The harbinger of autumn. No it’s not the leaves, the colder weather, or even football. It is the addition of pumpkin spice to our favorite foods. Many credit the pumpkin spice craze to Starbucks’s introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (called PSL by aficionados) in 2003.
Pumpkin spice was probably introduced to the west by the Dutch, in a blend called “speculaaskruiden” (mixed spice) that was popular in the 1600s. The Europeans were the first to make pumpkin into a pie using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper, which became the basic ingredients for pumpkin spice (although many recipes also use allspice and ginger). Ironically, the pumpkin spice craze today is only in North America. A friend of mine told me that she has a relative in Paris who has searched for canned pumpkin pie filling in Paris grocery stores for years and has only been able to find it in a small specialty store.
Food scientists speculate that the reason pumpkin spice is so popular is that the scent evokes nostalgia coupled with the foods of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is associated with warmth, ample food, and family and friends gathering together. Most of us have pleasant memories of Thanksgiving and it is believed that this scent invokes memories of those happy times.
Pumpkin spice is also an aphrodisiac for men. A study found that the smell of pumpkin spice increases sexual arousal in men stronger than any other scent, even perfume. Not as much for women, though.
The marketing genius behind pumpkin spice is keeping it seasonal. Pumpkin spice flavored products are typically only available for a short period of time.
Whatever it is, it has really caught on. I did an Internet search of pumpkin-spiced products and it was frankly eye opening. Are you ready? Here is a list.
Products that have pumpkin spiced scents or flavors:
- Milk-based desserts: Yogurt, Ice cream, Milkshakes, Flavored milk, Hot cocoa, Pudding, DQ Pumpkin Blizzard, Cheesecake
- Caffeine drinks: Coffee, Lattes, Teas, Coffee creamers
- Breakfast foods: Pop-tarts, Pancakes, Waffles, Syrup, Granola, Granola bars, English muffins, Cereals, Doughnuts, Muffins, Instant hot cereals,
- Cookies: Pumpkin cookies, Pumpkin rolls, Pumpkin bars, Oreos, Waffle cookies, Pumpkin snaps, Protein bars, Dessert Bars
- Spreads: Cream cheese, Pumpkin butter, Pumpkin-flavored butter, Hummus, Caviar, Peanut butter
- Cakes: Cupcakes, Cake
- Baking products: Marshmallows, Sauce (to drizzle on desserts), Pumpkin spice peanut butter powder
- Candies: Jellybeans, Chocolates, Caramels, Chewing gum, Candy corn, Peeps
- Nuts: Walnuts, Almonds
- Baked desserts: Pies, Twinkies, Moon Pies, Biscotti, Brownies
- Ethnic Foods: Empanadas, Tamales
- Breads: Pumpkin bread, Rolls, Bagels,
- Drinks: Pumpkin Spice protein powder (energy drink), Juice
- Crackers, Potato chips, Popcorn
- Alcoholic: Beer, Ale, Wine, Liqueur
- Artificial sweeteners
- Scented home products: Candles, Sachets, Air fresheners, Trash bags, Spray cleaner
- Bath and body products: Soap, Deodorant, Body scrub, Skin cream, Toothpaste, Beard Oil
- Makeup: Lipstick, Face mask, Face cream
- Meals: Macaroni and Cheese, Burger, Chicken Sandwich, Salmon, Spam, Sausage, Broth
- Pet Products: Pumpkin (good for canine digestion), Dog biscuits, Dog shampoo, Kitty litter
- Flowers: Mums that smell like pumpkins
- Cough Drops
While I am not sure how healthy pumpkin spice is, pumpkins are good for the immune system. Pumpkins are high in soluble fiber which slows down how quickly the body absorbs glucose. Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene (which converts to Vitamin A), Vitamin C, and antioxidants. My acupuncturist recommends pumpkin during the cold and flu season.
And since we are talking about pumpkins, there are over 150 varieties. There are local pumpkin growing contests, the world record pumpkin was over 1,469 pounds.
And, of course, there are the decorative pumpkins that grace homes, businesses, and yards. The small white pumpkins that we see are mostly Baby Boo pumpkins. The large white pumpkins are creatively called Casper pumpkins. The Blue Doll, Blue Jarrahdale, and Blue Hubbard varieties are those unusual slate blue/gray pumpkins. Then there are the myriad of other decorative pumpkins. No longer simply orange, they come in yellow, blue, white, black, green, pink/coral, gray, brown, striped and multicolored. They are also available in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and mottling. Many of these varieties can be eaten, but most prefer of us their exotic looks.
So there you have it. More than you wanted to know about pumpkins and pumpkin spice. And even if the pumpkin spice craze is a bit too much, most of it will be gone after Thanksgiving. So savor, feast, and inhale it all because by the dog days of August we will eagerly awaiting their reappearance.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.