The culture surrounding the famous pumpkin spice latte - and pumpkin spice everything else - is one that has become a topic of hot debate. It's turned into a battle of love vs. hate when it comes to the right time to indulge, the level of 'pumpkin' and 'spice,' and even whether pumpkin spice is overrated or the perfect accompaniment to a seasonal change. What began as an innocent way to celebrate seasonal flavor in coffee has now become a global movement and one that has filled entire store aisles with orange, white, and tan shades and shattered friendships over timing. Just kidding... we hope.
While everyone has an opinion on the controversial, hashtag, PSL, there are some pretty undebatable facts about the slightly spicy and sweet flavor profile that now comes in liquid, food, and candle form. Most thought a line would be drawn when bathroom air fresheners began pumping out pumpkin spice scents but alas, here we are, inhaling the slightly artificial scent of what a pumpkin would smell like if it were spiced and wishing for autumn to be here. Although a heatwave recently swept through the country, many are popping open their seasonal decoration bins and pulling out faux pumpkin decor, so it's time: All the questions ever asked about pumpkin spice, finally answered with a little brutally-honest flair.
Who Is To Blame?
The only natural culprit and the one who always seems to steal the show with all things pumpkin spice is none other than Starbucks. The massive coffee chain began winning over hearts with the debut of their Pumpkin Spice latte, circa 2003. The drink, while immediately popular, was also a very limited flavor, which obviously is not the case now with every other seasonal flavor popping into existence before August has even ended. Many are thrilled to know that a pumpkin spice latte can now be enjoyed while wiping sweat from their brow on an 80-degree day, as long as the promise of autumn is present in a cup.
All jokes aside, Starbucks did manage to find a perfect balance between caffeine, sweetness, and spice, with the sales numbers of pumpkin spice lattes now lying somewhere in the millions. They were the original rule-breakers and continue to pump out seasonal flavors that have coffee-lovers falling in love all over again, which is a nice thing to look forward to every year.
It Doesn't Even Contain Pumpkin
Hilariously enough, the pumpkin spice trend is one that is completely devoid of pumpkin. Rather, the flavor gets its name from all of the accompanying spices that find their way into a pumpkin pie, or any other baked pumpkin recipes. In reality, the name 'pumpkin pie spice latte' wouldn't have sold as well nor would it be as catchy, so it's totally acceptable to call it 'pumpkin spice' since, technically, the flavors in said foods and drinks are in line with pumpkin-spiced things.
This is even more prevalent in things such as candles and oils since the strong-smelling notes we love so much about seasonal candles are in the form of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. The real stars of the pumpkin spice world are these guys and they do one heck of a job at selling the season.
Where Is It From, Really?
While Starbucks might be able to lay claim to the invention of the pumpkin spice latte, it's actually a flavor profile that has been around for centuries. In reality, this scent should be evocative of seaworthy trading and holidays such as Thanksgiving - which was one of the earliest-celebrated in this country. However, its true origin comes from the indigenous peoples of the US, who were known for using pumpkin in many recipes as it was a heavily-produced crop on this land. When roasted, the sugars in pumpkin caramelize, thus procuring a sweeter flavor than raw or boiled pumpkin (which is actually a gourd, by the way).
The earliest-known 'pumpkin spice' dates back to a British recipe from 1675 when it was called 'pumpion pye.' This original spice blend featured pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The combination of both the British spice blend and the pumpkin as a prominent crop in the Americas led to the beautiful thing we know as 'pumpkin pie spice.' In more recent times, it's thanks to the spice company McCormick for officially branding and giving the pumpkin pie spice its name, and it's the blend we still use to this day for all things pumpkin, according to Better Homes & Gardens.