What's Actually in Your Canned Pumpkin Purée?

What's Actually in Your Canned Pumpkin Purée?

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Kelli Foster
Nov 15, 2016
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

It's that special time of year when we make doubly sure our pantries are stocked with multiple cans of pumpkin purée. It's an essential ingredient in getting our seasonal pumpkin fix in everything from pies and muffins to savory pots of pumpkin soup and chili.

Which begs the question: What exactly is in canned pumpkin purée? It sounds simple, but what's inside just might surprise you.

Home cooks and professional chefs alike rely on pumpkin purée for its convenience, consistent flavor, and texture. But you might be surprised to know that this pantry staple might be hiding another ingredient inside: squash!

That's right, some canned "pumpkin" purée is actually made from one or more types of winter squash, like butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. These squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin.

So why does the label says 100% pumpkin?

The USDA is actually pretty lenient with its distinction between pumpkin and squash. Here's their take on the contents of canned purée: "The canned product prepared from clean, sound, properly matured, golden-fleshed, firm-shelled, sweet varieties of either pumpkins and squashes by washing, stemming, cutting, steaming, and reducing to a pulp."

The term "pumpkin" can apply to two of the three varieties of winter squash: C pepo and C maxima. Within these two varieties you'll find Connecticut field pumpkins, Dickinson pumpkins, Kentucky field pumpkins, as well as Boston marrow squash, and Golden Delicious squash.

So even though the ingredient label may read 100 percent pumpkin, there may also be squash mixed in because they fall under the same genus.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

What to buy?

This is entirely up to you. If you've been using a specific brand of pumpkin purée for years and you're happy with the taste, keep on using it! Why change what works for you?

On the other hand, if you want to be sure the purée you're using is 100 percent pure pumpkin, you've got two options. First, opt for buying the Libby's brand, which you'll find on the shelves of most grocery stores. They use a strain of Dickinson Pumpkins, with especially creamy flesh, that the company developed themselves. It's also interesting to note that this variety bears more resemblance to a butternut squash than the orange pumpkin on your front porch.

And, if you really want to be absolutely sure you're using pure pumpkin purée, you can always skip the canned stuff and make your own.

Do you use canned pumpkin purée or do you make your own?

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