By Marley Tavern-Fine
Humboldt County is fast approaching the dead of winter; with the weather getting cold and soggy, and our approximately five deciduous trees turning red, we’re almost to the next “season”, and with this particular season comes both the curse and the blessing of pumpkin spice. As the PSL (pumpkin spice latte) hits stores near us this year, the craze begins, following the age-old tradition of unusual, creative, and definitely questionable new pumpkin spice products. Coffee drinks are a given, as well as sweet treats; scones, cookies, and yogurts. But what happens when pumpkin spice leaves the realm of dessert and invades the rest of the culinary world? This year alone has seen the appearance of pumpkin spice hummus, gum, pringles, M&M’s, and even cream cheese. Pumpkin spice has gone so far that not even our bagels are safe anymore. “I think it’s delicious if it’s done right” said sophomore Mikayla Craghead “But if it’s done badly it tastes really bad”.
So why is this elusive flavor so intensely pursued? For such a popular phenomenon, the secret of pumpkin spice is really quite simple; cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, occasionally a hint of cloves. And not altogether surprising, a distinct lack of pumpkin.
Even with the pumpkin spice craze going strong, people haven’t forgotten the pie that started it all,
“I’ve been eating pumpkin pie since I could eat pie” said Mona Brown, “Pumpkin spice just mimics pumpkin pie”. The chemical concoction in a pumpkin spice does contain some of the natural spice blend that fans know and love, but the other 90% is just synthetic chemicals. They make your brain think you are having the real thing, instead of chugging cinnamic aldehydes, eugenol, sabinene, and zingiberene. Although Starbucks has added real pumpkin puree (think baby food) to their PSL’s this year, it’s such a small amount that there had been very little discernable difference.
Lets face it, pumpkin spice has turned into the Kim Kardashian of holiday flavors; found everywhere and in everything, even when it’s presence might be questionable; something people love but are really getting tired of hearing about. Eggnog, gingerbread, and peppermint might dominate the holidays, but no one’s tried making them into hummus yet. I took it upon myself to try some of these….unique products. As I began my foray into the world of pumpkin spice, I found myself wandering down aisle after aisle, scouring the labels for that distinctive orange and brown color scheme, those clipart images of pumpkins. But it proved to be a more difficult quarry than expected. After striking out at Ray’s, Safeway, that one bulk place off the Indianola cutoff, and Walgreens, late into my search I found it; the mecca of pumpkin spice products: Target. I collected a basketfull of products ranging from predictable (instant oatmeal granola, M&Ms) to unexpected (tortilla chips, pretzels, blondie brownie mix, cream cheese). Taste-testing, I noticed that although the labels proudly proclaimed “Real pumpkin!” and “All natural spices!”, those flavors seldom came through. I was mostly left with a lingering taste of cinnamon, and a disappointing lack of pure pumpkin flavor. An orangish tinge and chemical flavor seemed to prevail in most products. The foods either tried too hard and came of tasting very strange, or gave up altogether, and settled for bland, overly sweet, or excessively chemical.
By the end of this article, I’m pretty sure my taste buds had become desensitized to the flavors of pumpkin spice, but I saved arguably the best for last. The pumpkin spice latte unfortunately follows along with it’s other fall compatriots, with cinnamon predominating the spice scene. The taste is overwhelmingly sweet, the color reminiscent of cantaloupe, and the smell vaguely of fall candles. The die-hard PSL fans may call it the holy grail of coffee drinks, but as far as taste actually goes it doesn’t live up to the hype. I used to be one of those super-pumpkin spice latte fans, but after examining it critically, I feel like I can see it for what it really is…an overly talked about, artificial bunch of chemicals and calories in a controversial red cup.
So this year when you have a craving for stuffing your face with the tastes of fall; if you have an adventurous mind and a strong stomach, give one of the pumpkin spice products a try. And don’t forget, you can buy pumpkin spice (the actual spice mix) at your local grocery store. No one will ever know if you carry it around in your pocket to add those flavors you love to everything you consume. You pumpkin spice junkie you.