Image courtesy of Kathryn Peck.

The Origin of Pumpkin Spice

Ah, pumpkin spice. If a leaf falls onto the ground and teenage girls don’t go rabid at Starbucks, is it even autumn? Today, pumpkin spice products generate $500 million in annual sales. Love it, hate it, great whatever. But where did it come from exactly…?

We need to take a step back first: what is pumpkin spice? Massive spoiler, not pumpkin. It is generally a blend of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. An interesting side fact: archaeologists in Indonesia found ancient nutmeg residue on ceramic pottery shards estimated to be 3,500 years old.

Early American settlers may have made pumpkin pies that contained similar spices as early as 1620 by making stewed pumpkins with milk, honey, spices, and then baking it in hot ashes. A “Pompkin” recipe calling for a similar spice mix (mace, nutmeg, and ginger) can be found in 1796 in the first known published American cookbook (AmericanCookery by Amelia Simmons).

In 1936, the Washington Post published an article titled: “Spice Cake Of Pumpkin Newest Dish: Delicacy Tempting to All Appetites and Easy to Prepare. Ideal Dessert for Family Dinner, Healthful for Children.” In the 1950s, spice companies began selling blends labeled “pumpkin pie pice” which was simplified to “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s. While the flavor had been frequent in pumpkin pies for a while, cooks more recently began using the blend in other dishes with squashes or sweet potatoes.

It is an easy assumption Starbucks began the modern pumpkin spice craze but not entirely accurate. A candle company in New Mexico released a pumpkin spice candle in 1995. Soon after, coffee shops around the country become interested in the spice blend. Finally, in 2004, Starbucks released the pumpkin spice latte. The rest is history



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