Canadian cuisine is always at its best in fall thanks to the bountiful autumn harvest, but it isn’t really fall until pumpkins start popping up everywhere—from our lattes and doorsteps to our pies, soups, and table décor. The versatile orange vegetable is one popular gourd.

And as Iron Chef Susur Lee and challenger Nick Liu proved on the latest episode of Iron Chef Canada, pumpkin doesn’t have to be fresh in order to be delicious. The chefs were challenged with incorporating canned pumpkin into at least one of their dishes when The Chairman threw it at them as the week’s curveball ingredient, adding a bit of colour to the bitter greens battle.

Want to incorporate more pumpkin into your home dishes? Here’s everything you need to know about the canned stuff.

What is canned pumpkin?

Come fall, store shelves everywhere are lined with colourful cans of pumpkin. Basically, it’s a can of pumpkin that’s been roasted and pureed and is ready to throw into all of your favourite pumpkin recipes. The good news is that while fresh pumpkin comes and goes, the canned stuff is typically available year-round—it just happens to be more readily available and less expensive come autumn.

Is canned pumpkin and pumpkin puree the same thing?

Not always. When you think of pumpkin, it’s highly likely you conjure up images of the big old gourds we carve come Halloween. In reality, those carving pumpkins are edible, but they’re stringy and watery. Your best bet when it comes to cooking are “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins,” which have the meatier, sweeter flesh.

Given that intel, you’d think canned pumpkin would be canned sugar or pie pumpkins, but that’s not the case. Many manufacturers use something called a “Dickinson pumpkin,” which looks like a large, paler butternut squash. Food regulators define pumpkin as any veggie “prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash or mixtures of such squash and field pumpkin,” which means your can of pumpkin could actually contain a colourful variety of gourds within.

Can you eat canned pumpkin without cooking it?

Sure. Since canned pumpkin has been cooked and pureed before being canned, it’s technically fine to consume straight up with a spoon if that’s how you want to eat it. But with so many other great ways to use canned pumpkin, why would you want to?

What is the difference between canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling?

Canned pumpkin is exactly what it sounds like: pureed pumpkin squeezed into a can. Pumpkin pie filling, meanwhile, is pumpkin puree that has been seasoned with traditional pie flavours like cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and is sweetened to achieve that perfect pumpkin-pie taste. The former is good for all kinds of recipes and baking, while the latter is basically best for pumpkin pie and pumpkin-pie inspired treats.

What is the nutritional value of canned pumpkin?

Pure canned pumpkin is actually an excellent source of nutrients, including Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. It’s also high in manganese and iron, and makes a terrific source of dietary fibre. Add in that it’s low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, and canned pumpkin is the perfect thing to keep in your cupboard year-round.

Can I make my own canned pumpkin?

Although pressure cookers and tools like the InstantPot make home canning increasingly popular, it’s still not recommended to can your own pumpkin puree. Pumpkins are a low-acid food, which enables easy growth of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria—the bacteria that causes botulism. If you want to can pumpkin it’s better to can it cubed, or better yet simply freeze your puree in a freezer-safe bag for up to a year.

What are some canned pumpkin recipes?

When it comes to vegetables most of us agree that fresh is better. And if you’re planning on eating savoury, roasted squash with your meal, a freshly roasted pumpkin is certainly the way to go. If you’re using pumpkin puree in a recipe though, this gourd is a rare exception where it’s perfectly okay to use the canned variety instead and no one would know the difference. From pumpkin spice pancakes and pumpkin scones to curry pumpkin soup and pumpkin pasta, there is so, so much to do with one little can of pumpkin puree.

Happy harvesting!

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P