It's a little more complicated than you might think.

Rachel Roszmann
August 25, 2020
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It's that time of year—the Pumpkin Spice Latte is flowing, which means it's just about time to break out the pumpkin pie recipes for your Thanksgiving feast. While it's pumpkin spice that draws us to fall's favorite pie, it's the main ingredient that may need some clarification when you're browsing cans in the grocery store: pumpkin puree. But what is pumpkin puree, exactly? Knowing what it is might just help you bake a better pie.

What is pumpkin puree?

Pumpkin puree is, in theory, just mashed pumpkin. But if you want to get technical, it's a bit more complicated than that. On a can of pumpkin puree, the ingredients listed will be 100% pumpkin, which is 100% true—with a caveat: The Food and Drug Administration uses what some might consider a loose definition for pumpkin. What the FDA considers "pumpkin" is a list of types of winter squash that are all very similar in flavor and texture to pumpkin, but not necessarily field pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo)—the pumpkins we carve into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween. The squash used as pumpkin puree is less watery and stringy than Halloween pumpkins, so adding other winter squash smooths out the puree and improves the texture. The FDA has been lenient with the labeling since 1938 and explains that, in a nutshell, there's no need to nitpick—and we're not going to argue with a perfect pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Puree (Canned Pumpkin) vs. Pumpkin Pie Filling

There is a big difference between pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie filling (also called "pumpkin pie mix"). Although they both come in cans and the packaging looks almost identical, they can't be used interchangeably. Pumpkin puree doesn't have anything added to it, but pumpkin pie filling comes with pumpkin spice and sugar already mixed. It makes getting pie on the Thanksgiving table easy and convenient, but you wouldn't want to stir it into a savory pumpkin soup or fill pumpkin ravioli with it.

If you're the type to get your hands dirty in the kitchen (and you want 100% pure, actual pumpkin), you might want to make pumpkin puree using fresh pumpkin yourself. All you need is your oven, a baking sheet and a pie pumpkin. You can check out our recipe for pumpkin puree here.