Flavor Investigator: Pumpkin Spice

The time is upon us.  An iconic seasonal flavour has already started to make its way across shelves and is being added to everything and anything. You can find it in coffee, donuts, pastries and even humus? There is no other flavour I could be referring to but the beloved pumpkin spice.

Pumpkin spice refers to the combination of spices used to flavour pumpkin pie.  There is no defined combination as everyone has there is own version. However, it generally consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice.  And no you did not read that wrong, the flavour combination rarely includes pumpkin.  Overall, it is described as being rich, sweet, slightly spicy with nuances  of cinnamon and woody.

The Rise of Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkin pie originated around 1620 in North America when the early American settlers of southern New England created a savoury soup served in a pumpkin. Eventually the recipe was transformed into a pie during the  17th century and rose to fame in 1796 when the pie recipe was released in Amelia Simmons’ cookbook American Cookery.

Then during the 1950s the food company McCormick developed a “pumpkin spice” mixture that could be added to pies.  This product was developed for “those who didn’t feel like measuring individual spices.” This proved to be a well-developed product as it flew off of the shelves and still continues to be sold today. However, the present-day popularity of this drink is the result of the coffee giant- Starbucks.

In 2003 Starbucks launched a Pumpkin Spice Latte and gained popularity due to the company’s strategic marketing campaigns.  One reason is the heavy promotion of “limited time only” as scarcity is associated with an item’s availability. Furthermore, the correct use of associating the product with positive aspects of the fall season encouraged emotional contagion.

Flavour Compounds Found in Pumpkin Spice

If you have ever taken the time to replicate pumpkin spice lattes at home you might have noticed the flavour is not as potent. The reason for this is because flavour manufactures take the top notes that consumers perceive them the most.  “Top notes” also known as “character impact compounds” are the essential chemicals which we perceive in as pumpkin pie. Even without the minor constituents we the consumers will perceive the drink the as pumpkin pie despite not having actual pumpkin.

In pumpkin spice the most important flavour compounds are cinnamic aldehyde, sabinene , vanillin and eugenol . Cinnamic aldehyde is an organic compound which is naturally found in cinnamon and extracted using steam distillation of the oil of cinnamon bark. Cinnamic aldehyde is characteristically spicy, sweet and defined as being “cinnamon.” To mimic the flavour of nutmeg the compound  is added to the mix. This terpene has a flavour of woody, spicy, citrus and has camphoreous (bitter) nuances.  Another essential compound is vanillin. If you recall from our vanilla article vanilla is a flavour enhancer.  With its presence it is able to increase the perception of sweetness and bring out creamy notes. Finally, eugenol provides the recognition of allspice or cloves because it is a phenylpropanoid described as being sweet, spicy, clove, woody and phenolic. 

Sign Up For Our Weekly 5 Course Meal

I pick out 5 pieces of content from the latest food industry news to the greatest new products and leave my snarky comments every week.

Unique Pumpkin Spice Products

  • Pumpkin Spice Pringles- When we think of potato chips we typically associate them with a savoury flavour however pumpkin spice has somehow found a place here. The combination has potential as potatoes are a blank slate and work with cinnamon sugar.
  • Pumpkin Spice Hummus- Cedar’s has released the standard formula hummus with the addition of pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg. It is a questionable combination considering hummus dominantly contains garlic an overwhelming flavour which has to compete with cinnamon.
  • Pumpkin Spice Salsa- Salsa in North America is commonly associated with tomatoes but it can be made from other ingredients like corn. In this case pumpkin is used and more resembles a savoury pumpkin soup recipe than a sweet pumpkin pie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *