The Best Pumpkin Puree Isn’t Actually Pumpkin

Here’s how to DIY your own.

October 29, 2018
Photo by Ty Mecham

We've partnered with Braun Household to share recipes, tips, and videos that highlight creative ways to boost the flavors of your favorite seasonal dishes, starting with a holiday staple: canned pumpkin!

Canned pumpkin is simply pureed, cooked pumpkin in a can, right?

Well, kinda.

Although the word “pumpkin” likely conjures up images of bright orange, basketball-shaped specimens, in reality, any hard-skinned squash could be called a pumpkin. There’s no botanical distinction for what exactly is or is not a pumpkin.

Photo by Ty Mecham

Let’s squash a few common conceptions, shall we? To start, a quick botany lesson. (Stay with me!) All types of winter squash belong to the same genus—Cucurbita—which is packed with a number of species. But most of the edible varieties fit into just three: There’s C. pepo, which includes acorn squash, zucchini, as well as the ones we typically think of as pumpkins (like a Halloween jack-o'-lantern); C. maxima includes varieties like Hubbard and kabocha; and C. moschata covers varietals like butternut squash and Long Island Cheese. So while the drawing on the front of a can belongs to the species C. pepo cultivars, what’s inside that can is probably a mix of winter squashes, most likely made from C.moschata cultivars; take Libby's canned pumpkin for example, which uses a proprietary C. moschata cultivar, the Dickinson pumpkin.

Alright then, so canned pumpkin is pureed, cooked winter squash in a can. You’re now armed with nifty botanical facts for livening up the Thanksgiving conversation, but why bother making your own pumpkin puree? There are four good reasons:

  • It’s easy! It’s squash that’s cooked and then blended with a hand blender. You’ve got this.
  • You’ll know exactly what’s in it. It is possible to find canned pumpkin that is 100% squash, but you’ll want to read the fine print; sometimes there are preservatives added, or they’ve included spices, which you may or may not want. Plus, this way you’re in control of which squash (or squashes) are in it.
  • You get bonus pumpkin parts! Before roasting, scoop out the seeds and “guts.” The seeds can be used for roasting or gremolata, and the stringy webbing fibers can be used for chutney or stock. Plus, if you go the stock route, you can add in the squash’s peel (raw or post-roasting!).
  • You're in control of the flavors. You can choose what squash you use based on what you like and what flavors you want in your final dish. Butternut squash, sugar pie pumpkin, kabocha—the sky (or the selection at the farmer's market) is the limit!

Now, you just need to choose which winter squash you want to make your pumpkin puree with. You can use a sugar pumpkin, acorn, kabocha, butternut squash...you get the idea. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong. The only caveat: You’ll get the best results with sweet, dense squashes. (Translation: Save the spaghetti squash for something else.) While some will find this open-ended approach freeing, others (myself included), may appreciate more guidance. Which squash is the best of the best? What do they all taste like?

Luckily for us, Melissa Clark did all this research back in 2012, when she made several trips to the farmer's market, lugged home nine different squashes, and taste-tested the roasted purees from all of them. The winner? Butternut squash. Her tasting notes: "Deep and richly flavored, sweet, with relatively smooth flesh that is easy to puree."

Her second and third choices were acorn and kabocha respectively, but others have their pros, too. Her full rundown can be found here on The New York Times.

Once you’ve settled on a squash, it’s time to roast it. I like to bake them at 375°F until they’re tender; keeping the temperature slightly lower than what I usually roast vegetables at helps to avoid any browning. That caramelization adds flavor, but when it’s blended, it can also add darker flecks to the puree, which might not be ideal, depending on how you’re planning on using it. Speaking of planning, I plan on getting one cup of puree per pound of squash. Most of the time I get more than that, but I’d always rather be safe than sorry. There are so many ways to use any extras, and it stores well. Additional puree can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for five to seven days, or frozen for longer storage.

When the squash is roasted and cool enough to handle, you've reached the final step: pureeing the squash flesh. (See how easy that was?! Roast, puree, done.) Sure, you could just mash it up with a fork or potato masher, but I like my puree super-duper smooth. My personal preference is to use a hand blender; I'll puree the squash flesh in a tall, deep container to reduce splatters. (Since squash flesh is dense, I sometimes have had trouble pureeing it in a blender or food processor without needing to add more liquid (which isn't ideal), but my hand blender has always been up to the challenge.)

Starting with a dense squash should result in a dense puree, but if it’s more watery than desired, there’s still hope. I learned a smart trick from longtime Food52er HalfPint on the Hotline that’s easier than cooking down the squash, or using cheesecloth and waiting for its water to strain out. Here's HalfPint's advice, which she picked up from America's Test Kitchen: Simply spread the pumpkin puree onto paper towels and then squeeze or pat out the moisture. It might sound messy, but it's actually very easy; the puree should peel right off the paper towel (a clean kitchen towel will also do the trick).

Ready to get baking? Here are a bunch of ideas for using your puree, broken down based on how much you have. (And feel free to keep calling it pumpkin; I won’t tell.)

Less than 1 cup

1 cup

More than 1 cup

How do you like to use squash puree? Tell us in the comments below!

Ditch the can! In partnership with Braun Household, we're excited to share more innovative ways to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your fall and winter recipes. Whether you're making a batch of DIY canned pumpkin or maple pecan cookies (stay tuned for those!), Braun's lineup of products makes the prep work a breeze. Here, we used their MultiQuick 9 Hand Blender to puree the roasted squash to super-smooth perfection with ease—and without making a mess.


Penny H. November 3, 2018
I buy a "pie-size" pumpkin every year. I roast it whole and then cut and puree the meat. Makes a much more pumpkin flavored pie than canned pumpkin. It's a little more trouble but worth it.
Tara W. October 29, 2018
Butternut squash is the winner. I grew a bunch last year and still have 2 medium and 1 large. I have found they seem to get sweeter in cold storage over time. I'm looking forward to making a pie with one of last year's B-nut. Also some chipotle squash soup.
M October 29, 2018
I've found that the best pumpkin puree IS pumpkin itself. Making the pie with homemade puree has turned me, and every other p-pie-averse person I've known, into a fan. Avoiding the can -aka squash melange- made ALL the difference.<br /><br />Either way, it's a LOT easier to get moisture out of the pumpkin/squash by letting it sit for an hour or two in a sieve post-roasting, than removing it after you've incorporated it by pureeing. <br /><br />Easy puree: De-seed and roast pumpkin until super-soft and sinking. The flesh will squeeze right out into a sieve, where it sits on the counter or in fridge, for an hour or two until it isn't dripping a ton of moisture anymore. (I occasionally walk by and dump the water.) Store in fridge until use, portion out what you need for the recipe, and squeeze in paper towel a few times to get out a little more moisture. (The more you squeeze out, the denser the result; less moisture removed, higher and cracking pies, but still delicious.) The flesh is so soft that it never needs to be pureed, and combines without issue when mixed.