What's the Difference Between Canned Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Filling?

Read your recipe so you don't buy the wrong product.

Our Easiest Pumpkin Pie Ever
Photo: Photo: Greg Dupree

You know fall has arrived (even if the outside temps don't always agree) when you walk into your grocery store and see pumpkins and gourds piled up at the produce stand. The appearance of farm fresh apples, sweet potatoes, and even the pungent smell of cinnamon brooms, are all harbingers that your favorite baking season has arrived. Your family loves everything pumpkin, from pumpkin bread to pumpkin cobbler, so your mission at the store on this particular day is to purchase as many cans of pumpkin as your friendly grocer will allow. But wait—do you need canned pumpkin or canned pumpkin pie filling? What is the difference? No worries, it really is simple.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

Pumpkin pie filling is pumpkin flavored with spices like cinnamon, clove, allspice, and ginger, and is also pre-sweetened. This is a very nice convenience product when you want to make a quick and easy recipe, like this no-bake pumpkin chiffon pie. The ease of using pumpkin pie filling in a pie (like the recipe on the back of the can) gives a novice baker some much-needed confidence; without fussing over a long ingredient list, they can simply stir a couple of ingredients and pour them into a ready-made piecrust.

Canned Pumpkin

Canned pumpkin is just that and nothing more: cooked, pureed pumpkin. There are no added sugars or spices. Many pumpkin-based recipes, whether sweet or savory, call for plain pumpkin puree.

Can you swap pumpkin pie filling for plain pumpkin puree in a recipe? Probably not. With baking recipes, the ratio of ingredients is tested to all work together for a specific result. To do so would also require subtracting spices, flavorings, and sweeteners in a given recipe, so unless a recipe specifies a swap, use pumpkin puree when the recipe calls for it.

Pumpkin Recipes

Pumpkin is one of those flexible ingredients that works great in both savory or sweet recipes. For something savory, Spicy Pumpkin Soup With Avocado Cream, Turkey Pumpkin Chili, and Pumpkin Buttermilk Biscuits with Crispy Ham and Honey Butter, all use plain pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin-based desserts—whether pies, cakes, or cheesecakes—are a celebration of fall and the holiday season, and the plain puree in recipes is often complemented by pumpkin pie spices (like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove), vanilla, and brown sugar.

Canned Pumpkin Tips

For store-bought pumpkin puree, Southern Living's Test Kitchen preferred Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree in a taste test of five brands, which has "the most natural and authentic pumpkin flavor without veering into sour territory; testers noted that it tastes like fresh pumpkin and unanimously voted it the best of the bunch," writes professional baker Zoe Denenberg.

If you have leftover puree—because not all recipes require a whole can of pumpkin—browse these recipe ideas to make the most of this versatile ingredient (and avoid waste).

Both products have their place on the shelf during baking season. Just be mindful of which one your recipe calls for, and happy baking!

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