Kabocha Squash Purée (Pumpkin Purée Substitute)

Trying to shift your mentality of “I can’t have it because I can’t buy it in Japan” to “I’ll make it myself!” is hard. Really hard. For example, let’s take my recent discovery of how to purée kabocha to substitute for pumpkin purée/canned pumpkin in American recipes. Kabocha and pumpkin have different textures. Pumpkin has more water content, so mashing and processing boiled or baked pumpkin (something I might have phoned my mom about in grad school) results in a texture like thick applesauce. Mashed kabocha is more like mashed potatoes.

Kabocha/Squash Puree

Prior to adding water, it’s more like mashed kabocha.


Trying to substitute mashed kabocha for canned pumpkin does not work. This is what I was told, and it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t purée it by adding water and blending.

I know, I know. How the hell else do you make purée? I make applesauce at home; I don’t have any excuses for this oversight.

Kabocha/Squash Puree: spoon test (I'll Make It Myself)
Spoon test, 1/3

Kabocha/Squash Puree: spoon test (I'll Make It Myself)
Spoon test, 2/3

Kabocha/Squash Puree: spoon test (I'll Make It Myself)
Spoon test, 3/3

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not “naturally talented” at cooking, or, for that matter, anything I do well. (Forget grad school and imposter syndrome, in high school I read that chapter on the French Revolution for AP European History three times before I had it all straight!) The skills I have now are things for which I had to work really, really hard, because what I’m actually “gifted” in is being intense.

My personal shortcomings aside, forget spending money at the import store on canned pumpkin this autumn, and use this recipe to go as crazy with the “pumpkin” recipes as the Americans and Canadians are this fall. Don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry, I’ve already been working on some Japan-friendly “pumpkin” recipes so we can all be Mr. Autumn Man, too. Let’s do this.

Kabocha Purée

Squashes like kabocha and Hubbard squash tend to be drier than pumpkin and butternut. If the squash is already very wet after cooking it, try blending or processing it with just a small amount of water first (about 60 mL/[1/4 US cup]) and do the spoon test (pictures above, description below) to see if the consistency is right before adding more water. For drier squash, a 1:2 water (mL) to squash (grams) ratio works well.

Yields and Measurement Information
500 grams (17 oz.) kabocha yields about 625 g /2.5 cups purée

Approximate purée weight by volume: 250 grams (8.8 oz.) = 250 mL by volume (1 US cup)

~500 grams (17 oz.) kabocha (かぼちゃ, 南瓜)
Alternatives: butternut squash (batâ nattsu kabocha, バターナッツ南瓜), Hubbard squash (hâbado, ハバード; kanryû kabocha, 甘龍南瓜), or any other variety of orange squash in the species Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita pepo, etc.

Water for cooking (depends on method), plus 100-250 mL (3/8-1 US cup) cooking water reserved for puréeing

Blender (mikisâ, ミキサー)
OR food processor (fûdo purosessa, フードプロセッサ)

For baking: a glass, metal, or ceramic pan, 20×20 cm (8×8 in) (or larger, depending on what fits in your oven or oven range)
For boiling: a large pot


1. Preheat (yonetsu, 予熱) the oven to 200° C (400° F).
2. Wash the squash. Leaving the skin on, cut the squash into large pieces that fit in the pan without overlapping (quarters or eighths usually work).
3. Place squash in the pan with the skin up. Add water to the pan so that the bottom is covered with about 1.5 cm (1/2 in) of water.
4. Bake the squash for about 45-60 minutes or until tender. Let cool.
5. After the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the peel. (A spoon helps scrape off the flesh from the peel.) Break into small pieces and put in the blender or food processor with 100-250 mL water, or as needed.
6. Purée the squash. The consistency should be smooth but more like baby food than paste. If you take a spoonful of the purée and turn it sideways, it should mostly fall off, not stick. Add water and blend to adjust consistency as needed.

1. Set a large pot of water to boil.
2. Wash the squash. Cut into small chunks and remove seeds, stringy bits, and peel.
3. Boil until tender (10-30 min, depending on the size of the pieces). Remove squash and reserve water for puréeing.
4. Add to blender/food processor with 100-250 mL of the reserved cooking water, as needed, and purée the squash. The consistency should be smooth but more like baby food than paste. If you take a spoonful of the purée and turn it sideways, it should mostly fall off, not stick. Add water and blend to adjust consistency as needed.

Store in an airtight container or plastic bag for 3-5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.


23 Comments Add yours

  1. Becky says:

    Rice cooker! I use my rice cooker for everything, including homemade pumpkin puree and, recently, applesauce!

    1. Leah says:

      Ooo! Do you just cut up the apples or squash, add water, and set to cook? I’ve heard of doing those in a Crockpot but I haven’t tried my rice cooker yet.

      1. Becky says:

        For apples, I puree them first. When I put several in, it took a cycle and a half.

        For pumpkin, throw the chunks in the rice cooker. If you use frozen, just toss them in. If you use fresh, you’ll probably need to add some water.

        Good luck!

  2. 朗怜 says:

    I used this to make pumpkin spice oatmeal this morning and it was DELICIOUS. Thank you so much for posting this, especially with all the kanji and measurement clarifications. Now I just have to find more recipes!

    1. Leah says:

      Yay, I’m glad to hear it! I’m hoping to get a latte and muffin recipes up soon ^^

  3. Rachel says:

    THANK YOU! I will now be making pumpkin pancakes for my friends on Sunday and pumpkin bread next weekend. I am incredibly happy. It may sound silly, but I have regained my excitement for cooking in Japan after finding your blog. Being a strict vegetarian who needs to avoid eating too much soy for health reasons and living outside of a big city, I was starting to get really frustrated. Between this post and the one for baba ghanoush (which was great, by the way), I’m actually looking forward to planning and making my meals :)

    1. Leah says:

      I’m so happy to hear that–it really means a lot to me, and I love comments from happy readers! Living away from the city in Japan can be really hard food-wise, especially if you’re avoiding meat and/or soy. I hope you find some recipes you like here ^^

  4. Joelene says:


    I just found your blog trying to answer the question, “Can I substitute Kabocha pumpkin for my holiday recipes?” I live in South Korea, and I really want to make a US Thanksgiving dinner for my soon-to-be Korean in-laws this year. Living here I have the same problem you do trying to find convenient, affordable ingredients to non-native recipes, particularly western recipes. After briefly browsing of your site, it looks like I can use a lot of your tips and tricks here in Korea^^. I am so grateful to to have found your blog. Plus, coming from a sociology background, I love the academic tidbits peppered in! Thanks a million!

    1. Leah says:

      I’m so touched–thank you for the wonderful comment! I hope the “adapted for Japan” recipes help you out in Korea. Also, I’m really happy to hear you enjoy the academic bits. Doing that isn’t particularly normal for food bloggers, and even though I feel compelled to analyze everything, I love getting comments from readers that they enjoyed those posts/parts. Good luck on your Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading!

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