For some it marks another school year, the start of football season, or the turning of time toward the holidays. It’s my favorite season for many reasons other than school (done with it), football (never have liked it), or holidays (enjoy them for the most part). I love autumn because it’s the season of my birth, and it’s a colorful, crisp time of year after the heat of summer. The skies are clear, the temperatures mild, apples and squash are in abundance, and the trees are in their glory. Mostly, though, I love it because it’s pumpkin spice season, as named and promoted by the marketing gods. Yes, I’m one of those people. I look forward to it every year.
The craze started in the 1990’s among coffee lovers when coffee shops debuted pumpkin spice coffee, followed by the famous pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks introduced in 2003. Since then, the flavor has spread like wildfire into many other food products, and it has become the topic of speculation about what’s next – pumpkin spice suppositories? Pumpkin spice oil at your next oil change? I love the flavor in coffee, tea, yogurt, and waffles, and the scent of it in my body wash and deodorant. This year, in my stroll around the grocery store aisles, I saw pumpkin spice Cheerios, Goldfish, Oreos, and peanut butter. I’m happy with the original Cheerios, cheddar cheese Goldfish, and if I ate them still, the original Oreos. But pumpkin spice peanut butter? I might give that a try. There are also pumpkin spice pop tarts, Jell-o, granola, and even pumpkin spice Kit Kats.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that we are susceptible to all things pumpkin spice because the scent of this autumn flavor, comprised of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, triggers familiar memories that create nostalgia about the upcoming season. Psychology Today echoes this, saying the primary reason we are attracted to pumpkin spice is its association with positive memories and experiences. It makes sense to me. Social factors also influence the pumpkin spice craze. Because these products are only available for a limited time in the fall, customers are compelled to jump on the bandwagon so they don’t miss out.
So as I open my first pumpkin spice yogurt of the season and taste that sweet spice, I know there are reasons why I love it the way I do.
Lee Stevens is a writer, a weaver, and a sometimes wise elder enjoying autumn in the mountains of Western North Carolina.