What is “pumpkin spice,” the mixture of aromatics that flavors pumpkin pie? The version produced by McCormick, the world’s largest spice company, is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Some recipes add cloves or substitute them for allspice.
As surely everybody in America has noticed by now, pumpkin spice has become a thing — a faddish, all-purpose flavoring (or at least catchphrase) like “ranch” or “bacon.” It gets applied to all kinds of foods and drink, as well as to non-edibles with aromas like body scrub and tobacco. A search for “pumpkin spice” on Amazon returns 60 pages of product results.
Forbes estimated sales of pumpkin-spice-flavored beverages, food items, and novelties at more than $500 million last year. In the week that ended August 25 of this year alone, according to Nielsen research, products with pumpkin flavoring racked up almost $7 million in sales — and autumn was still a month away.
Pumpkin spice mania started with Starbucks, back in 2003. The research and development team at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle was looking for a follow-up to the company’s successful holiday-period Eggnog Latte and Peppermint Mocha beverages. Led by product manager Peter Dukes, the team hit on the idea of coffee with a pumpkin pie flavor. They apparently sat around eating the pie and sipping espresso until they figured out how to concoct a spice-based sauce that would blend well with coffee and steamed milk.
After test-marketing the resulting beverage, Starbucks rolled it out all over America in the fall of 2004. It was an instant hit, and other coffee and fast food chains, including 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons, soon followed Starbucks’ lead. Starbucks reported in 2014 that more than 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes had been sold since the beverage’s initial appearance. A Starbucks spokesperson told Delish this August the company had reached 350 million PSL sales in years past.
PSL is fine, as long as you don’t mind drinking a few emulsifiers and preservatives and at least 15% of your recommended daily calorie intake in a cup of spiced coffee and milk. The imitators are fine, too, and a cinnamon-based blend of spices seems perfectly sensible with the likes of cookies, ice cream, or doughnuts. But pumpkin spice hummus? Soda? Bath salts? Please.
24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of unusual pumpkin spice items that just don’t seem to make any sense. Some involve actual pumpkin purée or juice; others involve no pumpkin, just the spices that traditionally flavor pumpkin pie, cinnamon most of all. Two include neither pumpkin nor spice mix.
Many of these items are available only in the fall (and sometimes through the winter holidays), and many are novelty items that aren’t produced every year — for instance, pumpkin spice versions of Peeps and Pringles, which were available in 2017 but not this fall. No matter. We can get along perfectly well without them — or everything else on this list.