Why Your Pumpkin Pie May Have No Pumpkin

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Woman preparing pumpkin pie for holidays
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The piece of pumpkin pie that looks so delectable every Thanksgiving might not have so much pumpkin in it after all.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, such news can actually be a good thing.

Consumer Reports notes that even if your favorite brand of canned pumpkin promises it is “100% pumpkin,” such assurances might stretch the truth.

The Food and Drug Administration allows producers of canned pumpkin to use field pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) or certain varieties of firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash (Cucurbita maxima) — or mixtures — without mentioning the other squash on the can label.

But before bemoaning this culinary bait-and-switch, it’s important to know the facts. The FDA notes that there is nothing nefarious about using squash in canned pumpkin products. For example, sometimes producers mix field pumpkin with other golden-fleshed sweet squash so the finished product has a better consistency. CR also notes that other golden-fleshed squash are sweeter than pumpkin.

And according to CR, canned pumpkin can offer unexpected advantages:

“Nutritionally, you might be better off with canned pumpkin than with fresh cooked: One cup of canned has more carotenoids and fiber (7 grams), plus about a fifth of your daily iron needs.”

So, this is a case where a canned food might beat its fresh counterpart. But not necessarily.

Writing at the Mayo Clinic website, registered dietitian Katherine Zeratsky reminds readers that while canned and fresh pumpkin are both rich in nutrients, fresh foods generally have more nutrients. And as a bonus, the fresh foods are free of salt and other additives that you might find in some types of canned pumpkin.

Either way, whether you choose fresh pumpkin or a canned variety, you likely are getting some important nutrients in each forkful of your pastry.

Just steer clear of “pumpkin pie mix.” CR notes that it often is packed with added sugars — up to 48 grams per cup. And that does not count the sugar that many people add when making pies at home.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some people are modifying their Thanksgiving plans. But one thing has not changed — the opportunity to save a little cash if you do some advanced planning. For more, check out “7 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner.”

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