Fall is traditionally pumpkin time with Halloween carvings, pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the occasional pumpkin bread being the tradition use for the orange squash. But a strange, now very overdone, phenomenon has transformed this time of year. In stores, coffee houses, restaurants and even gas station convenience stores, “it’s the great pumpkin” … season when it comes to foods, snacks and drinks.
Starting in August, but heavily around now, more and more limited food items are being introduced that feature pumpkin spices and flavoring. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and others are serving pumpkin lattes. Various chains and brand names are selling doughnuts, bagels, cookies, pancakes, potato chips and English muffins flavored with the squash. Breweries like Samuel Adams and Dogfish worked the flavor into beers. For those craving sweets, there are even Peeps, M&Ms, candy corn, granola bars, marshmallows and other options with pumpkin spice flavoring in the grocery aisle.
Buyers beware, many of the items do not have any actual pumpkin in them, but items with the orange fruit in them sound healthier than traditional versions of the same products. Bowing to social media pressure, Starbucks and Panera Bread both announced that their pumpkin spice lattes would actually include “some pumpkin” this year. But most of the products have some pumpkin flavoring and a variation of the traditional McCormick & Company pumpkin spice seasoning blend containing cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice that is used in making the pies. (Trivia: McCormick introduced this best-seller in 1934, but the basic combination has been in cookbooks back to Revolutionary War days.)
The trend for a seasonal onslaught outside the pie realm started in the early 1990s, when pumpkin spice began flavoring coffees and creamers to add to coffee. The options kept growing but really exploded a few years ago, when the number of “pumpkin” products in markets and restaurants reportedly doubled (and seem to have grown further this year).
In restaurants, the proliferation of menu items with pumpkin flavoring has grown too, and not just at Starbucks, bagel shops and Dunkin’ Donuts. Pumpkin pancakes, soup and such are more common than they used to be for those dining out. In fact, only 6 percent of restaurants had pumpkin products on their menus in 2005, but that number jumped to 14.5 percent in 2015, according to Datassentials. The fruit is more popular on menus in the northeast than other parts of the country and 18 percent of restaurant menus in that region have at least one “pumpkin” items on them.
CNBC reported that people may try a pumpkin product to celebrate the season, but do not get them regularly. They reported that Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is ordered by 72 percent of customers at some point each fall, but only 20 percent get it twice and only 8 percent buy it three or more times each fall. However, if that was true and people were not buying pumpkin spice products (or just buying them once), the trend would not have grown. Of course, trying Peeps Pumpkin Spice Flavored Marshmallow Dipped in White Fudge, Sprouts Organic Pumpkin Spice Kale Chips or Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice once a year may well be enough.
Those who do not like pumpkin products can take heart, it is only the great pumpkin season until early December, then there will be an explosion of foods, ice cream, hot drinks, cookies and such featuring mint flavoring. The holiday crunch begins and so does peppermint season.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Wisconsin Gazette: Pumpkin spice: The flavor of fall and a hint of the past
Pop Sugar: This Year’s Pumpkin Spice Offerings, Ranked From Worst to Best
Food World News: Pumpkin Spice Latte 2015: Starbucks Drink Has Turned Into Staple Fall Flavor – Why Do People Crave Pumpkin In The Fall
MTV: Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Is Wrecking Your Insides
Photo courtesy Mike Mozart’s Flickr page – Creative Commons license