Tricks and Treats for Upcycling Halloween Pumpkins with Drexel’s Food Lab

As many people transition their Halloween decorations to Thanksgiving ones, some may be looking for ways to use their decorative pumpkins in the kitchen.

Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, a professor in the Department of Food and Hospitality Management in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, and Rachel Sherman, project coordinator of the Food Lab – the College’s culinary innovation lab, shared their ideas for upcycling pumpkins and keeping them out of the trash.

“There are a few things to be aware of regarding Halloween pumpkins,” said Deutsch. “First, the thin-walled orange jack-o-lantern style pumpkins are designed primarily for decoration. While they are edible and can be safe to eat, they are typically not as tasty as the pumpkins grown specifically for food.”

His first tip is to select what are often called “cheese pumpkins” or other varieties grown specifically for food.

“These are usually much fleshier, sweeter and have a smoother texture when cooked,” said Deutsch. “They are a good source of nutrition.”

He added that a smart strategy to reduce food waste is to save the seeds from pumpkin carving for roasting and the flesh from carving for sautéing, roasting or pureeing in sauces and soups. 

“Keep in mind that vegetables, including pumpkins, once cut, should be cooked immediately or kept refrigerated and cooked within a couple of days for optimal food safety,” said Deutsch. “Since in most of the country October days can get quite warm, encouraging microbial growth, and critters in urban, suburban and rural environments can climb in and around jack-o-lanterns, it is NOT safe or advisable to cook and eat leftover jack-o-lanterns, even if it looks to be in good condition. If you want to reduce food waste, keep the food in the kitchen and use non-food holiday decor that can be reused annually.”

For pumpkins that remain safe to use after fulfilling their decorative duties, Sherman recommends turning the leftover pumpkins into puree and using in pies, quick breads, doughnuts or making your own spiced pumpkin syrup.

“You can also freeze it and use as needed,” said Sherman. “Or there is always composting for those that let them go a little too long.”

Sherman also enjoys Serious Eats recipes for “an interesting” pickled pumpkin and pumpkin marshmallows.  

Sherman’s spiced pumpkin syrup recipe

  • 1/3 cup Pumpkin puree             
  • 1/4 cup Sugar                              
  • 1.5 tablespoons Maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Water
  • 1.5 teaspoons (or to taste) Pumpkin spice

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until it thickens to coat the spoon, 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust spices as necessary.

The Drexel Food Lab is a faculty-mentored interdisciplinary research group solving real-world problems in product ideation, product development and recipe development. The lab designs affordable, sustainable, delicious and healthy food products that meet three focus areas: sustainability, health promotion and food access. The lab’s mission is to improve the food system and develop the next generation of food industry leadership.

Media interested in an interview with Deutsch or Sherman should contact Annie Korp at 215-571-4244 or