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The history behind pumpkin spice

It's a scent that, for many, makes this time of year come alive. But how did the passion for pumpkin spice come to be?
Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 24, 2023

Fall is a season of changing leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and, for many, pumpkin spice.

66% of consumers say pumpkin spice brings back warm, fuzzy feelings each year.

You may think the pumpkin spice craze began with Starbucks, but this flavor has been associated with fall for centuries.

The average pumpkin spice blend consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice.

Early American settlers didn't use the blend like we do today, but the same ingredients were used to preserve fall harvests of meat, fruit, and vegetables.

That was until 1796, when Amelia Simmons penned a recipe using the spices in the first American cookbook.

Decades later, McCormick bottled it up and made it official with the name "Pumpkin Pie Spice."

It was an easy way to get all of the spices you needed for pumpkin pie in one shake.

Though, surprisingly, there's no actual pumpkin involved.

By the early 1990s, the blend had made its way into people's coffees.

Krispy Kreme will have Pup'kin Spice Doughnuts for National Dog Day
Golden retriever with Krispy Kreme Pup’kin Spice Doggie Doughnuts.

Krispy Kreme will have Pup'kin Spice Doughnuts for National Dog Day

Your dog can get in on the pumpkin spice craze, too.


But it was, you guessed it, Starbucks that was first to capitalize on the brew, adding the pumpkin spice latte to its list of seasonal drinks.

Peter Dukes, a Starbucks employee credited with the idea, pitched the combination in 2003, and the company has sold more than 420 million cups in the U.S. since.

So, why are people hooked on pumpkin spice anything?

Well, it's mainly the smell.

Johns Hopkins University researchers say smells have the power to evoke memories.

"We often long for the arrival of fall at the end of a hot summer, and our sense of smell can summon up the season early," the researchers said.

They say even reading the words pumpkin spice can spark cozy, fall feelings.

A feeling so sweet, folks, will pay for it all year long.

Nielson and Forbes docked the pumpkin spice product market at $608 million in 2018. That's $300 million in growth from 2015.

Starbucks may have opened the floodgates in 2003, but the surplus of cookies, bread, drinks, and candles is all a clear sign that pumpkin spice is here to stay.