Who could have predicted way back in 2003, when it made it’s debut in latte form, that pumpkin spice would become the pop culture phenomenon it is today? In the fall months, everywhere we turn we are bombarded with the sights (and smells) of pumpkin spice. In the past almost 20 years it’s proved it’s longevity, expanding into so much more than a coffee beverage. Countless food and drink items have embraced the spice, as well as candles, air fresheners, body lotions, and even dog shampoo. In fact, in 2019 consumers spent approximately half a billion dollars on pumpkin spiced flavored products. (Source) But it’s not just the retailers that are innovating. People at home are whipping up their own DIY pumpkin spice concoctions in everything from smoothies to waffles to cheesecake.
What is the origin story of pumpkin spice? Turns out it predates coffee culture and was first created a couple hundred years ago when someone somewhere was baking, you guessed it, a pumpkin pie. As it happens, the “spice” in pumpkin spice actually didn’t contain any pumpkin flavoring. It was comprised of a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice, a combination used to flavor pumpkin pie. It was only when coffee chains were mapping out their PSL (pumpkin spice latte) that a pumpkin syrup was introduced.
But not everyone is Team Pumpkin Spice. Much like the heated “cilantro” debate, people have either an extreme “love” or “hate” for the ingredient. Well, with a popular coffee chain selling approximately 28 million PSLs every year, sounds like there’s a lot more “love” happening. But why?
Many believe it’s the feelings of nostalgia and sweet memories pumpkin spice evokes, in particular carving jack-o’-lanterns with mom and dad, which explains why PSLs are most popular on October 31 than any other day of the season. Or the anticipation of Thanksgiving family gatherings can certainly be sparked with the slightest hint of pumpkin spice aroma. There’s also the FOMO aspect to be considered. Pumpkin spice is generally reserved for Fall, so the window of opportunity to indulge is a small one. Though in 2021, some coffee shops released their lattes earlier than ever before, on August 19, guaranteeing no one is missing out this year.