The Most Creative Ways To Use Canned Pumpkin, Ranked

As the last few weeks of August approach, so does the influx of pumpkin-spiced or pumpkin-flavored foods. Though the trend is seasonal, pumpkin-spiced foods have made quite an impact on businesses across the country, from grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to coffee brand names like Starbucks. "Pumpkin is by far the most talked about flavor among our fans on social media," said Paige Gregory, brand marketing manager for Dunkin', in an interview with Well and Good. For those excited to indulge in the fall spectacle with lots of pumpkin-centric recipes, this also means it is time to stock up on canned pumpkin.

While you could attempt to make your own pumpkin purée with either fresh or roasted pumpkin, popular brands of canned pumpkin like Libby's are known for preserving their goods at peak season and carefully inspected for imperfections. The easiest choice is to grab these cans of pumpkin for their ease of use and consistent flavor. The difficult choice, however, is what recipe to make to truly transform the pumpkin into more than a simple puréed vegetable. Below we've listed some of the best ways to get great use of a simple can of pumpkin, with each dish more creative and unique than the last.

13. Pumpkin Pie

The pumpkin pie is a classic, traditional dish typical for fall time, especially around the holidays. While there are a variety of ways to make this classic dessert — even mixing tofu into the filling – the general idea consists of a sweet custard-type filling, combined with warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, all baked inside a flaky crust. Together, these ingredients create a rich, comforting dessert.

This dish's popularity around the holidays makes it one of the most obvious ways to utilize canned pumpkin. Though it is a staple in most households during this time of year, some might argue that pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin lacks creativity due to its widespread use and association with traditional recipes. So much so, in fact, that Libby's produces its own line of canned pumpkin pie mix, featuring their name-brand pumpkin purée mixed with pre-measured spices and sugar. Canned pumpkin is by far the most convenient and consistent way to achieve the perfect flavor and texture of pumpkin pie. One Reddit user agreed, noting, "The one time I tried a fresh pumpkin for baking, I found the purée too wet and the taste no different."

The simplicity of this dish also means there is little to do in terms of creativity. Some would suggest incorporating different types of squash or sweet potatoes, using unique crusts or toppings, or even playing around with unexpected spice combinations. Overall, however, no matter how you add your own unique spin, a pumpkin pie is still a pumpkin pie.

12. Pumpkin Bread

Much like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread is a beloved baked good that's appreciated for its combination of pumpkin flavor, warm spices, and a softer, denser texture of bread. Many name brands have created their own line of pumpkin bread mixes, from brand names like Libby's and Pillsbury to grocery stores like Trader Joe's. No matter the mix, the use of canned pumpkin in pumpkin bread contributes to its consistent flavor and moist texture. However, this treat overall also lacks creativity for basically the same reasons as pumpkin pie.

Interestingly, it's easy to see how uncreative baseline pumpkin bread can be just by how many ways you can make a change or add ingredients to the general recipe.

As one Reddit user said, "Pumpkin itself is fairly bland but lends itself to both sweet and savory applications." In a dessert bread, which already teeters the line between sweet and savory, adding pumpkin is making a creative decision to go sweeter. However, once pumpkin and the typical warm fall spices are incorporated, there is only so much you can do to make their bread stand out amongst the other pumpkin breads. Inclusions like fruit and nuts can give a different flavor and textural component, and chocolate chips can sweeten the bread even more. Some bakers even go the extra mile to create a flavorful topping — such as a streusel, glaze, even a cream cheese swirl — to break up the pumpkin monotony. While the basic concept of pumpkin bread is well-established, there's always a little room to play with ingredients, flavors, and presentation.

11. Winter Squash Soup

On a cold night, a warm, delicious, savory bowl of soup can elevate your entire meal. The fall and winter months are some of the best times to make something like a winter squash soup with fresh seasonal ingredients, from leeks and cabbage to assorted pumpkin and squash varieties. Canned pumpkin offers convenience and consistency, making it an easy choice for making a squash or pumpkin soup — though most chefs would not recommend going straight for the canned stuff. "Roasted fresh pumpkin gets a caramelized flavor that really improves pumpkin soup," said Clay Debattista of Chapa Catering. "You don't get that flavor with canned pumpkin."

In terms of creativity, a pumpkin soup lends itself well to incorporation with other more flavorful tastes. Because of pumpkin's more neutral flavor it's recommended to experiment with seasonings and spices, as well as standard salt and pepper. Yogurt in soup can also not only help create a creamy finish with the pumpkin, but also keep your soup from tasting too salty. When using canned pumpkin, you can try caramelizing other vegetables, such as onions, carrots, squash, or garlic. It doesn't take too much innovation to make a substantial pot of pumpkin soup, though nuances in the added components can enhance the balance between sweet and savory.

10. Pumpkin Overnight Oats

Overnight oats are an easy-to-make breakfast dish that practically begs for a dash of creative flavoring. A typical recipe involves raw oats mixed with some kind of milk, yogurt, or chia seeds in order to soften the oats to a chewy, almost pudding-like consistency. Flavoring this dish is completely up to the maker, and for fall lovers, a batch of pumpkin pie overnight oats can be a fun way to treat yourself to a fall-themed breakfast.

While some brands like Trader Joe's have their own premade version that can be hit or miss with pumpkin fans, achieving great pumpkin flavor is easy. By using canned pumpkin, spices, and your choice of sweetener, yogurt, milk, and garnish, you can make any sized serving of overnight oats.

The convenience of using canned pumpkin in this recipe also makes it an accessible option for a quick and nutritious breakfast, though the recipe overall is simplistic. There are ways to incorporate your own creative flair, from adding nuts and nut butters for added protein and richness to diversifying your sweetening agent; for example, maple goes great with pumpkin. One could even suggest making pumpkin-spiced overnight oats and use them in a pumpkin breakfast parfait layered with yogurt, pumpkin purée, granola, etc. By trying out different combinations and considering unexpected elements, it's easy to transform this basic recipe into an interesting breakfast treat.

9. Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

The natural sweetness of pumpkin pairs well with savory and earthy flavors, making it a popular choice for fall-inspired dishes. One way of getting the best use out of a simple can of pumpkin is to highlight pumpkin's sweet earthiness in typically savory pasta sauce. A pumpkin pasta sauce can be delicious due to the creamy texture of pumpkin and the richness it adds to the pasta. As Tracy Wilk, lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, told Insider, canned pumpkin has a great texture and works best "as the 'cream' element in a tomato sauce" — meaning, when it partially or completely replaces the cream.

Some might view using canned pumpkin in pasta sauce as uncreative because it is a relatively common approach that's been explored over and over again. Though the base of this concept is true, the reality is that pasta is basic by design, and the sauce used to dress it is where creativity in cooking can shine. Especially for a tomato-forward pumpkin sauce that is rich in vitamins from the vegetables, this sauce can be incorporated into classic recipes — from being spread between layers of lasagna or coated over cheese-filled tortellini. To lean more into the savory taste, you can add ingredients that will cut through the sweetness. Cheese and garlic are great for a zesty tang, while fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, or sage can provide a burst of freshness. Any added protein, such as chicken or sausage, will also elevate the sauce to feel heartier.

8. Pumpkin Curry

Making a curry dish with pumpkin as the star ingredient makes much more sense when you think outside the autumnal-themed box. Although brands like Trader Joe's have been able to produce heat and serve versions of a spicy pumpkin curry, this dish is not only easy to make, but also customizable. And due to the nature of the dish's main ingredient, the end result is a creamy, earthy curry that can be elevated with spice and additional ingredients.

Canned pumpkin is an incredible ingredient when crafting a curry because of the starch within pumpkins that is released when making the purée. The subtle sweetness of pumpkin also blends well when combined with spices, such as red curry paste which aligns more with a Thai-inspired pumpkin curry. The creative flair doesn't stop there — throw in some garam masala and chunky tomatoes and chicken breast for an Indian chicken tikka-inspired curry.

7. Pumpkin Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Diverting back to a sweeter side of the taste palate is the pumpkin cookie ice cream sandwich, a two-for-the-price-of-one treat. If you're making them from scratch, there are a lot of taste and textural elements to consider, allowing the cook to make creative decisions to end up with their ideal sandwich.

First comes the ice cream. Whether you decide to make this from scratch or just buy some, it is advisable to get a softer variety of ice cream. A softer ice cream will be more malleable, therefore easier to scoop and settle between the cookies, and then refreeze into a cohesive sandwich. For the cookie, it is best to go soft with these as well, as a softer, chewy cookie will be easier to bite through once it's been sitting in the freezer.

Canned pumpkin can be used to make an excellent soft pumpkin cookie as its delicate texture makes it ideal for use in a pumpkin cookie ice cream sandwich. To finalize the sandwich can be as easy as scooping on a dollop of vanilla ice cream, but if creativity is key why not double up on pumpkin? A scoop of homemade pumpkin ice cream can punch up the warm spices in both the ice cream and the cookies in one bite, as well as providing you an additional use for that can of pumpkin purée. If double pumpkin in your ice cream sandwich is too much, there are a few different flavors of ice cream that could balance well with pumpkin cookies. A maple walnut ice cream doubles the sweetness with a bit of a nutty crunch, or perhaps a pecan-centric ice cream could tie in some Thanksgiving flavors into one sandwich.

6. Pumpkin Pie Dip

Pumpkin fans will find any excuse to indulge in pumpkin-spice-flavored treats whenever possible, and many brands are willing to oblige. Last year, Disneyland guests in the Frontierland area were able to try a pumpkin pie-flavored dip with the churros. One guest interviewed by WDWNT noted the combination to be "not overly sweet — in fact, it's barely sweet at all — but this works in favor of the [cinnamon sugar] churro." While not everyone can try this exact sweet snack from Disneyland, crafting your own batch of pumpkin pie dip allows you to combine this fall-themed dessert with whatever you like.

A thick, pudding-like dip like this is reminiscent of the cream cheese-flavored dips often found in grocery store fruit trays, and it makes use of an entire can of pumpkin purée. Of course, dips can become a totally different eating experience depending on what you decide to, well, dip into them, so the potential for customization here is very high.

5. Pumpkin Pasta: Gnocchi and Ravioli

Pasta made with pumpkin in the dough is somewhat of an outlier on this list for its lack of sweetness and reliance on spices for flavor. However, the idea of incorporating this vegetable into pasta was not created as a mere ploy to sell pumpkins during the fall. In fact, pumpkin ravioli dates back to 20th century Italy. And while pumpkin gnocchi might not have as deep roots as pumpkin ravioli, gnocchi itself has been made since as early as Roman times.

For making pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin gnocchi, canned pumpkin is ideal because of the lower moisture content and basic flavor. The more basic flavor profile also makes these pastas and fillings more customizable with other additions, such as cheese paired with pumpkin in ravioli or butter paired with sage over the pumpkin gnocchi. You could also toss on a dash of nuts or pumpkin seeds on top to give your meal a tactfully chewy bit of texture.  

4. Pumpkin Caramel Sauce

While a pumpkin-infused caramel sauce does not use a lot of canned pumpkin, it is certainly one of the most unique applications of the fruit. (And yes, pumpkins are fruits. Look it up if you don't believe us.) Creating this type of dish is no easy feat; pumpkin naturally has a lot of moisture, which means getting this caramel sauce exactly right requires a bit of time and skill. However, the end result is a perfectly crafted topping that goes excellently with a number of dishes. You can pour it on a pile of pancakes or a bowl of ice cream, or use it to coat an apple, sliced or whole.

The secret to why this combination works so well are the complimentary spices, as well as the buttery richness of the sugary caramel. To get even more flavor out of the combination of caramel and pumpkin, you can incorporate other flavors. Some of these additions could be vanilla, maple, or honey, as well as more intense spices. Utilizing pumpkin in this way transforms it completely from something that just came from a can into a decadent sauce you can use all season long.

3. Pumpkin Cannoli

Cannoli are notably desserts that skirt the line between remaining traditional and open to customization. Though cannoli originated in Sicily, nowadays, anyone can try their hand at making cannoli at home with shells you can buy at grocery stores or online. Both components — the shells and the cream — have been altered or reconstructed through alternative methods and ingredients. These variations came about after cannoli came to America, as many bakeries adjusted from the traditional method of flavoring the cream with cherry and citrus to what many Americans know to be traditional with chocolate chips adorning the edges. So, while pumpkin cannoli might seem vastly different from the traditional flavors, it is only one of many variations that play on the delicious components of cannoli.

Pumpkin cannoli may seem like a reach, but its uniqueness makes it worthwhile to buy that necessary can of pumpkin purée. The crisp shell combined with the smooth pumpkin cream aligns similarly with the flavors of pumpkin pie, making it almost feel like a handheld Italian pumpkin pie. What makes cannoli even more creative are the possible ways to decorate them. You could go American traditional with chocolate- or pumpkin-spiced chips along the edges or go for the Halloween angle with sprinkles and a jack-o'-lantern face.

2. Pumpkin Enchiladas

Incorporating pumpkin into a dish like enchiladas sounds a bit out of the ordinary, but the use of this component in Mexican cuisine is actually not that surprising. A wide assortment of pumpkin varieties was known to be indigenous to Central and South America, much earlier than pumpkins were ever associated with North America. This resulted in many Mexican dishes utilizing pumpkin in both sweet and savory dishes.

History aside, this is all to say that not only is pumpkin a perfect ingredient to incorporate in something as notable and easy as enchiladas, but it might also be the perfect alternate ingredient that sets your dish above the rest. The key to perfectly enveloping the pumpkin into enchiladas is usually through the sauce. Combining the pumpkin into a smokey, spicy concoction like enchilada sauce, along with some cinnamon, allows you to incorporate another warm spice that not only meshes well with the other seasonings but also brings out the sweetness of the pumpkin.

While getting a great sauce together is key, there are other elements of pumpkin enchiladas that also need to be composed perfectly in this dish. One tip is to fry your tortillas before coating and filling, as the crispness on the outside of the tortilla will help the enchiladas not get too soggy and fall apart. Balancing filling with sauce is also important to prevent the enchiladas from breaking.

1. Pumpkin Spice Ramen

No, this is not a joke — pumpkin-spice ramen exists, and it's not messing around. From commercial names like Maruchan producing a limited series of pumpkin spice ramen to those who have crafted recipes for making pumpkin ramen at home, the concept has finally made its way into your favorite cheap noodle dish. If pumpkin ramen sounds even remotely interesting to you, it's worth noting how easy and delicious it can be to make at home, starting with the tried and true can of pumpkin purée.

While certain varieties of the ramen can be flavored differently, others can also be perfect for those with dietary limitations regarding meat, gluten, or dairy. In terms of creativity, this dish can hit nearly every taste profile, from a salty broth balanced from the sweet pumpkin, the acidity of citrus, to the umami of Asian ingredients like sesame and soy sauce. Not to mention you can adjust this ramen, like any good noodle recipe, to your preferred spice level and additional garnish or toppings, such as a bit of sriracha and cilantro. The end result showcases your taste and creativity at its peak and showcases just how far one can take a single can of pumpkin.