add much sugar. The texture is creamier too.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 11, 2012, 10:32 am

      That’s a great idea, Vanessa. I’ve been thinking about trying Buttercup Squash too, since that’s a bit sweeter as well.

      Reply
  • avatar missy@What'sGoingOnHere December 17, 2012, 9:27 am

    My friend sent me here, glad to meet you! We did the same test before I found you and got the same results.
    I also did a taste test on which breed of fresh pumpkin is better: Sugar Pumpkin or the Cinderella Pumpkin?
    http://www.whats-going-on-here.com/2012/11/01/fresh-pumpkin-pie-taste-test/

    Reply
  • avatar Barbara April 10, 2013, 9:14 am

    I guess I’m just cooking dumb, but there was no mention on the temp of the oven to roast the pumpkin or an approx time it takes for it to be tender.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug April 10, 2013, 9:18 am

      Huh? It’s the very first line of the recipe. “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds with a melon baller, then bake on a sheet pan for about 1 hour until fork tender. Scoop out all the pumpkin from the skin, and puree in a food processor until smooth. Measure out two cups of pumpkin puree, and set aside for later.”

      Reply
    • avatar Barbara April 10, 2013, 10:28 am

      Sorry. I didn’t read that because I assumed it was just the recipe for the pie only.

      Reply
      • avatar Joanne Ozug April 10, 2013, 11:53 am

        No worries at all, I was just very confused =)

        Reply
  • avatar Malina Bowen June 2, 2013, 1:52 pm

    I grew up as a farm girl and so naturally I had fresh pumpkin pies! They have always been the tastiest.

    Well, I’ve grown up and moved to the city and thought to make my own from canned pumpkin one year. I like to taste the ingredients, so I had a spoonful of stuff from the can and needless to say, I puckered up and that ended up going straight into the trash can. It doesn’t even smell good. I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth for an hour. It definitely is worth the extra work if you want a delicious pie.

    In regards to the recipe, my mom never pureed the pumpkins. She just mashed them up lightly with an old manual potato masher or wisk. The texture is even better (at least, in my opinion).

    Big tip: You can freeze the pumpkin! Do a big batch one day and it’ll save you time and convenience. Since we had a lot of pumpkin on the farm, what didn’t sell to the locals or get eaten fresh was cooked up and frozen in ziplock bags with enough to make 1 or 2 pies per bag. Not as good as fresh, but still WAY better than canned.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug June 2, 2013, 8:15 pm

      Cool to hear your story, Malina. Thanks for sharing. I did not have any luck freezing the pumpkin, but maybe it’s okay when it’s actually baked with the other ingredients.

      Reply
      • avatar Laurel November 22, 2013, 11:20 am

        I’m sorry you didn’t have any luck freezing the pumpkin but wonder how you did it. I can only get kabocha (sp?) squash and pie pumpkins a couple of weeks in the year so I bake, puree and freeze in mason jars (leaving about 3 inches for expansion). I’ve used them a year later with no problems. In fact, I made a pie last week out of my last jar. Delicious. Did you freeze in plastic? Just curious.

        Reply
  • avatar barbara July 7, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Hello, I have always used fresh pumpkin and even though the prep work is more time consuming, I prefer it over canned. I cannot stand store bought or for that matter bakery pumpkin pie, the taste just isn’t there. I also use fresh pumpkin when making pumpkin bread, a favorite by all.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug July 8, 2013, 1:32 pm

      Hi Barbara, it is great to hear your opinion. I guess it’s one more example of fresh being better! I can’t stand canned pumpkin anymore after having fresh! There is a weird taste to the canned stuff.

      Reply
  • avatar Shannon August 28, 2013, 8:49 pm

    Hi, great test!! My mom always pressure cooked pumpkin and put it in the freezer so we could have fresh pumpkin pie all year long! Her recipe is also very custard-creamy like so I could never eat anyone else’s pumpkin pie, especially those made with canned pumpkin! Thanks!

    Reply
  • avatar Melanie @ carmelmoments.com September 13, 2013, 2:56 pm

    What a cool comparison. I definitely want to try fresh pumpkin this year. Thanks!

    Reply
  • avatar Debi September 13, 2013, 5:11 pm

    Many years ago I would always use fresh pumpkins for pies. Years of raising a family and running them to and fro, I started to just open a can of pumpkin. But, now that you mentioned it, I do remember a lighter color and a much smoother texture. I am going to the farmer’s market tomorrow and I now have sugar pumpkin at the top of my list. Thanks for sharing this and reminding me of how fresh is better than canned.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug September 16, 2013, 11:22 am

      Hi Debi, I have to admit that I’m a little worried that when I start having kids I won’t be able to keep cooking like I do now! I can’t imagine how busy life gets, and how much more important kitchen shortcuts are (like using canned). So I understand that sometimes that’s just easier, because even though preparing fresh pumpkin isn’t difficult, it’s definitely time consuming. Hope you enjoy your fresh pumpkin as a treat!

      Reply
      • avatar Libby October 25, 2013, 7:03 pm

        I cook and bake way more now that I have kids than before, though my youngest is now 2. I could see it being more difficult with a newborn!!

        Reply
  • avatar Caroline September 13, 2013, 8:06 pm

    Joanne, this is a fantastic post! I’ve used both, but not side by side, but I thought the texture of the fresh was so much nicer too. I am intrigued now…I want to do my own taste test now!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug September 16, 2013, 11:23 am

      Hi Caroline, awesome! You should, it’s a fun little experiment!

      Reply
  • avatar Matyldakr October 17, 2013, 5:50 pm

    I would love to do the whole testing thing, but I have never even seen canned pumpkin puree because I live in Europe, so I always have to make my own. I usually freeze it, because I can only buy or harvest pumpkins in the fall

    Reply
  • avatar Libby October 25, 2013, 6:57 pm

    I had never even heard of a pie pumpkin before this post. I’ve roasted and puréed three now, soon to be four! Your pie recipe is the bomb, though I’ve been too chicken to attempt a homemade crust. I’ve made pie, pumpkin chili, pumpkin banana bread, pumpkin pancakes, and soon to make pumpkin cookies! And I’m definitely making the pie again soon! Thanks for turning me onto the wondrous joy of fresh pumpkin!! It’s really so easy, I’m addicted!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 26, 2013, 12:33 pm

      Hi Libby, I’m glad you’re having lots of fun cooking with pumpkin!!!

      Reply
  • avatar Josie November 4, 2013, 10:15 am

    Thanks for conducting this test and posting for all to see. I’ve read elsewhere that making fresh pumpkin is not worth it, but I agree most canned products taste a bit tinny. I was worried that the texture might be too wet, but you say the texture is better, so I’m going for it. Thanks!

    Reply
  • avatar Kara November 18, 2013, 11:58 pm

    Growing up, my mom always used fresh pumpkin. Whenever we had other people’s pumpkin pie I always thought it tasted funny (because they used canned). One year when I was in my late teens my mom started using canned as a short cut and the pies were just never the same. Now that I’m an adult (and the one in charge of our family’s Thankgiving dinners) I always use fresh!!! So glad there are other people who notice the difference!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug November 19, 2013, 4:59 pm

      I agree Kara, once you have fresh you can’t go back to canned!

      Reply
  • avatar Jocelynne November 21, 2013, 10:53 pm

    I definitely prefer fresh! It can be a bit of a pain to roast the pumpkin, wait for it to cool, puree it, then strain it, but it’s tooooootally worth the effort. The taste and the texture of pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin is absolutely amazing. I’m so sad I only had the chance to make a pie with the fresh stuff once this year, but I will definitely be freezing a lot of fresh pumpkin puree next pumpkin season!

    Reply
  • avatar Susan November 23, 2013, 10:52 am

    All fresh pumpkins are not created equal. I used fresh for the first time a couple years ago… bought one special variety pie pumpkin at the farmer’s market and then worried it wouldn’t make enough so got another at the Safeway (a sugar pumpkin for pies). When I roasted them both, the difference was astounding… The special pumpkin was sweet and so good, I had to stop myself from eating it. Next to that pumpkin, the store “sugar pumpkin” for pies was basically flavorless . Turns out the special one made enough to fill the whole pie, so I went with that. My friend who doesn’t much like pumpkin pie said it was the best pumpkin pie she’d ever had. I’m getting another of the “special” pumpkins this year for a recipe that calls for canned, and I’m going to reduce the sugar.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug November 24, 2013, 9:17 pm

      I have discovered this as well. I had a sugar pumpkin last week that was DELICIOUS with nothing added to it. Quite a contrast from the first sugar pumpkin I tried, which was flavorless and bland. I guess you have to try to find a quality one.

      Reply
  • avatar Scott November 23, 2013, 9:45 pm

    My girlfriend has to travel overseas this week, so we celebrated Thanksgiving today and it was my first time cooking turkey, stuffing, and all the trappings. I’ve never made pumpkin pie, but I had a lot of success with your tiramisu recipe so I was excited to try this. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any stores still selling pumpkins (even checked pumpkin patches an hour away) so I had to settle for canned, but it was still delicious. I followed your pie crust recipe too and it was 100% flaky perfection. First time making pie crust and can’t imagine the texture coming out any better. Thanks!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug November 24, 2013, 9:13 pm

      Hi Scott, hope you had a nice early Thanksgiving with your girlfriend! That’s awesome you nailed the pie crust (it’s not easy, especially for the first time) and enjoyed the pie too (and the tiramisu). Cheers!

      Reply
  • avatar Corey D November 25, 2013, 9:55 pm

    This is amazing! Thank you! I received a 25 pound Cinderella pumpkin in my CSA share this fall, and although lovely to look at, I’ve been wondering what the heck to do with the thing. I did some reading online and it seems (although it retains a lot of water) the Cinderella pumpkin can be used in pie. I roasted it in the over, cooled it, and pureed it, then tasted it and honestly thought I made a terrible mistake. I just didn’t love the flavor. I’m glad to know that once combined with other pie ingredients it’s quite good. Can’t wait to finish it off tomorrow. Thanks for this post! So helpful!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug November 26, 2013, 5:29 pm

      Hi Corey, interesting, I’ve never heard of Cinderella as a pumpkin variety! As another commenter noted above, the flavor of pumpkins can really vary. Hopefully the pie turned out well.

      Reply
  • avatar Alaine December 6, 2013, 3:03 pm

    I decided to try fresh pumpkin this year and used your recipe rather than the good ole recipe found on the can. Holy wowsers! What a delicious pie! I think I’ve made about 6 pumpkin pies since November 1st, and have one in my oven right now. The taste, texture, and overall appearance is just beautiful. My kids, who have never liked pumpkin pie, keep asking me to make more using your recipe and fresh pumpkins. Thanks for sharing!

    BTW – I did freeze my pumpkin because I had so much. I only freezed the puree no longer than 2 weeks. I couldn’t tell a difference between the frozen and fresh. Neither could my family.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 7, 2013, 12:57 pm

      Hi Alaine, that’s so wonderful! Glad you’ve discovered how wonderful fresh pumpkin pies are, and it sounds like you and your family really enjoy them! And thanks for the note on the frozen pumpkin…don’t know why my frozen pumpkin experience came out so horribly.

      Reply
  • avatar Kim Johnson December 22, 2013, 9:26 pm

    Thank you foe all the good information that I have been looking for just found your site I am looking forward to all I will learn thank you will be making these pies in the morning 1 big question How do I know what kind of pumpkin I have? an also i use 2eggs an 2egg yolks for each pie? thank YOU :)

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 24, 2013, 9:17 pm

      Hi Kim, when you are at the grocery buying pumpkins they will specify what kind you’re buying (look for sugar or pie pumpkins). And yes, that’s correct about the eggs.

      Reply

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