By Ingrid Sapona
I’ll start with a confession: other than having had pumpkin
pie, I’ve never had a pumpkin spiced candy, coffee, or other store-bought goodie.
Or have I? I guess that depends on whether you consider any foods that have
cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves “pumpkin spiced”.
I realize there are many reasons we associate pumpkins with the
fall. In fact, in many ways, it makes perfect sense, since pumpkins are ready
for harvest about now. And, given that they’re in season, it’s natural to find
pumpkin-based food on menus this time of year, everything from soups to breads,
to muffins and, of course, pies.
I also can imagine how the rich blend of spices we’ve come
to know as “pumpkin spice” came about. I’m sure that when folks first thought
about making a pie out of the erstwhile orange gourd they realized they’d have
to do something to jazz it up (or cover it up, depending on your view). In addition
to using a healthy dose of sugar, aromatic spices like ginger, cinnamon, and
nutmeg worked well with the otherwise fairly bland pulp. And once that caught magic
blend on, spice sellers started pre-blending the spices so that folks could simply
buy “pumpkin spice”, much the way we buy other blends, like chili and curry
I get all that. What I don’t get is why so many food
companies have suddenly decided we all want pumpkin spiced things. The first
time I noticed something “pumpkin spiced” was Starbucks’ latte a few years ago.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed it was a seasonal offering. Though I’ve
never tried one, I can see how those spices would work with coffee.
So, when McDonald’s recently announced it too was offering a
pumpkin spiced latte, I assumed they must figure Starbucks has done pretty well
with them so why not serve up a little competition. And of course, Dunkin’
Donuts and my Canadian favourite – Tim Hortons – weren’t going to let the
bandwagon pass without hopping on.
But when I was in the states on the weekend I couldn’t
believe it when I saw pumpkin spiced M&Ms. Yes – M&Ms! (I should
mention, they’re only available at Target in the U.S.) Apparently there are also
pumpkin spiced Hershey Kisses, Planters pumpkin spiced almonds, and Kraft makes
pumpkin spiced marshmallows – to name a few of the current offerings.
Until this explosion of pumpkin spiced foods, I thought – naively
– that food trends were taste combinations that naturally caught on. The whole
bacon-infused everything rage from a few years ago is an example of a “trend” I
assumed spread naturally. I was introduced to that trend at a fine restaurant
(one with a pedigreed chef), where a bacon-infused (chocolate) truffle was
included on a cookie plate I ordered. (I didn’t care for it.) More recently “salted
caramel” and “red velvet” seem to have become the IT flavours. (Sorry to say, I
won’t be making room on my bar shelf for either salted caramel or red velvet
flavoured vodka – they just don’t appeal.)
This whole pumpkin spice phenomenon brought back memories of
an eye-opening discovery I had years ago when I was introduced to the ColorMarketing Group (CMG)
for a magazine article I was writing. The CMG is a
non-profit association that “forecasts” colours that are used for pretty much all
products – from all housewares to wall paint, to clothing and cars. According
to CMG’s website, the association’s “major focus is to identify the direction
of color and design trends”. The reality is that they pretty much
dictate the colours that virtually all manufacturers use.
When I first heard about CMG their forecasted colours included
light, bright greens and purples. Well, sure enough, after that I couldn’t walk
into a store without seeing CMG’s finger prints on everything. Personally, I
found it disheartening. I’d noticed that tastes in colours seemed to go in
cycles, but I never imagined that an association of international manufacturers
actually drives these trends – but they do.
I can’t help but think that this whole pumpkin spice phenomenon
is courtesy of some food trend “forecasting” association having its way with
us. I realize no one’s forcing me to eat pumpkin spiced anything and there’s really
no point in letting it bother me that pumpkin spiced products are everywhere.
Besides, I’m sure pumpkin spiced goods will give way to eggnog flavoured things
long before the first snowflake flies this winter.
So, maybe I should just phone a few friends and meet for a
latte – perhaps a salted caramel, or red velvet, or maybe even a pumpkin spiced
one. After all, if the food industry has its way, our resistance is futile.
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona