Origin stories - Pumpkin Spice

September 07th 2018

Origin stories - Pumpkin Spice

Origin Stories

Fall Baking: Pumpkin Spice

Not that we’re in a hurry to see summer in the rearview, but we always get excited for the arrival of fall flavours! Of course, you can’t talk autumn tastes without Pumpkin Spice coming up. No matter your opinion on it, the public has decided this seasonal favourite is here to stay. You probably don’t need convincing, but, in case you do, consider this fact: over 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes were sold at Starbucks alone during the first 10 years after the beverage launched.

But where did Pumpkin Spice come from? Why do we love it so much? And what does the future look and taste like for this spice blend our society is so emotionally attached to? All will be answered in this month’s Origin Story!

Despite the many commercial pumpkin patches that crop up (pardon the pun) during the fall, usually complete with wagon rides and hay bale mazes, Canada is far from a world-leader in pumpkin production. In fact, we’re not even in the top 30 globally. However, our closest neighbour is one of the top pumpkin growing countries, with over 795,000 metric tons harvested in 2017. If you assume an average of 10 pounds per pumpkin, that’s more than 175 million cheery orange fruits.

Because we live so close to the United States, we are heavily influenced by their culture and their cuisine. It’s no surprise, then, that many popular US flavour trends come north to Canada. The Pumpkin Spice craze is certainly one of them.

Globe-trotting Pumpkins

Pumpkins are now grown all over the world, but they likely originated in Mexico. Over time, and perhaps through trade and travel, the pumpkins spread through North America. They also spread to Europe in the 16th century, brought back by early explorers.

Indigenous peoples had been eating them for centuries before the first Europeans arrived in what is now the United States. The new settlers were probably happy to see a familiar food source! They readily ate them and even used pumpkin for “pie” crusts, filled with ingredients like honey, milk, and local spices. Not quite what we’d call a “pumpkin pie”, but heading the right direction.

Enter the Era of Convenience

Fast forward to 1929, and pumpkin pie as we know it today has become an American staple. Canned pumpkin became commercially available that year, streamlining the process of making the tasty pie at home. Next came the namesake spice blend. The term “pumpkin spice” first appears in print in 1936, and by the 1950s, “pumpkin pie spice”, later shortened to just “pumpkin spice”, appears on grocery store shelves. What’s inside? A blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Oh, and the bottle just happens to say “McCormick” on it.

So, how did we get from there to the annual re-occurrence of “pumpkin spice season”? Blame it on the coffee.

A very clever person decided sometime in the 1990s to try putting pumpkin spice into coffee. Retail coffee giant Starbucks picked up on this and introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003. The rest is delicious history.

And You Thought They Put Frank’s in Everything!

You only have to stroll down a grocery aisle in October to realize that pumpkin spice products are in nearly every category. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to think of something that hasn’t received the pumpkin spice treatment: tea, cereal, pudding, dog treats, pumpkin spice fried chicken doughnut sandwich - we’ve seen it all! While it may still be worth jumping into the seasonal fray, there may be another way to stand out from the crowd.

Instead of trying to think of a new pumpkin spice product, what about a new pumpkin spice blend? Adding a new flavour twist to a classic can be an exciting and innovative way to distinguish your product from the rest, and tempt the taste buds of the nation.

What might a new pumpkin spice look like? How about sweetening the blend for desserts and lattes with a bit of anise for a hint of black licorice flavour! For savoury applications, you could add warmth with paprika or cumin, or really heat it up with some chilis for the heat-seekers.

At McCormick, we think flavouring should be fun, and we’re not afraid to take the road less travelled. In the end, taste is everything. If you’re ready to look tradition in the eyes and say, “I dare to be different,” then we’re ready to get to work with you on your flavour revolution.