Fall is upon us and that means only one thing to coffee lovers: pumpkin spice.
Pumpkin spice has been around for centuries, actually, but it would be safe to say that it experienced a real boom in popularity thanks to the combination of pumpkin spice with the classic latte.
It was the birth of a star: the pumpkin spice latte. It has captivated the hearts of millions all over the world thanks to its naturally sweet flavor and pleasant aroma that proves irresistible even for those that wouldn’t call themselves coffee drinkers. Many of us were awakened with that glorious first sip of pumpkin spice latte.
In fact, the beverage became so popular that it became a literal meme. People talked about pumpkin spice latte as a ridiculously popular drink, and in many cases replaced “coffee” with pumpkin spice latte.
So today we’re going to take a look at pumpkin spice, how it originates and some interesting facts about it.
Afterwards—and maybe more importantly—we’re going to learn how to make our own pumpkin spice that we can keep at home to sprinkle on our coffee, desserts, and pretty much anything and everything that’s edible.
Pumpkin Spice History
Is it made from pumpkin? Well, no, that’s not where it gets its name. It’s called pumpkin spice because it is the spice mix that was—and still is—used for pumpkin pie.
And, mind you, pumpkin pie is as American as it gets. Around the beginning of fall, pumpkins were traditionally harvested. That meant that around the whole country, pumpkins were flooding the market and because pumpkins are so cartoonishly big, people didn’t know what to make with them—you can add pumpkin to a stew, eat it fried...
Eventually, it found its way to a dessert, probably because it’s naturally sweet. That was the pumpkin pie, which has very few ingredients besides pumpkin and, well, a bunch of spices which we’ll get to later.
As far back as the 17th century, pumpkin pie was incredibly popular around the country. So much so that there are records of tourists trying this unique New World recipe and bringing it back to Europe, where it captivated the palates of French and English alike, which is why this recipe is also somewhat popular in those countries.
Because of the season in which it is prepared, pumpkin pie became a staple Thanksgiving recipe. 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem illustrating the presence of this dish in everyday life:
“Ah! on Thanksday, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?”
Pumpkin Spice mix Recipe
So what is this mysterious spice mix that turns good ol’ pumpkin into such a powerful, poem-worthy flavor?
Well, it’s actually a rather simple mix of spices that, much like pumpkin itself, have a naturally sweet flavor and aroma. These are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove.
Just four spices make up this mix. You may be surprised to find that it’s actually quite an accessible thing and doesn’t contain anything too exotic.
Which is why it’s a great idea to make some at home, so that you too can make pumpkin spice latte without having to pay a tired-looking barista to make yours. Plus, you can add as much pumpkin spice as you want without anyone giving you looks about it.
Things you’ll need:
- A small jar, or container
- A small bowl for mixing together the ingredients
- 100 grams ground cinnamon
- 20 grams nutmeg
- 20 grams dry ground ginger
- 10 grams ground cloves
How to make it:
- Add all the ingredients—one by one—to your small bowl, starting with the cinnamon.
- Using a spoon or chopsticks, mix them together for at least a minute.
- Alternatively, you can pour them into the jar you’ll be using. Do this at your own risk, though!
And just like that, you’ve got your very own, homemade pumpkin spice mix!
The main incentive for making your own spice mix is that you can control the quality of the spices in it which, as you’ll see in a bit, means a lot.
Let’s talk about cinnamon, for example. While most spices and condiments come from seeds, cinnamon actually comes from tree bark. It is an inner layer of the bark of the Cinnamomum tree.
And that’s all fine and dandy. The problem is that, with cinnamon being one of the most widely consumed spices in the world, providers find ways to meet the demand. Like, for example, extracting cinnamon from a different species of tree.
Cinnamomum, after all, is a genus. That means that there are plenty of species under this genus, all of them similar and yet unique in their own way. However…
Cinnamon comes, originally, from what is now called the true cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum) or ceylon, because of where it used to come from which was Sri Lanka, formerly known as ceylon. Most of this kind of cinnamon still comes from Sri Lanka—which is why it’s so much more expensive and rare.
The type that we usually consume, however, is mostly grown in Asia and China, where a different strand of cinnamon tree is widely spread and much easier to collect cinnamon from.
Why bother explaining all this, you ask?
Because it turns out that regular cinnamon has a couple of toxic compounds. One of them can be toxic, the other could potentially damage the liver. Ceylon cinnamon has none of these bad compounds.
Of course, these are only really bad if you’re eating a lot of them per day. But it’s still good to know this so that we can choose to use one or the other.
Pumpkin spice latte
This one’s a little gem of a coffee.
The original drink was created around 2003 during the height of Starbucks seasonal drinks. They’d made a couple of winter-themed drinks that had been a huge success, and they wanted to do something for fall. Eventually, they landed on the pumpkin spice.
At first, the pumpkin spice latte was simply a regular latte that contained the aforementioned mix of spices—it might have been orange, sure, but that was just a dye made to enhance the whole “pumpkin” experience. It didn’t seem like a good idea to add pumpkin to coffee, and people were happy as it was.
Starbucks was the very first to come out with a pumpkin spice flavored drink, and they hit the nail on the head. The mix of spices proved irresistible to basically every demographic, and pretty soon everyone would want to have a pumpkin spice latte.
From there, you could find pumpkin spice beverages and even desserts in most fast food chains. Most coffee shops have their own pumpkin spice coffee by now and the acronym, PSL, has even been trademarked by Stabucks.
Even though the beverage was ridiculously popular, it was actually revamped in 2015 to contain actual pumpkin.
The recipe calls for a different approach to the spice mix: instead of using it to sprinkle on your latte, it is instead turned into a sweet syrup using all the spices in the mix plus pumpkin pureé. This is authentic, literal pumpkin pie flavor made into a syrup.
That syrup is then added to the coffee plus some milk or whipped cream, and only then you can add a little bit of actual pumpkin spice on top. You can actually find the recipe for this syrup on the official Starbucks page to try it yourself—most of the work is done because you already have the mix ready!
Whether with pumpkin or not, one thing’s for sure: the pumpkin spice latte isn’t going anywhere. It will probably continue to undergo changes in the future just to keep things interesting, but as long as it has that delicious spice mix, it will continue to be the favorite of millions.
Until next Fall!