Published: November 6, 2015
Pumpkins have been a symbol of fall in American culture for generations.
From jack-o-lanterns at Halloween to pie at Thanksgiving, pumpkins are undeniably important to this time of year. It is only recently, however, that Americans have elevated their appreciation of pumpkins to an obsession.
According to an article featured in BBC News Magazine, the sale of pumpkin-flavored and pumpkin spice products has increased by almost 80 percent between 2011 and 2014. For those of you who are not math majors, that means it has almost doubled.
The introduction of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks in 2003 could arguably be referenced as the inciting factor for the gradual rise in popularity.
Since then, the American obsession with pumpkin products has resulted in some appetizing new items, and others that are rather unsettling. There are the baked goods, such as muffins, cookies and donuts, which seem like reasonable vehicles for pumpkin spice. There are also other foods with which pumpkin spice could be a companion, such as coffee creamer, ice cream, cereal, and even Oreos. But then there are the products that are almost gag-inducing; some of them should get points for creativity, if not for taste. Here are a few which I found to be amusing: pumpkin spice gum, pumpkin spice hummus, pumpkin spice Pringles and my personal favorite, pumpkin spice chicken sausage.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I currently have pumpkin spice Hershey Kisses, pop tarts and K-cups in my apartment. I enjoy the occasional pumpkin spice-flavored snack.
However, I do not find myself addicted to the pumpkin spice drug and would more than likely never consume pumpkin spice flavored meat.
What I find disturbing is that there are apparently enough people who are addicted, that some company thought it would be a smart business decision. This obsession has clearly gone too far.
Aside from the societal addiction we seem to be experiencing, it irritates me that many people do not know the difference between pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Please allow me to present a short lesson:
A pumpkin is actually a fruit from the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squashes, melons and gourds. It has a hollow center, and the meat of the pumpkin can be found directly beneath the thick rind. The meat of the pumpkin is often pureed or roasted, similar to a butternut squash.
Pumpkin spice is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger. It is added to pureed pumpkin when making pumpkin pie and is what provides it with its distinct flavor. Lesson concluded.
With the difference between the two established, I can proceed to my next point, which is that the majority of the products being marketed contain little if any actual pumpkin. In fact, many of the people consuming these products have no idea what a pumpkin actually tastes like.
I can assure you that it tastes nothing like the spice mix that is commonly associated with it.
Despite this, Starbucks, the pumpkin spice mother ship, has recently been under fire by the masses of ill-informed people. Their complaint is that Starbucks does not include real pumpkin as an ingredient in the pumpkin spice latte.
The defamation of the beloved PSL led the coffee company to change the recipe so that pumpkin juice was included as an ingredient.
Returning to my earlier explanation of pumpkins, it is a starchy squash, and when pureed or juiced, is rather pulpy and watery.
That is not a good addition to a beverage. I would rather have a latte with artificial flavor syrup than one with tasteless and lumpy pumpkin puree.
Starbucks patrons have taken note of the change ,and many are under-impressed with the new “natural” drink. Senior Megan Zimmerman stated, “I was pretty disappointed when I got a pumpkin spice latte this year. It didn’t have the same great flavor as before. I think that (the recipe change) has really impacted the flavor.”
While I cannot agree with Megan as I have not personally tried the new latte, I think her evaluation is probably fair. The drink has less spice and more pumpkin, which makes no sense. Starbucks removed the spice palate and added an unequivocal replacement, leaving the drink disappointingly bland.
In the next few weeks of pumpkin spice season, it will be interesting to see if and when the consumers finally have enough.
Judging by the trend so far, I think it is unlikely that these worshippers of fall flavors will cease; at least not until December, when we enter peppermint mocha season.
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