Pumpkin Spice Lies
by Annie Lu
The arrival of fall also heralds an onslaught of fall-flavored paraphernalia: scarves and boots and leggings are whipped out (regardless of San Diego’s stubborn refusal to conform to autumn weather), excited talk of Halloween echoes in the halls, and of course—the pumpkin spice latte makes its return. A favorite of the masses, pumpkin spice is almost an imperative in signaling the change in seasons.
A history: the first mention of pumpkins with spices in America came in a recipe for “pompkin pie” in 1796 cookbook American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons (so now we know whom we have to thank for this pumpkin rage phenomenon). In 1936, the Washington Post published a recipe for “Spice Cake Of Pumpkin”—possibly the first recorded time pumpkins and spice were used in the same name. From there, spice companies smelled potential profit and began selling cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice (also known as pimenta) together as Pumpkin Pie Spice. The omnipresent Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, sometimes referred to as “PSL”, was first conceived and introduced in 2003, after which it became known as the store’s most popular seasonal beverage. Why this sudden soar to worldwide fame? Spices have traditionally been regarded as a luxury for the rich and well-regarded in world history. They were expensive, exotic, and much-coveted. While the same might not be true for modern society, the pumpkin spice has an evocative smell that might conjure up nostalgia and seasonal good feelings for many people. For a generation of young people very attached to their childhoods, the Thanksgiving and family imagery induced by pumpkin spice seems warm, safe, and comforting. Not to mention the perfectly Instagrammable aesthetic it comes with.
An evaluation: Buying pumpkin-spiced products is undoubtedly an investment disproportionate to its value. “According to a US study, anything pumpkin spice related is up to 133% more expensive on a per-unit basis than a similar product, and you’re often getting a smaller portion too” (Hoise 2017). Long story short, anything branded as “pumpkin” or “pumpkin spice” carries with it the price of the sentimental value of pumpkins as well as the product itself. It’s more expensive. The same article maintains that a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte costs 25.53% more than its equivalent-sized other latte (not to mention the 49 grams of sugar in a grande pumpkin spice latte as opposed to 18 for a cafe latte). In reality, it's clear that the price tag arbitrarily placed on this "seasonal" flavor far exceeds its true value.
But that certainly doesn’t end people’s infatuation with pumpkin spice and fall. At this time of year, it’s impossible to walk into a grocery store and not be instantly assaulted by the frantic aroma of cinnamon brooms and the sight of ornamental gourds grinning cheekily at you from atop a shelf. Better still, every other aisle is bedecked with some seasonal specialty—usually capitalizing on pumpkins. Pumpkin spice has since transcended mere pies and lattes and can now be found in a multitude of products such as cakes, bagels, waffles, cereals, protein powder, dog treats, jello shots. There are even instant pumpkin spice lattes—for dogs. One might say the pumpkin spice obsession has crossed the line into absurdity. Pumpkin spice has become more than just a flavor cultivated in a Starbucks lab; it’s the embodiment of a season, a symbol, a lifestyle.
Nothing smells so much like fall as an alarmingly vast collection of pumpkin-spiced goods. Regardless of the hefty “pumpkin spice tax”, people aren’t liable to give up their love for this heady mix of holiday spices, so don’t hold back. Covet that pumpkin spiced latte even as your wallet or bank account makes its protests. Sample every pumpkin bagel and granola bar that you see. Throw pumpkin spice in the air like it’s confetti, raining down to blanket us all in the true glory of fall.
- Schuett, Jim. November 22, 2016. “10 facts you might not know about pumpkin spice”. San Francisco Bay Coffee. Culture.
- Nahon, Lavada (Van Cortlandt manor food historian). “From ‘Pompkin Pudding’ to Pumpkin Pie”. Historic Hudson Valley.
- Hosie, Rachel. October 17, 2017. “Pumpkin spice products come at a hefty premium, finds study”. Independent.
- Filloon, Whitney and Sparks, Jesse. September 26, 2017. “65 Pumpkin Spice Foods That Have No Business Being Pumpkin Spiced”. Eater.