Arts and Entertainment

The Rise of “Pompkin” Spice

The start of a new school year doesn’t seem quite so bleak when there’s cinnamon involved.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Cricket Fu

The fabled pumpkin spice latte: a cup of liquified gingerbread with a flavor profile reminiscent of a spicy bouquet and thoroughly infused with a distinct autumnal essence. Pumpkin spice lattes are the candy canes of fall. The ubiquitous blend of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice (but, oddly enough, no pumpkin) harmonizes perfectly with the caffeinated rush of coffee to form a creamy and rich drink perfect for the transitional weather. 

Despite the seemingly sudden explosion of pumpkin spice in the early 2000s, similar flavor profiles existed in recipes for at least a couple hundred years prior. It’s likely that the first mix came about during the Commercial Revolution—the Dutch East India Company, upon returning from spice trading in the Southeast Asian Islands, came up with Speculaaskruiden, which is essentially the same as the modern pumpkin spice we know and love. Amelia Simmons officially introduced pumpkin spice into American cuisine when she called for the use of mace, nutmeg, and ginger in her 1796 “Pompkin” recipe  (“pompkin” = pumpkin). “Pompkins” aside, there is record of a spice mix designed to go along with pumpkins since the 18th century. In 1934, McCormick and Co. commercialized a premade spice mix for seasoning pumpkin pies. However, pumpkin spice products only began their rise to stardom after Starbucks, the A&E-certified Queen of Pumpkin Spice, unveiled the Pumpkin Spice Latte in October 2004.

Starbucks’ current fall menu is undeniably pumpkin-heavy, including the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Latte, the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin, the Pumpkin Spice Whiskey Barrel-Aged Iced Latte, and the Pumpkin Spice Espresso Martini—a sure indication of the popularity of the O.G. Latte. It was an immediate seasonal hit, prompting other companies to create similar flavor profiles for autumnal-inspired delicacies. Trader Joe’s sells pumpkin spice yogurts, pumpkin ginger ‘Hold the Cone!’s, pumpkin brioche twists, pumpkin spice cream liqueur, pumpkin spice rooibos herbal blend tea, pumpkin body butter, pumpkin spice madeleines, and pumpkin tortilla chips, to name [more than a] few examples. And there are, of course, the onslaught of scented candles and room sprays that appear on Bath and Body Works’ shelves the second fall begins.

Even corporations that shouldn’t be anywhere near a spice rack have noticed the craze and jumped on the bandwagon—pumpkin spice marketing is coming for us, and no one is safe. Hefty sells pumpkin spice trash bags, Purina sells pumpkin spice cat litter, Kraft has sold pumpkin spice mac n’ cheese in Canada, and, disgustingly, Dumpkin Spice DUDEwipes are available for purchase on Amazon. The pumpkin spice economy is so lucrative that it had a projected market value of $1.1 billion for 2023. 

Social media is the biggest pusher of the pumpkin spice trend. Pumpkin spice has, along with scarves and fuzzy socks, become part of the quintessential fall aesthetic. The way that pumpkin spice is promoted and shared online has made it into a pseudo-fashion accessory (“You’re wearing the knit sweater, but where’s your Pumpkin Spice Latte?”) in a similar way to how matcha has been aestheticized (“Wow, you’re so stylish and tidy! Where’s the matcha?”).

The fact that there is a designated pumpkin spice season assures its novelty and excitement for the foreseeable future. Seasonal flavors are not a new phenomenon (think of pine needles during winter), but it is difficult to deny that pumpkin spice does it best. Even if you don’t like pumpkin spice, the thought of a cozy drink that reliably comes around each fall is comforting, to say the least. After all, the start of a new school year doesn’t seem quite so bleak when there’s cinnamon involved.