What’s Actually in Pumpkin Spice and Why We’re So Crazy About It
Guilty as charged!
Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice has become as synonymous with fall as trick-or-treating and foliage. In fact, many Americans are so obsessed with the seasonal flavor that they’ll ingest it in any and all forms—from Starbucks’ fan-favorite PSL to hummus.
Now, contrary to popular belief, pumpkin spice isn’t made in some far-off land by chunky sweater-wearing unicorns. It’s actually super easy to make (no unicorns required) and has been making people swoon for centuries.
Not surprisingly, the exact mix of spices depends on where—and how—you get your fix. But according to Chowhound, they all share the same core ingredients: a whole heap of cinnamon, with lesser parts nutmeg and ginger. Other spices may include cloves, allspice, cardamom, and mace, and non-spice components may include lemon zest, salt, or sugar to amplify the main components.
The thing nearly all pumpkin spice mixes don’t include is—you guessed it—pumpkin! But the flavors combine to evoke memories of eating pumpkin pie as a kid. Our love for it is based almost entirely on nostalgia.
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"This spice blend has been used in popular baked goods for quite some time, but mostly in home-baked goods," Catherine Franssen, a neuroscience professor at Longwood University, explained in a HuffPost blog post in 2015.
"Since these are popular spice combinations, it's very likely we would have encountered some or all of them combined in a favorite baked good in a comforting situation, like a family gathering, early in life," she continued. "It's not just the pumpkin spice combo but that we've already wired a subset of those spices as 'good' very early in life."