Can Anything Replace Pumpkin Spice? We Asked the Experts!

An orange latte surrounded by mini pumpkins.

As pumpkin spice rolls out earlier each year, we had to beg the question — can pumpkin spice be replaced? Will its popularity ever end? Are people sick of it?

To get the big picture, we talked to the chefs from our team at Creative Food Solutions, and they had plenty to say about it. Read on to learn more about pumpkin spice’s origins and popularity, and if another flavor has a chance to overtake its crown.

Why is Pumpkin Spice So Popular? 

It’s hard to know exactly when the pumpkin spice popularity began. While Starbucks first launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte in August 2003 — 20 years ago! — the iconic spice blend had been around for much longer. Its exact origins aren’t super clear.

Food & Wine reports that there are two recipes for spice-filled “pompkin” pie in a 1798 cookbook American Cookery. The History Channel looks back even further, stating that pumpkin spice has “been a thing” for 3,500 years since that’s how long nutmeg has been used as a spice in food. 

McCormick claims to have invented Pumpkin Pie Spice with the launch of its product in 1934, and it’s been growing in popularity ever since.

Google Trends, which goes back to 2004, shows a steady increase in searches for pumpkin spice that really started to take off in the mid-2000s.

 

As for the cause behind its popularity, Chef Ben Lee cites its versatility.

“The ubiquitous spice blend represents the beloved fall season but now, chefs, recipe writers and home cooks can keep the pumpkin out and use the spice part for other versatile preparations like apple pie, soups and even beverages,” he said. “This flavor profile can also easily sneak into the winter and continue through the end of the year.”

The seasonal aspect of pumpkin spice begets a perfect combination of limited-time exclusivity and sense memory evocation, summoning up memories of fall seasons past, according to Chef David Weidenaar. 

“I think it’s popular due to tradition and nostalgia. Starbucks launched their PSL in 2003, so it’s been around for 20 years at this point,” said Weidenaar. “I think the exclusive window to get items with the flavor builds hype.”

Scent is the sense most tied to memory, so the powerful smell of pumpkin spice may also help it endure.

“Pumpkin spice is a combination of flavors that not only taste great, but they have a scintillating aroma when used in hot beverages like lattes and warm baked goods like muffins,” said Chef Mike Buononato. “That aroma signals the beginning of the fall season and with it, the nostalgic thoughts of family, home and the upcoming holidays. It’s basically a food-induced neuroscience explosion for the brain!”.

Other Popular Fall Flavors

Are people tired of all things pumpkin? According to Datassential’s 2023 Mid-Year Trend Report, pumpkin is down 1% on menus this year, which Weidenaar explains as simply leveling out.

“People are always looking for new flavors, and pumpkin spice is a bit oversaturated on menus and other areas, likely seeing some diminishing returns,” he said. “It worked great in pumpkin pie and then in coffee but not so much in bacon, ramen, Goldfish and air fresheners.”

Other fall flavors like apple and blood orange, as well as spicy flavors and candy, are showing up more on menus and in retail products. For example, this year Starbucks is adding an Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso to its fall lineup. And, Chick-fil-A is introducing a new Caramel Crumble Milkshake this fall inspired by the butterscotch caramel flavors of a blondie. Both of these drinks invoke the flavors of fall without having “pumpkin spice” in the title. 

Could Spicy Be the Next Pumpkin Spice? 

While it’s unclear if anything will ever overtake pumpkin spice, there is an opportunity for something new. 

“I think we’re all overdue for a spice blend that provides flavor, aroma and texture,” said Buononato. “Like a creme brulee spice that tastes like French vanilla, smells like caramelized sugar and provides a creamy richness.”

With the increased popularity of spicy foods, several of the chefs remarked that bringing more spice to fall spices could be a way of making fall menus more on-trend.

“I think there is always going to be a huge push for pumpkin spice come fall time but with Gen Z’s new perspective of food comes fun combinations and a lot of global influence,” said Chef Sydney Yocum. “I think in the coming years there will be some fun fall mashups. For example, sweet heat is all the rage. Things like hot honey and Chamoy-covered candy are popping up everywhere. I think we will see flavors like spicy maple and sweet and spicy caramel, taking those fall classics and just adding a little bit of spice.”

Lee agreed, saying “Anything related to a crispy version of chili flakes, sweet or savory could be the next big addition all year-round.” 

Want more insights on culinary trends and more? Subscribe to The Front Burner to get insights delivered to your inbox. And, get in touch with the chefs featured in this article by reaching out to Creative Food Solutions.

Topics: Culinary, Trends

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