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8 Surprising (and Delicious) Ways You Can Use Canned Pumpkin

A batch of pumpkin cookies; a can of canned pumpkin; two lattes seen from above
Nesting with Grace/Farmer’s Market/Jeanne Oliver

Nothing says fall quite like pumpkins. If you’re looking for an easy way to add a touch of autumn to some of your favorite recipes, you’ll be surprised at how many things you can do with canned pumpkin.

Pure pumpkin can add moisture and a taste of squash to a dish, without overpowering any of the other flavors. Of course, you can also make your own roasted pumpkin at home, but if you need something quick, or just don’t feel like doing a lot of food prep, canned pumpkin might be just the thing!

Why Use Canned Pumpkin?

A can of Farmer's Market Organic Pumpkin next to a plate of risotto.
Farmer’s Market

Canned pumpkin should be a mainstay in any pantry, especially as the cooler months approach. Unlike canned pumpkin pie mix, plain canned pumpkin is 100% pumpkin puree. This means that it doesn’t have the sugars and spices that pumpkin pie mix does, so it’s versatile enough to add to sweet or savory recipes and it won’t become the dominant flavor.

You can find most brands of canned pumpkin, such as Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin, on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the shelves of your local grocery stores.

If you’re big on organic foods, there are pumpkin options for you, too. Farmer’s Market Organic Pumpkin offers a USDA Certified Organic option for pure canned pumpkin for all your fall cooking and baking needs.

Pumpkin Chili

Overhead view of a bowl of chili with a spoon in it

Fall is the season of warm, hearty dishes, and it’s super easy to put a delicious twist on a classic meal like chili. Add about a can of pumpkin into a typical-sized pot of chili (for these purposes, this would be any recipe that uses approximately about 4 cans of beans and around 1 lb of meat, but individuals can adjust as needed.).

The pumpkin gives a slight boost to both the texture and flavor of the chili. It thickens the chili a little bit and makes it slightly “creamy.” Plus, pumpkin has a warm but not too overwhelming flavor, giving your pot of chili a fall-themed adjustment without overpowering the other ingredients.

Typically, a lighter, milder-tasting chili is the best option for pumpkin, as opposed to a super-spicy one. Try something like the Skinnytaste Turkey Pumpkin White Bean Chili. Ground turkey, white beans, and pumpkin give the recipe its robust fall flavor, while green chile blends in seamlessly as a relatively mild but flavorful source of spice.

Pumpkin Meatloaf

A slice of turkey pumpkin meatloaf on a plate with green beans
Just a Pinch

Because pure, canned pumpkin has a relatively subtle flavor, it can work as an ingredient for moisture and a hint of flavor in many recipes, both savory and sweet. By adding pumpkin to your favorite meatloaf recipe, you’re adding a little moisture and flavor.

Plus, it sneaks in some extra nutrients! Start with about half a can in a meatloaf that uses between 1-2 lbs. of meat, and adjust from there to get the texture and taste you want.

Tip: Turkey meatloaf, rather than beef, usually works best with pumpkin.

If you’d rather not experiment with proportions, use a delicious recipe like Just a Pinch‘s Turkey-Pumpkin Meatloaf. An old-fashioned meatloaf recipe gets an autumnal (and healthy) twist with lean ground turkey and canned pumpkin as the marquee ingredients. It’s easy to make and a great way to switch things up from your usual meatloaf recipes.

Pumpkin Breakfast Foods

A stack of pancakes; a plate of two waffles
Two Peas and Their Pod/The Lazy Dish

Who doesn’t enjoy a pumpkin spice breakfast in the fall? It’s super easy to take the two ingredients you buy for pumpkin pie and use them to upgrade your favorite breakfast foods.

Start with your favorite pancake or waffle batter. Then, just add a couple of tablespoons of canned pumpkin, plus a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. It’s a delicious way to use the “leftovers” from your holiday baking!

For a gluten-free, easy-to-make fall pancake recipe, try the healthy pumpkin pancakes from Two Peas and Their Pod. Mixed up in a blender, the recipe just uses pumpkin, oats, maple syrup, and spices for a pumpkin spice breakfast treat!

Waffles can be a trickier thing—or at least a more time-consuming one—but a simple recipe like The Lazy Dish‘s easy pumpkin waffles streamlines things a bit. The trick is starting with a ready-made mix (here, it’s Bisquick) and adding pumpkin plus a few ingredients you already have in your pantry for a gourmet-tasting but surprisingly easy breakfast.

Easy Pumpkin Cookies

A counter with a baking sheet with cookies on it and a board with pumpkin and other ingredients
Nesting with Grace

Want to bake a fall treat but don’t have a lot of time? Try a basic, three-ingredient cookie recipe using canned pumpkin! Nesting with Grace has a super-simple, super-delicious recipe that bakes up sweet, spiced pumpkin cookies with very little mess and hassle.

The texture and moisture from the pumpkin provide the binding for the “wet” ingredients, while a box of spice cake mix serves as all the dry ingredients in one. Then just add your favorite baking chips (chocolate or butterscotch are both amazing!).

Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

A pile of pumpkin bran muffins topped with seeds; a muffin broken in half atop a pile
Life Made Simple

Add a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to a basic bran muffin recipe for healthy fall muffins. It’s an easy way to upgrade this simple, healthy breakfast recipe. Plus, pumpkin itself is packed with nutrients, so it’s the perfect addition to a recipe where health and flavor are equally important!

Especially if you’ve never made bran muffins before, you can start with a recipe that includes pumpkin in it already! Life Made Simple’s pumpkin bran muffins are both delicious and nutritious, featuring pumpkin and bran along with Greek yogurt and flaxseed for a protein-packed, low-fat treat.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Side and overhead view of a pan of pumpkin cinnamon rolls
Sallys Baking Addiction

Cinnamon rolls already feel like a warm and gooey fall treat, but upgrading them with pumpkin makes them even more season-appropriate! It’s just one extra step, nothing too challenging. Start with any cinnamon roll recipe, and go as far as making and rolling out the dough.

Once you roll out your dough, but before adding the cinnamon mixture, spread a thin layer of canned pumpkin all across the dough, leaving just the usual border around the edges for rolling. Then, top with your usual cinnamon mixture and roll and bake as the recipe directs. The result will be a melt-in-your-mouth roll with pumpkin pie-esque filling!

Tip: Add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to your usual glaze or frosting for some extra pumpkiny flavor.

You can also build from a recipe that already factors the pumpkin puree into the dough! Sally’s Baking Addiction has a sweet, spicy pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe that uses pumpkin in the dough instead of the filling. The center is then filled with a fall-ready spice blend, and it’s all topped off with maple cream cheese icing.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

An overhead view of two coffee cups with whipped cream, on a wooden board
Jeanne Oliver

Canned pumpkin can provide a delicious base for making your own PSL at home! The unsweetened, plain canned pumpkin can be heated with milk and spices to create a warm, spiced flavor perfect for fall.

You can experiment in the kitchen and try finding your own proportions of pumpkin, milk, sugar, and spices, or you can use a recipe that’s already tried-and-true. Jeanne Oliver’s version makes a drink that’s actually pretty close to your classic PSL, using canned pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla, and spices.

Pumpkin Biscuits

Stacks of pumpkin buttermilk biscuits on parchment paper on a countertop
Taste of Home

With any basic biscuit recipe, stir in a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin to make them pumpkin-flavored. The key is using plain canned pumpkin—because it’s not sweetened, the result is a slightly savory, nutty, fall-squash flavor, rather than making your dinner biscuits taste like dessert!

Of course, if you do want to make sweet pumpkin biscuits, you can add pumpkin to a sweet “brunch”-style biscuit recipe as well, along with approximately a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.

Taste of Home features a versatile, sweet-but-not-too-sweet pumpkin biscuits recipe. Using a classic buttermilk biscuit base, the recipe modifies it to add some canned pumpkin and a bit of brown sugar for a fluffy, moist biscuit perfect for any fall table!

Now that you’ve got some ideas, it’s time to start experimenting with canned pumpkin. Armed with these tips, you can go way beyond pumpkin pie! Pumpkin dishes truly are some of the best things about fall. Whether you make them sweet or savory, pumpkin makes a versatile addition to any meal or table.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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