By Charlyn Fargo
‘Tis the season for boots, flannel, fall leaves, harvest and in case you haven’t noticed, everything pumpkin.
It seems to have started with a simply pumpkin spice latte and exploded into pumpkin kale chips, pumpkin soup, pumpkin snaps, pumpkin cheesecake sandwich cookies, pumpkin flax granola, toasted pumpkin loops whole grain cereal (all by the company Sprouts), pumpkin spice Keurig cups and pumpkin spice creamer.
Wow. To think it used to be only in pies. Pumpkin has exploded into an entire subculture of food marketing that sprinkles a little pumpkin fairy dust on a product to make it a hit.
Illinois farmers should be happy. The state produces more pumpkins than any other.
In recent years, the number of pumpkin spice-related items introduced in restaurants and supermarkets has doubled, according to Datassentials, a company that tracks menu trends.
How did we get here?
The first reference to pumpkin spice goes back to 1796, the year Amelia Simmons published “American Cookery,” regarded as the nation’s first cookbook. She includes a recipe for “pumpkin pudding,” a pie made with stewed pumpkin and spiced with ginger and nutmeg.
Pumpkin represents a sense of goodness, natural abundance and old values that people think are good, according to Cindy Ott, author of “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon.”
Which brings us to today … Dunkin’ Donuts is serving iced pumpkin lattes, doughnuts and muffins. Breweries are infusing it into beers. Bagels are flavored with pumpkin and smeared with pumpkin butter.
Restaurant menus in 2005 had 6 percent of menu items flavored with pumpkin. Ten years later, pumpkin flavored items represent 14.5 percent of menus, according to Datassentials.
The trend doesn’t appear to be going away. Not only does pumpkin season being earlier each year (20 percent of all pumpkin food items are now introduced in August), but they last longer, as well (Thanksgiving is not the cut off anymore).
McCormick introduced its first pumpkin pie spice blend in 1934. It contained cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice – the same spices used to make pumpkin pie. It remains one of the company’s strongest sellers. In 2014, McCormick sold nearly 4 million bottles of the spice. Then in the 1990s, pumpkin spice began trending as a flavoring in coffee, introduced along with cinnamon hazelnut and eggnog, according to Datassentials.
Whether it’s an orange, white or yellow pumpkin, that ornamental vegetable represents fall. Pumpkin has an uncanny ability to tie flavor with comfort and tradition, no matter the food.