Every fall they come in droves. Creeping onto our supermarket shelves, hiding behind every corner. The summer used to be the safe time, when the heat drove them into hiding, but now they infiltrate our lives earlier and earlier each year. There’s no escape from pumpkin-spiced foods, my friends. They’re freakin’ everywhere.
And they’re ruining our collective palate.
First off, a little lesson in pumpkin spice: Did you know there's no pumpkin in it? 'Cause there isn't. This doesn't make it inherently bad, just a little misleading. It's called pumpkin spice because it's a spice blend made up of all the flavors one typically adds to pumpkin pie, not because there's actually pumpkin in the mix. That means you'll find cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice—but no round orange squash.
Pumpkin spice is kind of lazy—I mean, don’t you want to adjust the spices in your pie according to personal taste or specific recipes?—but it's okay as a concept. Pre-made spice mixes like pumpkin spice, curry powder, and adobo are great time- and space-savers, so long as you have the individual spices at your disposal for other recipe applications. Sometimes you want to add cinnamon to a coffee cake but leave out the cloves. Spices: That’s How They Work.
But most of the pumpkin spice we encounter on a day-to-day basis isn’t even a spice mix anymore. It’s just a lie we tell our taste buds to feel autumnal. By which I mean it’s a flavoring created in a factory using the kinds of chemicals that naturally occur in cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Pumpkin spice’s biggest offense, however, is not the fact that it’s been replaced by chemical flavoring in many foods. It’s that the spice mix has stolen the spotlight so completely people are missing out on one of the best things about food: all the other types of flavors you can experience. Is the pumpkin spice mix working for you? Why not try making your desserts with Chinese Five-Spice this time around, which adds star anise, fennel, and pepper to the cloves/cinnamon/ginger mix? Why not compliment your cinnamon with a little cocoa powder and chili? Why not top your fries with a little za’atar or Herbes de Provence?
There are so many awesome flavors in the world, gang. Drink that PSL as gleefully as you like, but maybe think about whether it’s time to try something new. You can do it. I believe in you.