Toss some pumpkin spice into the pile of things that once served as cultural markers but now read as neutral: denim and tattoos, for example, were once reserved for the counterculture, but now they’re in the mix too. comfortable at the PTA than at the demi-monde. Punk music is now selling minivans.
The same goes for pumpkin spice, which was once considered part of a lifestyle choice, a sign of flavor’s most fiery acolytes: women (mostly white, mostly with flawless highlights) who loved brunch and comfy sweaters and U-pick. apple orchards and painted signs in their kitchens reminding them to dream. Now, pumpkin spice season is coming like any other weather phenomenon. It’s there for everyone, like it or not.
“You’re bound to come across something pumpkin spice, maybe pancakes or a seasonal drink,” says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, who tracks food trends for market research firm Mintel. “You can’t avoid it, so you don’t have to be embarrassed to enjoy it. It’s here. It’s all around us.
Emily Contois, an assistant professor at the University of Tulsa who studies food and media, compared the flavor integration to that of Uggs, those plush-lined boots that make their wearers look like they have potatoes. in the oven for the feet. Ultra trendy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were quickly abandoned by the fashion elite only to ironically be revived from time to time. Now they are just another brand. “It was either ‘Oh, it’s a bubble that’s going to burst’ or ‘We’ll never wear them again,'” she says. “But those boots have become a part of our lives.”
Some the cynics inevitably still despise those who enthusiastically embrace #pumpkinspiceSZN on Instagram, but along with the mockery on social media, there’s another tendency to think that seems to stem from the near-universal slog of recent years: Maybe just let it go? If a PSL isn’t your thing, just order your usual latte. Or not. Do you.
As one proponent of this attitude warned on Twitter on the day of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte debut: “YOU, listen to me. There will be NO pumpkin spice slander today. Today we are going to let people enjoy things!!!!
“Who cares if someone gets excited about a Taylor Swift album or a pumpkin spice latte? another wrote. “Let people feel joy and leave them alone.”
It’s not your imagination: Pumpkin spice products are really proliferating. They accounted for more than $231 million in sales last year, according to NielsenIQ data, nearly 27% more than the previous year. This season, Oreo is offering a limited-time Pumpkin Spice flavor for the first time since 2017.
The flavor is particularly concentrated in the breakfast category, which makes sense given its barista origins. You can find it in cereals (including Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios), baked goods (Thomas bagels and English muffins and Pillsbury Grands) and yogurts (Chobani, Siggi’s and Oui). Coffee creamers and cold infusions abound. On my recent shopping sprees in the DC area, I haven’t seen any of the novelty products that marked the heyday of pumpkin spice. No spam, for example, or potato chips, which I took as a sign of the flavor’s journey beyond trend.
No one bases their personality on preferring strawberry ice cream to chocolate, or assigns personality to those who do. So how did pumpkin spice earn its place on the list of flavors you can enjoy without making a big deal out of it? Let’s rewind for a moment to the old days of 2003, when Starbucks launched its seasonal latte enriched with the warming flavors of baking spices.
As its popularity spread across then-nascent social media, “pumpkin spice became the ultimate symbol of basicity,” as my colleague Maura Judkis noted in 2017. Eventually, the Basics Beckys of the world have adopted it as their totem, celebrated on shirts and mugs with sayings like “you got me at pumpkin spice.”
Almost two decades later, we’re in the fourth wave of pumpkin spice, where you can order pumpkin spice cold brew without baggage or irony, thanks to those early pioneers, of course, but also thanks to the vagaries of human nature and the food traders who understand it. It seems there has been an opportunity for an early fall flavor, lodged somewhere between the bright fruits of summer and the impending array of holiday tastes, from peppermint to gingerbread.
Nature – and capitalism – abhors a vacuum. “There was an opening,” Bartelme says. Having a flavor to gravitate toward when summer ends can be comforting, she says. “It’s a kind of compensation. Pumpkin Spice says, ‘Warm me up, hold me in your coffee arms and tell me it’ll be alright.'”
Contois offers a more sinister explanation for this seasonal appeal. As climate change brings summers of record-breaking heat and violent storms, she notes, the idea of fall that pumpkin spice flavors conjure up is increasingly reassuring. “We have these brutal summers that are uncomfortable and dangerous, and so we crave the fresh air and the crisp leaves,” she says. “This desire is real.”
A simpler reason why it spread? Well, Pumpkin Spice, with its mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, is actually pretty good when it comes to flavor profile.
In late August, I started scouring grocery store shelves, looking for the telltale burnt ombre tones of pumpkin spice wrappers. I amassed over a dozen items and sampled them for a few days, hoping that the husky spice and warming textures they promised would somehow transport me from my current reality. , where the AC isn’t strong enough for the soup – humid 90+ air around me and the last word I would use to describe my attitude is “invigorated”.
It turns out that while pumpkin spice is perfectly good, it doesn’t necessarily elevate the medium carrying it. I’ve always loved Frosted Mini-Wheats. The seasonal version, though colored aggressively with orange frosting, was a nice change. I’m a fan of Greek yogurt and enjoyed Chobani’s nutmeg version. A buttered Thomas English muffin and a cup of Harney & Sons tea – both spiced up with a sweet sweetness of baking spice – were a delicious afternoon snack, one I might have chosen for an after -cool noon even though I wasn’t on that weird mission.
On the other hand, I generally avoid Starbucks coffee and its bitter sting, and the pumpkin-spiced iterations of its beans and cold brew did nothing to change my opinion. I even tried adding pumpkin spice creamers from Coffee Mate and Starbucks, and they sure didn’t help. But again, I prefer regular milk in my coffee. Do you like Oreos? Then you’ll probably appreciate their autumnal incarnation, the spicy scent of which clung to my hands long after I polished them.
All in all, my experience didn’t leave me comforted, just cold. Not in terms of temperature, of course. As I write this, I am pulling my hair back into a damp bun and considering getting a fan upstairs. But it taught me a lesson: as appealing as it is, pumpkin spice can’t hide the true nature of anything. Her charm isn’t even enough to convince me that cooler, brighter days are ahead. But I’ll still marinate well in the heat of late summer and its foods like the last greasy red tomatoes and buttered corn and hamburger on burger the grill.
And while I savor them, I’m just going to enjoy Pumpkin Spice as a popular bit of monoculture in these turbulent times. I am not alone in this thought. Recently, Bartelme spotted a gas station near her home offering “pumpkin spice oil changes,” and it made her smile. “We’re all in on the joke now.”