The Untold Truth Of Costco's Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin spice season is officially in full swing. And while many use the launch of Pumpkin Spice Lattes as the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of the season, when pumpkin pies hit the shelves in Costco, the fall game is officially on. 

Chances are, you know exactly the type of pies we're talking about. Even if you have never purchased a Costco Pumpkin Pie from the local warehouse store yourself, it's pretty difficult to leave any party or dinner during the fall or holiday season without a bite of Costco pumpkin pie. They're everybody's favorite party trick, and pumpkin pies from Costco just fly off the shelf, each pie just as delicious as the next using Costco's signature recipe. But is there more to the hype than just sugar and spice? Absolutely. We did a little bit more digging to find out exactly how Costco's pumpkin pie is made, where the recipe came from, and why it's so darn popular. This is the untold truth of Costco Pumpkin Pie.

It may be cheaper to buy a Costco pumpkin pie than make your own

If you've ever made a pumpkin pie on your own, and we mean really made the pie from scratch, it's a tremendous amount of work and requires a huge list of ingredients. First you have to buy a whole pumpkin and bake it. Then, to make the filling, you have to puree the cooked pumpkin, add condensed milk, cornstarch, molasses and spices, and don't forget about making your own crust! For those wildly ambitious people who actually choose to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, they're welcome to go crazy, but for those who want the easy (and cheaper) route, Costco pumpkin pie is at the top of the list. 

According to Insider, Costco's pumpkin pie is only $5.99, and it's way bigger than the normal sized pie you'll get from that complicated from-scratch recipe. It'll save you from having to buy a whole slew of ingredients, amounting to well over that $5.99 mark, and you won't have to spend hours to make it. After all, time is money, right?

You're getting the same Costco pumpkin pie recipe that's been used since 1987

The pie you're picking up from Costco may be the same pie your parents brought to a family Thanksgiving dinner before you were even born — depending on your age of course. That's right, these things go way back. According to The Costco Connection, the Costco Pumpkin Pie has been going strong with the same recipe since 1987.

The history behind the recipe is all thanks to Sue McConnaha, Costco's VP of Bakery Operations. Because of McConnaha's experience in commercial bakeries, and the number of recipes she kept from her previous positions along the way, she developed the ideal pumpkin pie recipe that could be used across Costco bakeries nationwide. The recipe is meant to be easily duplicated to be consistent all across the board, allowing Costco members to get their same forever-loved pie year after year. It's the same recipe that has been used for over 30 years now, and with how ridiculously popular it is, obviously it doesn't need to be changed.

You can buy a Costco pumpkin pie and freeze it until Thanksgiving

For those of you who don't necessarily have a Costco ten miles down the road (yes, there are people who live like that), don't worry! As it turns out, if you can make your way to Costco anytime between September and Thanksgiving, you'll be all set to serve up that giant pumpkin pie. And if you really love them, you could even buy two or three to be prepped for Christmas dinner as well. 

According to Real Simple, pumpkin pie actually freezes really well. Because of the high fat content of the buttery crust, along with the custard-like filling, it's the perfect pie to pop in the freezer in preparation for a big holiday. Costco serves up their pies in a container that seals pretty tight, but if you want to be extra sure it'll be safe for a month, wrap the whole pie in plastic wrap. Just be sure you grab your pie from the freezer the day before you plan to eat it to let it thaw out.

Costco sells millions of pumpkin pies each year

If you grab a pumpkin pie from Costco each year, you may bring it to Thanksgiving, and maybe you'll grab another for Christmas or throw one in the freezer for a later date. Even with three pies, your purchase only puts a tiny dent in the ridiculous number of pumpkin pies sold every year at Costco. According to Business Insider, Costco listed their yearly pumpkin pie sales in the millions as of the 2016 edition of The Costco Connection.

As it turns out, Costco sold 5.3 million pumpkin pies in 2015, and that was only September through December. That's a lot of pie! Furthermore, Business Insider reports that 1.75 million of those pumpkin pies were grabbed off Costco shelves in the three days before Thanksgiving ⁠— meaning a third of their pumpkin pie sales were achieved right before Thanksgiving. Does that mean those of us who procrastinate in buying our pies are safe? We can't be sure, so you better plan ahead with your pie buying plans.

The crust for Costco's pumpkin pie is made in-house

It's not often you find a commercial, grocery store bakery that makes their pie dough from scratch. And if you've ever made pie dough yourself, you understand why. Crafting a perfectly flaky, buttery crust is a true art form, requiring a lot of attention to detail. Pie crust is a pretty basic mixture of flour, butter and water, sometimes with shortening added to enhance its texture, but it's the way the dough is prepared that matters most, and Costco bakers seem to have cracked the code.

According to The Costco Connection, to prep the pies for filling, the dough is made in-house and then measured out into balls of dough, about the size of a fist. Once measured, a special machine presses the dough into the pie tin to create the perfect crust before it's filled with the pumpkin mixture and sent to the oven to bake off the ideal pumpkin pie.

The filling for Costco's pumpkin pie is made from a mix

As you know, you can't have pumpkin pie without starting out with pureed pumpkin, but what else is Costco adding to the mix? We may never actually know. The proprietary recipe uses a list of dry ingredients and spices that are kept close to the chest, but we do know they add that dry ingredient mix when they're making pies in stores. 

According to The Costco Connection, the in-store bakers combine the dry mix with a special blend of spices, along with whole eggs and water. All of the ingredients are dumped into a large stand mixer and blended to perfection. Once the mix is blended, the liquid filling is scooped into each pie shell, with each unbaked pie weighing 3.8 pounds. When a whole baking rack of 24 pies is filled, they're sent into the oven to finish the beautiful baking process before being packaged in that classic giant container and being displayed for pumpkin pie lovers to snatch them up.

Costco's pumpkin pies may not actually be made with pumpkin

Ah, the familiar flavor of pumpkin pie. Is it the cinnamon, the nutmeg, or the pumpkin pie spice that really drives the flavor home? It's all three, and when you mix those flavors together, you can pretty much add pumpkin pie flavor to anything even if it's fake pumpkin. 

According to The Costco Connection, the pumpkins used for Costco Pumpkin Pie are harvested and taken to a canning facility owned by Seneca Foods. Coincidentally, the brand of pureed pumpkin sold by Seneca Foods is that all too familiar can of Libby's Pumpkin Puree, which according to Epicurious accounts for 85 percent of the canned pumpkin sold throughout the world. But what if we told you that pumpkin was really a variety of squash? Well, hold on tight. 

The strand of pumpkin grown for Libby's is the proprietary variety known as Dickinson Squash — the same variety Costco says they use for their pies. It pretty well has the same appearance, same taste, and same texture as most pumpkins, but the variety is definitely a squash... not a pumpkin. But with all of those delicious fall baking spices added, do you really notice the difference?

The pumpkins for Costco's pumpkin pies are grown in Illinois

As you can imagine, if you're going to make millions of the same pumpkin pie within a three-month span, the type of pumpkin used definitely matters. There has to be consistency.

When McConnaha developed the pumpkin pie recipe for Costco, she decided using Dickinson pumpkins would be best. "We only use the Dickinson variety for our puree, which is why the pumpkin is so key," McConnaha told The Costco Connection. "Our formula doesn't work with other varieties."

According to The Costco Connection, the Dickinson Pumpkins used for Costco's pies are grown in Illinois, where about 90 percent of the nation's pumpkin crop is grown. Illinois' growing conditions are just about perfect for pumpkins, providing nutrient-rich soil and warm temperatures, without too much water that would cause produce to mold. Part of the reason Costco members love the iconic pumpkin pie so much is due to its unique flavor, and that's all due, in part, to the Illinois-grown pumpkin.

Costco's pumpkin pies dish up more servings than normal sized pies

Since the same recipe has been going strong since 1987, not much about the way Costco does things has changed. According to The Costco Connection, the one thing that has changed however is the size. The original recipe called for enough ingredients to make a 10-inch pie, while today's pies sold in stores are a whopping 12 inches in diameter. A standard pie pan is 9 inches, so even when Costco first introduced the pie they were, in true Costco fashion, already bigger, but adding an extra two inches supersized the dessert. According to The Daily Mail, the pies now weigh 58 ounces, topping out at more than 3.5 pounds. That's a whole lot of pie. 

But with that size of pie, you can definitely feed a large group. Delish says you can get 12 servings out of it, but you can easily stretch it to feed more people if needed. Or just eat the whole thing by yourself.

Costco's pumpkin pie has a cult following

Once fall hits, Costco members seem to go crazy over pumpkin pies every year. As if there wasn't enough hype behind Costco's pumpkin pie, social media has taken it to a whole new level. Pumpkin pie fans have rallied around a Facebook page called Costco's Pumpkin Pie, getting news on the Costco pie season. The Facebook fan page posts an annual announcement when pumpkin pies are officially back in stores for the season, with updates throughout September to December. It even shares memes and other photos of the pie, along with photos of Costco employees dishing out samples of this beloved dessert. 

The pie's cult following is most likely due to its unique flavor, as many say they can't find a pie like that anywhere else. The Costco Buys Instagram cccount, boasting over 80,000 followers, says it's their absolute favorite pie "with its flaky crust and delicious taste." And with the recipe going strong for over 30 years, there must be some validity to it. 

When is Costco's Pumpkin Pie Available?

If you're a fan of everything pumpkin-spice flavored in the last third of the year, you'll be happy to learn that Costco's pumpkin pie season lasts from September through December (via Business Insider). So, you can get your pumpkin pie fix almost as soon as fall decorations hit the stores and pumpkin-spice lattes hit the coffee shops. That's four whole months of pumpkin pie goodness, spanning Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In 2022, Costco pumpkin pie fans were ecstatic to learn that their favorite pies had dropped early, hitting shelves in late August (via Facebook). Some fans on Costco's Pumpkin Pie Facebook page said they had plans to run immediately to pick up their first pie of the year and try not to eat it all in one sitting. Others were anxious to get the pie for the $5.99 price, saying that they'd seen the price increase over the season in previous years. Within one week, an Instagram announcement that pumpkin pies were back on the shelf earned over 8,000 likes, signaling the beginning of the mad rush for the first pies of the season.

What ingredients are in Costco pumpkin pies?

Several references to Costco's pumpkin pies, like the one in People magazine, call Costco's pumpkin pies "all-natural and preservative-free." This claim is only partially true. It's easy to assume that the pie is all-natural with ingredients like pumpkin, sugar, water, eggs, enriched flour, non-fat milk, spices, modified corn starch, salt, canola and/or soybean oil, corn syrup solids, and dextrose (via FaceBook). After all, these sound like the ingredients you would use to make a pie at home from scratch. However, the TBHQ and mono- and diglycerides in the shortening prevent the pie from being natural or preservative-free.

TBHQ is a preservative used to increase the shortening's shelf life and keep it from going rancid. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited the amount of TBHQ food can have. Various studies have shown TBHQ to contribute to vision problems and ADHD in humans and a variety of physical problems in lab animals (via Healthline). However, TBHQ is in many of the processed foods we eat, so eating an occasional pie with limited amounts probably isn't cause for alarm.

Luckily, the mono- and diglycerides in the shortening are considered safe and have no consumption limitations. Their main purpose is to work as an emulsifier, which helps the ingredients in the crust to combine and produce the soft, flaky texture Costco pie fans adore (via Bakerpedia).

If you eat the filling without the crust, you can call the pie "all-natural and preservative-free." However, most people can't resist the flaky, tasty crust.

Costco doesn't just throw out the pumpkin seeds

All the pumpkin seeds from the millions of pumpkins Costco uses each year for its pies don't go to waste. People who have grown Dickinson pumpkins say that the seeds dry and roast well (via Mary's Heirloom Seeds). However, Costco doesn't harvest the seeds from its pie pumpkins to sell in stores. Instead, the company puts the pumpkin seeds to use as bird food (via People).

Costco doesn't process the pumpkin seeds itself. Instead, it sells the seeds to another company that uses pumpkin seeds in its bird food. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent addition to a bird's diet, providing many nutrients birds need, like protein, fat, fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium, and copper (via The Spruce).

Common birds that eat pumpkin seeds include blue jays, starlings, chickadees, cardinals, doves, tits, grosbeaks, finches, and mockingbirds. Of course, these fibrous seeds are also irresistible to squirrels and other wildlife that raid bird feeders.

If you have food allergies, pay attention to the label

It can be tempting to attack a Costco pumpkin pie with a fork without paying attention to the label. The label warnings insist that you look closely at the ingredient list if you have food allergies and intolerances (via FaceBook). Costco's pumpkin pie is neither gluten-free nor dairy-free. It contains wheat, eggs, milk, corn, soybeans, and canola. So anyone with celiac disease, wheat allergies, egg allergies, dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, corn allergies, soybean allergies, or canola allergies should avoid eating it.

While there are no hidden ingredients, the label says that Costco bakes the pies with the same equipment they use to cook goods that contain nuts and sesame seeds. So, even though there aren't any nuts or sesame seeds in the ingredients, there's still the chance that residue remaining on the equipment from previous cooking projects could contaminate the pie, which could potentially affect anyone with a tree nut or sesame seed allergy.

The pumpkin inside a Costco pumpkin pie is cooked twice

Costco first cooks its pumpkins after harvesting them from the pumpkin patch. Then, the wholesaler cooks the pumpkin again after bakers mix it together with all the ingredients that turn it into pie (via People). The second time the pumpkin gets baked is where all the magic happens.

Costco sources all its Dickinson pumpkins from Illinois farmers (via People). After Costco collects all the pumpkins, they're sent to a processing facility. The pumpkin condenses as it cooks, turning from a light pumpkin orange to the autumn brown you recognize in a pumpkin pie. The result is exactly like the canned pie filling that you use to bake your pie at home.

Then, Costco ships all the cooked pie filling to the Costco baking warehouse in Issaquah, Washington. At the baking warehouse, workers combine the pumpkin pie filling with ingredients like sugar, eggs, milk, and spice to fill the pie crust before baking the pumpkin for a second time.

How many pumpkins does it take to make a pie?

It actually takes more pumpkins than you probably think to make Costco's pumpkin pie since a big pumpkin cooks down to just a small amount of pie filling. Costco pumpkin pies are fairly large, containing 12 servings per pie (via Mashed). We estimate that it takes around 1.5 pumpkins to make one 12-serving pie. Let's look at how we arrived at this number.

In 2016, Costsco produced 5.3 million pies. To make these 5.3 million pies, Costco used 1.1 million gallons of pumpkin filling from 3.4 million pumpkins (Business Insider via Costco Connection). If you divide the number of pies by the number of pumpkins Costco used, it comes out to slightly more than 1.5 pumpkins per pie.

This number is especially interesting when considering the size of the average Dickinson pumpkin. According to Mary's Heirloom Seeds, the Dickinson pumpkins that Costco uses for its pies grow to be 10-40 pounds, 18 inches long, and 14 inches around. If it takes an average of 1.5 pumpkins per pie, and the average pumpkin is 10-40 pounds, you can see just how much each pumpkin cooks down before becoming pie filling for a pie that's only 3.63 pounds (via Facebook).