Why use canned pumpkin when it’s super easy to make a homemade pumpkin puree as a healthier, tastier canned pumpkin substitute?
Why Make Homemade Pumpkin Purée?
There are several reasons that you may want to consider making your own pumpkin purée rather than buying canned pumpkin.
Homemade pumpkin purée tastes better than canned
While the producers of canned pumpkin would probably argue I’m wrong, I don’t think there is any comparison between the taste of a freshly roasted pumpkin and the bland mush that comes from a can.
Freshly roasted pumpkins have a pleasant aroma. They taste fresh and sweet. They’re so flavorful that in many countries people serve the roasted pumpkin, by itself, as a tasty dessert!
Can you imagine spooning out some canned pumpkin on a plate and saying, “Dig in!”?
Pumpkins are easier to find worldwide than canned pumpkin
While canned pumpkin is super easy to find in the United States, it’s not a common pantry item worldwide. In many countries, people are accustomed to roasting or boiling their own pumpkins rather than relying on a can.
I have to admit, when I first got to Spain, many years ago now, I was a little bit disappointed that they don’t sell canned pumpkin here. I wanted to make a pumpkin pie to celebrate Thanksgiving and had to figure out how to do it. At the time I couldn’t rely on the internet (yet!), and I didn’t even have any cookbooks with me.
I did successfully make that pumpkin pie without canned pumpkin and without a recipe. I think I just mixed together some pumpkin purée, cream, eggs, sugar and pie spices. I crossed my fingers, poured the mixture into a crushed cookie crust, and threw it all into the oven. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, that pumpkin pie was amazing. I guess it makes sense; fresh is usually better. Right?
Avoid plastic linings of cans
While the cans themselves are metal, they have a plastic lining that keeps the food out of contact with that metal to help prevent corrosion and maintain the quality of the food inside.
By now, many companies are moving away from using BPA in their cans, but they could be using other plastics that are just as harmful or possibly even worse like BPS (bisphenol-S) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
While the FDA states that low levels of BPA are safe, the Mayo Clinic suggests that it is a good idea to cut down on cans and plastic use for food storage.
Watch how to make a homemade pumpkin purée:
What Type of Pumpkin should you use to make a purée?
Almost any pumpkin can be used in place of canned pumpkin. In fact, many cans of “pumpkin” include a mixture of pumpkin and squash varieties.
You’ll find many varieties of pumpkins that can be used for making your purée. Some varieties include Amish Pie Pumpkins, Dickinson pumpkins, Connecticut field pumpkins, and Kentucky field pumpkins.
Pie pumpkins and Sugar pumpkins
When shopping for pumpkins, you may find a lot of varieties of small, round pumpkins. They are often referred to as pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, but they can be used for both desserts and savory pumpkin recipes
Butternut Squash (aka. Butternut Pumpkin)
Butternut squash is also known as butternut pumpkin in many parts of the world. Here in Spain, it’s probably the most commonly found “calabaza” (translation: Pumpkin).
Butternut squash is sweet and perfect for using in soups and pies.
Other squash varieties you can use include Boston marrow squash (aka. Autumnal Marrow) and Golden Delicious squash.
Avoid Jack o’Lantern pumpkins
The large pumpkins sold for making “Jack lanterns” are the main pumpkins that you’ll want to avoid. These Halloween pumpkins have been chosen for easy emptying and carving. They have less flesh, and the flesh they do have is stringy, less compact, and blander. While they are edible, they aren’t as sweet and flavorful as other varieties.
Choosing a good, sweet pumpkin
In my experience, sweeter pumpkins and squashes will weigh more than average for their size. Less flavorful varieties tend to be stringy and weigh less.
Look for unbruised pumpkins without any holes or soft spots in them as that could be a sign of damage that could lead to rotting.
How to Roast a pumpkin in the oven for purée
Roasting pumpkins in the oven is my favorite method for making a homemade pumpkin purée.
- Roasting a pumpkin in the oven brings out its sweetness.
- There is no need to peel the pumpkin while it is raw and hard to cut, so I find this method the easiest.
- The texture of roasted pumpkin has a nice consistency and isn’t “watered down” like boiled pumpkin.
To make a pumpkin purée by roasting in the oven you’ll need:
- A pumpkin
- A baking sheet
- An Oven
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF/180ºC.
- Cut the pumpkin in half. Round pumpkins are best cut across the width, while long pumpkins like butternut squash are best cut lengthwise.
- Scoop the seeds from the pumpkin.
- Flip the pumpkins onto a prepared baking sheet with the cut side down.
- Bake for at least 30 minutes. After that time, begin testing the pumpkin for ripeness by pressing on the skin every 10-15 minutes. When it gets soft to the touch, it’s ready to use.
- If you want to caramelize the top of the pumpkin, flip it over and bake it under a broiler for a few minutes, until browned.
- Remove the baked pumpkin from the oven and scoop out the flesh. You can scrape the skin of the pumpkin with a spoon to remove it.
How to Boil a pumpkin for making purée
While I find it easier to roast pumpkins in the oven, there are times that you may prefer boiling. I’ve found that when the women here get together to make large batches of pumpkin desserts like buñuelos de calabaza, they choose boiling over oven roasting for several reasons.
- Boiling pumpkins is quicker than roasting them in the oven.
- If you are cooking many pumpkins at once, they may not all fit in your oven. Instead, when peeled and cut into smaller pieces, they are more likely to fit in a large pan.
To boil or steam pumpkins you will need:
- A Pumpkin
- A sharp knife
- A large pan and/or a steamer
- Cut the pumpkin in large pieces and remove the skin carefully with a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler.
- Cut the peeled pumpkin into smaller, somewhat equal-sized chunks.
- Place the pumpkin chunks into a pan and cover with water.
- Bring to a boil and cook until tender, around 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces.
You can alternatively steam the pumpkin pieces in a steamer or steam insert within a large pan for around the same amount of time.
- Strain out the pumpkin from the water and allow it to cool.
- You can now use it as-is or blend it to make it smoother.
- Use immediately or store for later.
Making a smooth purée
If you need a smooth purée for your particular recipe, you can use either an immersion blender or use a stand blender or food processor to process the pumpkin until smooth.
How to Store your Pumpkin purée
Your homemade pumpkin purée can be used immediately or you can store any unused purée in the refrigerator for several days (possibly up to a week, depending on the water content and pumpkin variety).
For longer storage, you can freeze the purée for up to 6 months. It stores best if you remove air contact with the purée in the freezer.
I like to freeze mine in perfectly cube-shaped ice cube trays. They allow you to store the cubes in plastic baggies without any wasted space in your freezer. You can see my method in my post about making smoothie cubes/homemade baby food.
How to use your pumpkin purée
Having pumpkin ice cubes handy is convenient for making quick pumpkin smoothies, or adding a little pumpkin flavor to your recipes…
…a necessity this time of year, of course!
Here are some of my favorite ways to use this homemade pumpkin purée:
Pumpkin Spice Biscotti (Paleo, Vegan)
Easy Spiced pumpkin butter
Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Red Peppers and Caramelized Onions
Pumpkin Pie Dip
Makes around 1 cup
Spiced Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait
- Easy, no-bake paleo pumpkin pie
- Pumpkin cheese (Paleo, Vegan)
- Paleo pumpkin fries
- Grain-free buñuelos de calabaza
- Even an Easy Pumpkin Spice Soap
Canned Pumpkin Substitute: Pumpkin Puree
- 1 large pumpkin, around 4lbs. or butternut squash
Roasting a Pumpkin
- Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
- Cut pumpkin in half.
- Scoop out seeds.
- Place each half, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
- Bake in the oven until the pumpkin softens. After 30 minutes have passed, start checking every 5-10 minutes or so for doneness by lightly pressing on the skin.
- Once soft, remove the pumpkin halves from the oven.
- You can use the roasted pumpkin as is, or broil the top to caramelize it slightly. To do so, flip the pumpkin halves over on the baking sheet and put them under the broiler for several minutes, until browned. Remove from the oven.
- Allow the cooked pumpkin to cool slightly.
- Scrape the pulp off of the skin.
- If the pulp of your pumpkin is soft enough, you can mash it with a fork and you are finished. If not, or if you want it smoother, purée the roasted pumpkin in a food processor or with an immersion blender.
Boiling or steaming the pumpkin
- Cut the pumpkin into large pieces.
- Remove the skin by cutting it off with a sharp knife or peeling it with a vegetable peeler.
- Cut the peeled pumpkin into smaller pieces.
- Place the peeled pumpkin pieces in a pan and cover with water.
- Bring to a boil and simmer until the pumpkin is soft.Rather than boiling the pumpkin directly, you can steam the pieces in a steamer or a steamer insert within a large pan.Either should take around 10-20 minutes, depending on the type of pumpkin and the size of the pieces.
- Strain out the cooked pumpkin.
- Allow to cool slightly.
- Use immediately or store for later.
- Use in both sweet and savory recipes.
- Roasting the pumpkin has a shorter prep. time, but a longer cook time than steaming or boiling.
- Boiling or steaming will take longer to prepare, but once the water has been brought to a boil, they should only take around 10-30 minutes.
- This homemade pumpkin purée can be used as-is or made smoother by blending with either an immersion blender or a stand blender.
- You can use this immediately or store it in the refrigerator for several days (up to a week, depending on the water content and type of pumpkin).
- This freezes well for up to 6 months. I like to use cube-shaped ice cube trays for convenient storage that doesn’t waste space in the freezer.
This post was originally published on October 11, 2013. It was updated in October of 2019 to add new photos, tips and tricks, and other helpful information.