The Science behind Pumpkin Spice

Why do we love this stuff?  I actually prefer a chai-tea latte to usher in Fall but pumpkin spice is the all-star of the season.  Social media has been an accelerant but It turns out our attraction to this taste and smell has some basis in science. 

Pumpkin spice is actually a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and all were imported from the West Indies. From the days of the colonists, they were used for flavoring and preserving meats, fruits, and vegetables each Fall. This secured their connection to our agricultural history as a country and the association of those smells with preserving food supplies for the Winter. 

 In 2003,  flavor scientists took these emotion-evoking aromas (which is actually more what we're reacting to) and injected them into coffee.  The pumpkin spice latte was born and everyone thought it was a new thing.  The smell/taste is nothing new and is engraved on our amygdalas.  According to neuro studies professor Catherine Franssen, “It’s not just the pumpkin spice combo, it’s that we’ve already wired a subset of those spices as ‘good’ very early in life,”.  

While Starbucks has taken the pumpkin spice craze international it remains mostly an American fascination and harbinger of Fall.  This explains why my oldest daughter, who is living in Australia,  is so excited to visit in November.  She says the Aussies she knows are a bit grossed out by the concept of pumpkin spice but her American taste-buds can't wait for those familiar aromas of the season and home.

(Picture courtesy of my friend Kellie McCown, who loves herself a good PSL.)

Cristina Mendonsa

Cristina Mendonsa

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