Fresh or Canned? Cooking With Pumpkin

Fresh_vs_canned_pumpkin_momwhats4dinnerdotcomUse canned pumpkin or roast-your-own? This time of year, as a dazzling array of pumpkins hit the grocery store and the end-of-season farmers’ markets, lovers of pumpkin flavor are faced with the annual pumpkin dilemma: canned or fresh?

Fresh = healthier? Not necessarily. For the most part, the fresher the food, the less processed it is; and the less processed a food is, the more it retains its nutrients. But the Mayo Clinic says both fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin are packed with nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin A and iron.

Fresh, local, and DIY: fresh pumpkin puree can very flavorful and, if you get good quality sugar or pie pumpkins you can get a really great result that was well worth the extra effort. Better Homes and Gardens says that a 3-lb pie pumpkin will yield about 2 Cups of puree for cooking and baking. (The yield for carving-type pumpkins will be different).

Pile_of_pumpkinsThe up side of using fresh pumpkin? For one, freshly-baked pumpkin has a milder, lighter flavor, and a more vibrant golden color. And if you make your own pumpkin, you can choose the smoothness of the finished puree.

The down side? Baking your own pumpkin adds an extra hour or two to your pumpkin recipe-making (an hour or more to bake the freshly-sliced pumpkin, plus a little time before and after the baking to prepare and puree). The baked pumpkin’s color, moistness, and overall texture are unpredictable. Some people dislike the sometimes-fibrous consistency of home-cooked pumpkin.

When buying a pumpkin for making puree, look for one that is colorful and blemish-free, and feels heavy for its size. If you don’t use it right away, you can store that pumpkin in a cool, dry place for a month or two. (Make sure to use it, though; a decomposing pumpkin in your pantry or cellar is not a fun thing to tidy up! #askushowweknow).

one-pie-pumpkin_the-perfect-pantryIn praise of canned pumpkin: On the other hand, there are plenty of benefits to cooking with canned pumpkin, too. First, it’s convenient: you just go to the store and get some. And from early October through Christmas, this seasonal baking favorite is prominently displayed (and usually on sale) on an end-cap in the grocery store.

Second, canned pumpkin is consistent. While fresh pumpkins come in many different varieties (and even varieties like pie pumpkins vary from plant to plant), canned pumpkin puree does not vary much in its thickness, texture or flavor.

When to use fresh pumpkin:

  • Savor the flavor. In savory, not sweet, dishes, the more irregular, fibrous texture of fresh-baked pumpkin is a benefit.
  • In soup. Bake or roast it, then puree chunks of pumpkin (like this week’s Pumpkin Soup recipe) for a more hearty (less slick) texture in soups and stews.
  • The seed of something. Preparing a fresh pumpkin means you’ll have leftover pumpkin seeds. Roast those seeds with spices for a delicious Pepitas snack.
  • Fill ‘er up. Making homemade ravioli or lasagna? Freshly-pureed pumpkin makes a brightly-colored, uniquely flavorful filling or sauce.

When to use canned pumpkin: You can opt for canned pumpkin any time you like, really, but the store-bought stuff is especially well-suited to these kinds of recipes:

  • Sweet stuff. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, and the little bit of pumpkin needed to flavor a batch of ice cream or cookies benefits from the smooth consistency of canned pumpkin.
  • Drink up! Yes, there are actually pumpkin cocktails, and they call for what is described as the “jammy” texture of the canned stuff.
  • Plays well with grains. Whether a steel-cut oatmeal or granola in the morning or a creamy risotto in the evening, canned is the preferred pumpkin here.
  • Say (cream) cheese! Use the last leftover bit of canned pumpkin to jazz up recipes that call for cream cheese (cheesecakes, dips) by blending pumpkin together with an equal amount of cream cheese. Substitute the flavored spread for whatever amount of plain cream cheese is called for.

Ready to cook up a pumpkin feast? Check out this treasury of pumpkin-related recipes and posts from the AllSpice archive!

Photo credits: top – MomWhats4Dinner
middle – podcastmama (that’s me) on Flickr
bottom – The Perfect Pantry