This fall has been a rocky one for pumpkin loving people. With the dawn of October came a Starbucks pumpkin latte shortage that left coffee fans reeling with deprivation. With its whip cream poof and milky autumnal hue, the pumpkin spice latte has practically overtaken its ancestor (the pumpkin, lest you forget) as the national mascot of Fall. Yet what exactly is pumpkin spice? Homemade recipes include a tablespoon or two of actual canned pumpkin pie mixture, which presumably dissolves in hot milk and espresso to create the ghost of a gourd flavor.
However, gourd is one food group that I am not particularly keen to add to my coffee. Cinnamon, cardamom, mint, chai—those are all semi-acceptable additions to spice up our daily mud. But pumpkin? Might as well be sweet potato, or butternut squash.
What, then, explains the pumpkin spice latte’s popularity? After five seconds of sleuthing, the answer becomes clear. The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has no pumpkin! Hence, “pumpkin spice.” Pumpkin spice, according to Starbucks, consists of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, the autumnal trifecta of spices. In a neat twist of branding, the fall mascot is paraded in front of our eyes, cute and plump and vegetal, and then whisked away, never to be seen again. Until Thanksgiving, that is, when “pumpkin spice” makes its encore appearance in pies, whose pumpkin content we traditionally make great effort in disguising.
If we read too deeply into the pumpkin’s plight, we can trace similarities between the New World squash and its indigenous cultivators. But such a connection is perilous and academic, and, of course, not what anyone wants to be reminded of on the very day of celebration. Instead, we’ll treasure our pumpkin-less lattes for a few sweet months before transitioning into the white wonderland of eggnog and peppermint, seeking snow in our beverages when it fails to appear elsewhere.