Pumpkin: sacred spice turned marketing tool



What’s made of sugar, pumpkin spice and everything nice? Literally everything that hits  store shelves after the beginning of September. 


Naturally, we all know of the famous pumpkin spice latte (PSL) from Starbucks that started the craze nearly 14 years ago (and now has its own twitter account: @TheRealPSL). But what exactly is pumpkin spice, and why did it become the go-to capitalist mascot of autumn?

Pumpkin spice is slightly misleading—nothing about it actually includes pumpkin. The usual flavor concoction is composed of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice, the normal ingredients found in a pumpkin pie starting around the 1930s. 

Pumpkin pies themselves have been traced back as early as the first Thanksgiving, although those pies were not like our current, savory bakes. The original pumpkin pie recipe looked something like this: a fruit or pumpkin puree baked inside the shell of the gourd with no whip cream. 

Thankfully, nearly 400 years later, the innovation for pumpkin products has evolved.

 Somewhere along the timeline of history, pumpkins became the Santa Claus of fall, the ubiquitous symbol of the harvest and halloween season. 

The prevalence of pumpkins in American life is highlighted by Cindy Ott in her book, “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon.” 

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Apparently, pumpkins appeal to the average American Joe’s subconscious as a form of “reverence” for an agrarian lifestyle. Our obsession stems from a cozy type of “pumpkin feeling.” Those big orange globes and their green vines simply remind us of  the fall rituals that warm our hearts. Gourds just get us, don’t you think?

Pumpkins used to be a sacred symbol for fruitful harvest shared at the family Thanksgiving or a glowing face  carved for the enjoyment of a holiday meant to spook passerbys.

Now they are just the sellout of the century. The pumpkin is no longer a symbol of family tradition, but a cheap tool for companies to swoon customers into buying their products.  

Fortune Magazine reports that pumpkin spice flavored products are estimated to sell over $414 million this year.

Sure, I can get behind pumpkin spice lattes, Oreos, Cheerios and maybe yogurt or cough drops.

But do we really need pumpkin spice kale chips? Butter? Deodorant? Vodka? Fettuccini? Protein powder? Pumpkin spice jello?

Dog treats? Even Old Yeller needs his pumpkin dog bone to get through the months ending in “-ber?”

Pumpkin spice candy corn? The point of candy corn is that it tastes nothing like corn! Now I’ll have to worry about it tasting nothing like corn or pumpkins. 

Where are the useful products? Like pumpkin spice mace?

What’s next? Pumpkin spiced politicians? Is Sean Pumpkin Spicer out there somewhere? A pumpkin-spiced Donald Trump? Wait a second…

Perhaps I shouldn’t get so worked up. Pumpkin spice might have a competitor on the horizon. Apparently, maple pecan is the new fall flavor to watch out for. 

Maple pecan is already making way better products, like Cracker Barrel’s maple pecan fried chicken or maple water. Not to mention that maple has already won our hearts by sweetening up our pancakes, french toasts and Eggo waffles. 

Maple is also way more dignified, as the maple leaf is donned on Canada’s national flag. Name a country with a pumpkin on its flag, just sayin’.

MarketWatch proclaimed its high hopes for the new sensation, stating maple pecan may just beat out pumpkin spice to become the fall favorite, since its use in non-alcoholic drinks has risen 85 percent this year alone.

In the grand scheme of things, neither of these rival autumn-inducing flavors truly matter. Fall is about falling in love under color-changing trees, taking strolls in sweater weather, adjusting to eternal nightfall at 5 p.m. and wearing beanie hats so you don’t have to wash your hair all the time. 

What should matter is the season and the people who make it great and the holidays that encourage overeating and screaming at TV screens for certain football teams (or hockey, if you’re Canadian and know that maple pecan is better).

Put down the popularized flavors and pick up a hobby. Life is short and you only have so many autumns. So rake up some (maple) leaves and dive in to living life to the fullest.

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