What's the difference between canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling?
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Okay, so maybe your gut reaction is to think that “What is the difference between pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie filling?” is entirely self-explanatory, but if you’ve ever found yourself in a baking needs aisle staring down a row of seemingly identical cans, or if you’ve once or twice turned up a pumpkin pie or pumpkin enchilada that tasted just…wrong, then perhaps this is a topic worth delving into just a wee bit.

Pumpkin Pie: The Source of the Confusion

So let’s begin, as is apropos, at the beginning, and consider the source of the potential confusion. Whatever your go-to pumpkin pie recipe, it’s helpful to understand it from the inside out and all that it comprises. It is not, after all, only pumpkin baked into a crust. (If this is already news to you, please read on.)

When making pumpkin pie, what you are essentially building is a custard base whose most structurally essential components don’t necessarily include the pumpkin. Eggs, sugar, and some form of dairy—evaporated or sweetened condensed milk, or heavy cream—must be present for the pie to set. Pumpkin and its attendant spices add mostly flavor and texture to the mix.

Pumpkin Puree

pumpkin puree


Pumpkin puree is simply that. A cooked and mashed version of the vegetable and the vegetable alone. You can certainly go DIY here for a fully homemade pumpkin pie, but this will absolutely not involve throwing your beloved jack-o’-lantern into the Vitamix at the end of its tenure. (But you should most certainly toast those seeds  you extracted at the beginning of the process.)

Pumpkin Pie LiesIt's Actually Canned SquashSugar pumpkins, a smaller, denser, naturally sweeter version, are required if you are completely committed to a pie that is as from-scratch as you can manage. Most commercial pumpkin puree, in fact, is more likely to be another form of winter squash than anything that would actually carry a name including pumpkin. But let’s not dwell on that.

In order to transform plain pumpkin puree into its highest expression as a Thanksgiving dessert buffet centerpiece, you will need to incorporate all the other custard/pie ingredients as it contains nothing that will help it turn into a sweet, spiced, and set outcome.

Related Reading: This Chocolate-Frosted Pumpkin Snacking Cake Will Make You Forget About Pie

However, it is then also plain pumpkin puree that you will want to utilize if you are intrepidly dabbling in savory pumpkin recipes—soup, enchiladas, and gnocchi are all excellent vehicles for pumpkin. Some of pumpkin’s best sidekicks, besides ground cinnamon and whipped cream, are sage, cheese, and curry spices.

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Pumpkin Puree, $0.99 on Amazon

Pure gourd puree.
Buy Now

Pumpkin Pie Filling

pumpkin pie filling


Canned pumpkin pie filling, on the other hand, shortcuts a little of what you need to add to achieve pie (and even some other pumpkin desserts). Typically, the filling is pre-sweetened, and pre-spiced, so that all you are adding are the milk and egg components. Because of the sugar and spice, pie filling can be potentially be found in recipes for other sweet pumpkin preparations such as breads and cakes, but you may find it a bit off-putting if it found its way into a pasta dish.

Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix, 30 ounces for $3.49 on Amazon

Already spiced and sweetened; just add eggs and evaporated milk.
Buy Now

Now that you keenly know the difference, time to stock up and throw a pumpkin-themed feast!

Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.

Related Video: How to Make an Easy Pumpkin Pie

Header images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer based in Astoria, NY whose work has also appeared on CNET, Cheese Professor, Alcohol Professor, and Diced. She is also a certified sommelier, voiceover artist, and an avid lover of all things pickled or fermented.
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