14 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Cooking With Canned Pumpkin

pureed pumpkin in measuring cup
pureed pumpkin in measuring cup - Candice Bell/Getty Images

Fall may be pumpkin season, but there's no reason why you can't enjoy it year-round. And canned pumpkin makes it easy to do so. Canned pumpkin, also known as pumpkin purée, is one of the most popular canned vegetable products out there. Major manufacturer Libby's alone produces enough cans of canned pumpkin to make 90 million pumpkin pies each year (per Adweek), with dozens of other brands bringing their own pumpkin puree products to market. As well as giving your food a quick and easy pumpkin taste and a bright orange color, canned pumpkin is also a nutritious addition, containing high amounts of fiber per serving, beta-carotene, and good levels of potassium.

And with the amount of canned pumpkin sold each year, you'd assume by now that people have a handle on how to use it. But that's not quite the case. Canned pumpkin is one of those products that seems easy to use, but too often it can produce a meal that's lacking in flavor, overly watery, or gloopy. It's also incredibly easy to over- or undercook canned pumpkin, ruining your meal, or misread the label entirely, and put a completely different product in your food. Using proven baking methods, we've compiled the most common mistakes people make with this ingredient to help you avoid disaster.

Read more: Cake Hacks Every Baker Will Wish They Knew Sooner

Swapping It Out For Pumpkin Pie Filling

ingredients for pumpkin pie
ingredients for pumpkin pie - Fstop123/Getty Images

Canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling are two entirely different products -- and even if you're making pumpkin pie filling with a can of pumpkin purée, you still shouldn't do a straight swap. Canned pumpkin is made entirely of puréed pumpkin, and as such is relatively unprocessed, with no additional flavors added in. This makes it the ideal base for a homemade pumpkin pie filling, as well as any other foods you're making that would benefit from a pumpkin taste and color.

Pumpkin pie filling, on the other hand, is formulated to be used in a pie straight out of the can. As such, it can be full of additional ingredients like sugar, thickeners, stabilizers, additional sweeteners, and further additives that add flavor. Using pumpkin pie filling in a recipe that calls solely for canned pumpkin may leave your food tasting way too sweet. This is especially problematic if you're making a savory dish with your canned pumpkin. On the other hand, using canned pumpkin in a recipe that requires pumpkin pie filling will result in something pretty flavorless. The best thing to do is to always check the label very carefully, as the products can look very similar to one another.

‌Undercooking It

pumpkin bread
pumpkin bread - Nnehring/Getty Images

Canned pumpkins are already cooked, with the pumpkins steamed before they're processed and packaged up, so it's easy to think that they don't need much more. But if you're placing them in certain dishes, you'll need to cook them further. Canned pumpkins can add loads of moistness and tenderness to baked goods, but when undercooked, they leave these items sloppy and soft on the inside. This can often happen with pumpkin bread, due to its density and taking longer to cook through.

The best way to assess whether baked goods using pumpkin are fully cooked is by using a skewer and inserting it into the thickest part of the food. If the skewer comes out without any residue, it's a good sign that the inside has firmed up enough to take it out of the oven. With pumpkin bread, an extra step is required: Pop another skewer into the upper half-inch of the bread, and see if it's clean. This part is important because the top part of a pumpkin load can actually be the last part to cook through, as it has no direct heat from the loaf tin to help it.

Using It As A Substitute Without Adjusting Your Ratio

pumpkin puree in bowl
pumpkin puree in bowl - SakSa/Shutterstock

Canned pumpkin is hailed by many as a miracle ingredient for its ability to be substituted for fats and proteins in baked foods. When used in place of eggs or oil, canned pumpkins can deliver a huge amount of moisture and tenderness without raising the fat and calorie content of a dish, and do so while providing fiber and vitamins.

But the main mistake people make when doing this is assuming that every ingredient can be a straight swap, and that's not quite the case. If you're swapping pumpkin puree for butter, for example, you'll need to use less pumpkin than you would fat. Aim for a 3:4 ratio in this instance, as using the same amount of pumpkin to butter will leave your food sloppy and unable to bake properly.

It's important to remember, too, that canned pumpkin can vary in its moisture content, with some brands having more water than others. Therefore, even if a recipe calls for a certain amount, you may need to adjust your ratios. You may also need to accommodate for added moisture by throwing in more flour or sugar or adding more of your flavorings.

Mixing In Too Many Eggs

chicken eggs
chicken eggs - Nikada/Getty Images

If you're making pumpkin pie, you'll need some canned pumpkin. While canned pumpkin pie mixes can make your life easier, using canned pumpkin allows you to adjust the flavor to just the way you like it, and stops you from serving a pie that's too sugary or with a spice combo you don't like.

But when making pumpkin pie filling from canned pumpkin, more work is required, with eggs an essential part of the mixture -- and adding even one too many may ruin your pie. When you mix in too many eggs, your pumpkin pie mixture starts to become more like a soufflé when cooked, producing a filling that's cake-like and dense, instead of creamy and luscious. This is because eggs act as both a leavening and binding agent, simultaneously making your pumpkin filling bigger and tougher.

As such, ensure that you're being sparing with your eggs, only adding as many as the recipe suggests. You should also avoid the temptation of assuming that the canned pumpkin will do all the work and that you won't need any eggs at all. By avoiding eggs entirely, your pie won't set properly, and you'll have a filling that's more like a thick liquid.

Forgetting How Versatile It Is

pumpkin cream soup
pumpkin cream soup - Elena Eryomenko/Shutterstock

Think of what you can do with canned pumpkin, and you likely think of pumpkin pie and not much else. But there are loads of things you didn't know you could make with canned pumpkin, and the versatile ingredient can provide flavor, thickness, and color to a host of recipes. As a low-calorie, fat-free ingredient that has an earthy, yet sweet flavor, canned pumpkin is a fantastic addition to add taste without altering the nutritional profile of a meal too much.

Canned pumpkins work especially well with spiced flavors, with the earthiness of the pumpkin underpinning fiery spices and emphasizing their warmth, and the sweetness taking the edge off anything too hot. Try using canned pumpkin combined with tomato sauce, garlic, spices, and sour cream to make an enchilada sauce, by blending them together and then pouring the mixture over your tortillas. Elsewhere, canned pumpkin makes an excellent base for an Instant Pot curried pumpkin soup that you can whip up in mere minutes. And if you're sick of pumpkin pie, you can use canned pumpkin combined with cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice as a layer in a pumpkin trifle, alternating with layers of crushed gingerbread and whipped cream.

Forgetting To Strain It

pumpkin puree in bowl
pumpkin puree in bowl - Alena_Kos/Shutterstock

Not all canned pumpkin is made equal, despite the products being literally made up of pumpkin and nothing else. There can be a big difference between the consistency of organic and regular canned pumpkin, with organic products sometimes having way more water. And if your canned pumpkin is especially watery, that water will, inevitably, just end up in your food – a potential issue if you're baking something that's destined to be dry. Water can also be an issue in homemade pumpkin purée, as these can often have more moisture than the canned product.

The best solution when this happens is to strain your canned pumpkin. Simply place the can's contents into a fine mesh strainer or a cheesecloth, and leave it for a while, allowing the excess moisture to drip away. If it needs more encouragement, you can stir the pumpkin or squeeze the cloth to get more water out. It's important to bear in mind that the longer you do this, the more your pumpkin will lose moisture, and so it's very much a judgment call as to when you stop. If you're not careful, you'll end up with a pumpkin paste that has no moisture whatsoever.

Over-Spicing Your Canned Pumpkin

ground cinnamon on rustic background
ground cinnamon on rustic background - Gmvozd/Getty Images

As canned pumpkin doesn't have the same flavor additions that canned pumpkin pie mixture does, you'll need to get spicy. But over-spicing canned pumpkin when making pumpkin pie out of it can be a common issue. Because the base flavor of canned pumpkin is pretty subtle, it's tempting to throw in more spice than usual to boost its taste, but this can leave your pie tasting acrid and overpowering. Additionally, bear in mind that spices activate when heated thanks to their essential oils being released, so that taste may get even stronger when the pie cooks.

Salvaging an overspiced pumpkin pie can be tricky if you've started cooking it, but if you haven't, simply add in more of your other ingredients to balance them out. You can use the extra mixture you'll end up with to make pumpkin muffins, cutting through the spice with the flour. If you've already made your pie and find that it's too spicy, you may need to get creative about what you serve it with. Vanilla ice cream is a good option, as it will take the edge off the spice. You could also try scraping out the filling and stirring it into a cheesecake mixture, to temper the spice and avoid food wastage.

Forgetting To Roast It

pumpkin puree in bowl
pumpkin puree in bowl - nblx/Shutterstock

How do you prepare your canned pumpkin before you use it? You don't prepare it at all, you say? Most people don't -- but forgetting to cook canned pumpkin before you use it can result in you missing out on additional flavor. Roasting canned pumpkin is a fast, simple way to do this. When you roast pumpkin purée, you brown it slightly, giving it a toasty nuttiness that adds nuance to your dishes. The deeper color roasting generates also makes your dishes look richer, and roasting canned pumpkin can dehydrate it slightly, both intensifying its flavor and reducing excess moisture.

Roasting canned pumpkin is pretty simple, too. Just line a baking sheet with some parchment paper, and pile your canned pumpkin onto it, spreading it out so it has an even layer. Place it in an oven set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and roast it for around five minutes. You should remove the pumpkin when you can start to smell it in your kitchen, and before it browns too much or looks too hard.

Assuming It Will Taste The Same As Fresh Pumpkin

cooked pumpkin pieces
cooked pumpkin pieces - Supermimicry/Getty Images

Canned pumpkin can give you a premium pumpkin taste, due to the fact that it's made from, well, pumpkin (although it might surprise you to learn that canned pumpkin can often contain other types of squash, too). But it's wrong to assume you'll get the same taste from both canned and fresh pumpkin. Canned pumpkin tends to have a stronger pumpkin flavor, and can be sweeter than fresh pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin, on the other hand, may have a slightly more vegetal taste.

Naturally, it's pretty difficult to use canned pumpkin in a recipe that calls for cubed pieces of the fruit. But if you're working with a recipe that cooks pumpkin pieces down until they're super-soft, bear in mind that the two products will produce a different result. As well as this, keep in mind that pumpkin purée made from fresh pumpkin will taste different from the canned type. Fresh pumpkin purée has not only a lighter color, but a milder, less pumpkin-like taste, and it also has a much more watery texture, which is closer to applesauce than it is to canned pumpkin.

Forgetting To Add Sugar

pile of sugar
pile of sugar - Cinoby/Getty Images

Canned pumpkin has naturally-occurring sweet flavor notes, coming from the fruit's natural sugars -- but it doesn't have any added sugars. For folks who are looking to keep their sugar content down, this is a good thing, but it's helpful if you're making a pumpkin pie. If you don't add sugar to your canned pumpkin, your pumpkin pie will taste flat and boring, and any spices or additional flavorings you use won't be highlighted.

The good news, though, is that by making a pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin, you can control the amount of sugar you put in. This means that folks who like slightly less can hold back, and emphasize the natural pumpkin flavors of the dish. You won't have the same luxury if you're using pumpkin pie mix, as these can be high in sugar – often surprisingly so. One ⅓ cup serving of Libby's Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix, for example, contains 17 grams of sugar, almost a third of the maximum amount of 50 grams that you should be consuming in a single day.

‌Swapping It Out For Homemade Pumpkin Purée

person making pumpkin puree
person making pumpkin puree - HannaTor/Shutterstock

If you prefer to do things yourself, it can be an attractive idea to make your own pumpkin purée at home. And while it's certainly possible -- after all, all you have to do is cook some pumpkin pieces, and then blend them until it's smooth -- you shouldn't expect the same result that you'd get from canned pumpkin. Homemade pumpkin puree tends to be way more watery than canned pumpkin purée, and as a result, it's less flavorful. Pumpkins are 90% water, and all of that water ends up in the purée when it's blended.

Homemade pumpkin purée can get even more watery depending on your cooking method. If you're boiling your pumpkin pieces, they will take on additional water, which will then end up in your mixture. Steaming them can also do the same thing, as moisture that collects around the pumpkin pieces or permeates them will leave the purée waterlogged. However, if you roast your pumpkin pieces, you may end up with a purée that differs in taste or is browner than you might like. Save yourself the trouble, and go for the canned stuff.

‌Overcooking It

pumpkin pie with whipped cream
pumpkin pie with whipped cream - Steve@colorado/Getty Images

It's all too easy to overcook canned pumpkin, and the worst part is that it's pretty hard to spot when you're doing so. Canned pumpkins are added to recipes for two main reasons: To provide flavor, and to give your dishes moisture. When you overcook dishes that contain them, like pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie, that moisture all tends to disappear, leaving you with a grainy, dry result. Canned pumpkin, and the mixtures that contain them, can also burn, with pumpkin pie in particular developing a smoky, harsh taste when it's been overcooked.

To avoid this happening, it's important to keep an eye on your baked goods. When pumpkin pie starts to overcook, its color will change from a mid-orange to a darker brown, with the top eventually charring and turning black if you cook it for too long. Pumpkin bread, meanwhile, will also burn, but you should also watch out for the top of the bread becoming overly dry or cracked. It's always a good idea to get a thermometer for your oven to assess its true temperature, as some ovens can vary wildly from the heat you set them to.

Failing To Simmer Your Canned Pumpkin

pumpkin puree with pumpkin
pumpkin puree with pumpkin - Andrey Rykov/Getty Images

While most recipes that use canned pumpkin call for you to simply open the can and dump it into your mixing bowl, there's an extra step you should take first. Simmering your canned pumpkin is a great way to develop and intensify its flavor. When you simmer or fry the pumpkin, you'll evaporate any excess moisture in the product, and this will leave you with an ultra-concentrated paste. As an added bonus, the flavor development will also take away any metallic flavor notes.

Simmering canned pumpkin simply requires putting it in a pot or a skillet and heating it up. Make sure that you're using a nonstick pan to do this, as you don't want your pumpkin to catch on the bottom, leaving you with less food than before. This also means there's no need to add any oil or fat, which can alter the pumpkin's flavor. Heat the pumpkin, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until it's bubbling slightly, before taking it off the heat. Make sure it cools fully before you add it to any recipes.

Forgetting You Can Use It In Drinks

pumpkin juice with pumpkin
pumpkin juice with pumpkin - Marinesea/Shutterstock

If you thought canned pumpkin was just for food, you're dead wrong. Canned pumpkin is an excellent ingredient for all manner of drinks, from smoothies to cocktails. When added to a fruit or vegetable smoothie, canned pumpkin provides a boost of beta-carotene and some all-important fiber, as well as natural sweetness and vivid color. It can also give more watery smoothies thickness without having to resort to dairy products.

And for folks looking for some fall-themed pumpkin cocktails, we've got you covered. Try combining a few tablespoons of pumpkin purée with some bourbon, simple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice for a sweet-smoky whisky cocktail. People who love their yearly pumpkin spice latte won't be disappointed by the spiked version, which can be made by combining canned pumpkin with sugar, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, milk, and coffee, and then adding in dark rum and coffee liqueur. And for individuals following a keto diet, the keto pumpkin spice cocktail is the one for you. It gets its natural sweetness from canned pumpkin, with some additional help from some stevia drops and some warmth from a few ounces of rum.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.