From flavored latte and beer to cereal and dog treats, the pumpkin-mad season is upon us
By Janis Fontaine
Starbucks is busy at 4:30 on a Friday in Lake Worth. Baristas are churning out drinks at a rapid pace. Every other order is a pumpkin spice latte, a sweet, aromatic cinnamon-spiked coffee drink that tastes like a bite of pumpkin pie.
Last year, Starbucks called its pumpkin spice latte its most popular seasonal beverage. The drink, which debuted in 2003, has grown in popularity every year. In the first 12 years, Starbucks says it sold more than 2 million pumpkin spice lattes. The coffee drink even has its own Twitter account with more than 110,000 followers. Like Peeps at Easter or candy canes at Christmas, pumpkin spice latte has become synonymous with fall.
But America’s obsession with pumpkin spice has gone haywire, with new products permeating every corner of the market. No longer just food, pumpkin spice is now in air freshener, lip balm and body butter. Self magazine reports that pumpkin is the hottest new fall hair color.
“It just tastes like Thanksgiving,” said Marissa Cantu of Lake Worth.
Those homey, pungent spices that come from cinnamon, ginger and cloves fill our noses and help release endorphins, which make us happy. But it’s more than that. The science geeks have a name for the anxiety we feel when we hear something is available for only a limited time. It’s called “the reactance theory,” and it’s not very different from children fighting over toys. When one child has a toy, his playmate becomes obsessed with having that toy to the exclusion of all else, simply because he can’t have it. As adults we do the same thing. We actually rate products that are limited in number as better even if they’re inferior. Just because we can’t get something or have it any time we want, its value and importance increase. It’s related to the feeling millennials call FOMO — Fear of Missing Out.
Americans have been fans of pumpkin pie back to the 1600s, but that pie was more savory, often mixed with apples. They used molasses sparingly to sweeten the pie. Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery had a pair of pumpkin pie recipes, one of which was similar to today’s custard version with the pumpkin spice flavors we know and love. These earthy, rustic flavors have made pumpkin pie second only to apple in Americans’ hearts. It’s immortalized in at least three Christmas carols (Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow; Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Home for the Holidays).
At Starbucks, the star of the seasonal latte show is the pumpkin spice sauce, made using real pumpkin puree (the one change since the drink debuted is that Starbucks now uses real pumpkin), sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. That nectar is blended with fresh-brewed espresso, a dash of vanilla syrup, and steamed milk, then topped with real whipped cream and dusted with pumpkin pie seasoning. It’s available hot or cold and, new this year, in some markets you can substitute almond milk for the steamed milk.
If the pumpkin spice latte is your guilty pleasure and you wait all year for it, don’t worry. Health-wise, pumpkin is a knockout. It’s fat free, high in fiber and has tons of Vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. But don’t forget to factor in the calorie load: Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte has about 380 calories in a 16-ounce beverage ($3.85), with 14 grams of fat (8 grams of saturated fat), and 52 carbs.
You can probably shave off a few calories if you make pumpkin spice latte at home, and you make your own pumpkin pie sauce from scratch. But you might just want to buy pumpkin pie sauce from Starbucks. Fontana Pumpkin Spice Sauce is $25.95 for 63 ounces at starbucks.com. Less expensive options are available at amazon.com. Torani Pumpkin Pie Sauce is $14.95 for a 64-ounce bottle, but you may need a pump, which is about $7. Starbucks’ version comes with a pump.
Barista Matt says he still likes making the lattes and he’s not sick of the scent of cloves and cinnamon. A coworker disagrees. She’s a little tired of pumpkin spice already.
And it’s not limited to coffee! Pumpkin spice is available in dozens of foods. The Comprehensive Guide to Pumpkin Spice Flavored Foods from People magazine’s staff members includes more than 50 foods, under the heading “Because it’s perfectly acceptable to give into your obsession now.” Which seems to be the real trend.
But you’re going to have to pay for it. So before you buy consider this: Quaker Pumpkin Spice Life cereal limited edition is available online for $12.60 for a 13-ounce box. That’s three or four times the cost of regular Life cereal. But experts say that if people want it, they’ll pay for it. Price is generally not a decisive factor when we have a craving, or a FOMO.
A sampling of pumpkin products
Caramel Almond Pumpkin Spice KIND Bars
Pumpkin Spice Cheerios
Pumpkin Spice Chobani Greek Yogurt
Lindt LINDOR Pumpkin Spice Truffles
Pumpkin vodka, perfect for an autumnal cocktail
Milano Pumpkin Spice cookies
Pumpkin Spice Oreos
Pumpkin Spice Pringles
Thomas’ Pumpkin Spice Bagels Pumpkin spice peanut butter from JIF
International Delight Pumpkin Pie Spice Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer
Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice pancake mix
Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts: Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin spice hummus
Pumpkin spice dog treats
Pumpkin Spice Mini-Wheats
Pumpkin Spice Special K
Pumpkin spice and milk chocolate Kisses
Kraft Pumpkin Spice marshmallows
Pillsbury Pumpkin Spice cinnamon rolls
Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese
Pumpkin Spice Air Freshener from Glade
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Body Butter
Pumpkin spice soap and fragrance
Burt’s Bees Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Lip Balm
For more pumpkin products, visit site.people.com/food/pumpkin-spice-foods-guide