Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Who knew that combination of relatively common spices would cause such a cultural phenomenon?
The fall’s unofficial flavor wasn’t always pumpkin spice. But as people’s love of autumn and all things nostalgic reached fever pitch, the unmistakable seasonal taste cemented its place
The history of that spice mix goes back much farther than you might think. Indeed, this American invention can be traced back as far as 1796 in the cookbook American Cookery. In that very old book, they talk about recipes for ‘pompkin’ that include the same spices.
The namesake pumpkin pie benefitted from those collection of spices, which lend the rather bland squash a warm, fragrant, and seasonal taste.
Fast forward two hundred years, and the culture is already steeped in the pumpkin pie spice tradition. Starbucks sent things into overdrive with their much loved (and much mocked) pumpkin spice latte, which first arrived on the scene in 2003. The mega-success of this spiced coffee drink helped propel the pumpkin spice product craze, which in 2016 reached over $500 million in sales annually.
The fact that there’s no pumpkin in 99% of these products hasn’t stopped the pumpkin spice freight train, with offerings as diverse as scented candles to cookies, to deodorant to beer.
Indeed, the trend has more than run its course, but we find that with each year, the admiration of fall and all things ‘cozy’ seems to grow. And with it, the rather silly, if profitable, pumpkin spice.
We aren’t sure if this seasonal phenomenon will fade away or stick around for another twenty, hundred, or even two hundred years. But we remain intrigued that this simple combination of spices can be such a cultural touchstone for so many.