Forget the sweat pooling on your forehead and the scary energy bill lurking in your future. Our current temperatures may scream “Summer Apocalypse!,” but our friends at Starbucks say it’s sweater weather. And they’ve got the steaming drink to prove it.
Yes, heat wave victims, it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte time again, when consumers line up for the drink equivalent of a burnt-orange muffler and the food industry rolls out more pumpkin-flavored items than you can shake a cinnamon stick at. Pumpkin spice kale chips, anyone?
“I think the food business has kind of become all about trends, and people are always trying to find the next gimmick and the next flavor,” said Terryl Gavre, proprietor of the Bake Sale Cafe and Bakery in downtown San Diego, which is holding a “Great Pumpkin” baking class on Oct. 21.
“But pumpkin spice is very comforting. It reminds you of Halloween, which is the best time in the world when you are a kid. It reminds you of Thanksgiving and your grandma. I personally like the flavor, but like everything else, it will get overdone, and then we’ll all move on to something else.”
Some people think pumpkin spice flight is happening already. According to the MyFitnessPal calorie- and food-tracking website, the pumpkin-spice trend is on the downhill slide. In 2014, the number of pumpkin spice items appearing on users’ food logs dropped by 7.3 percent, the flavor’s first dip (Mmmm, dip) since the site started tracking it in 2009.
MyFitnessPal says the heir to the flavor-trend throne is salted caramel, which means your foodie future will be bad for you in two nutritionally disastrous ways. In the eating world, we call that a win-win.
While you’re waiting for the salted caramel tsunami to touch down, here is your guide to Pumpkin Spice World. Time to get your gourd on.
Least Improved Trailblazer: In response to complaints about the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s lack of actual pumpkin, Starbucks announced last year that the 2015 PSL would include real pumpkin purée. I’m not sure why anyone expected the Pumpkin Spice Latte to contain real pumpkin when it barely seems to contain real coffee, and now that I’ve tasted the new version, I don’t know why Starbucks bothered.
Except for a slight undercurrent of bitterness that could be real pumpkin (or not), the new PSL is no different from the old one. Which means it still tastes like a spun-sugar sundae with a migraine on top. There might be some cinnamon or rogue cloves in there, but who knows? A 12-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte has 39 grams of sugar, eight more than a slice of Marie Callender’s pumpkin pie. That is some seriously warped food math.
Most Surprising Upstart: “Is this a joke?” a colleague asked when I offered up my bag of Pumpkin Spice Latte M&Ms. Not only are these newcomers not a joke, they are not a taste travesty. Plumper than your average M&Ms, the pumpkin-spice version packed a nutmeg-laced punch that I didn’t expect and instantly loved. Are they better than Peanut M&Ms? No, because no M&M is better than the Peanut M&M. But they are definitely near the top of the pumpkin spice food pyramid. The foodies at the Eater website included these newbies in their list of “49 Pumpkin Spice Foods That Have No Business Being Pumpkin Spiced.” They are wrong.
Most Unfortunate Wake-up Call: I will never understand the allure of Dunkin’ Donuts ground coffee, and the pumpkin spice flavor did nothing to change my mind. In the tradition of the unflavored Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, this seasonal visitor was thin and watery. And in the tradition of other pumpkin spice misfires, it smelled like stale potpourri and tasted like it, too.
Worst Idea Ever: The only redeeming thing about the Pumpkin Spice Kale Chips from Sprouts is that they taste exactly as horrific as they sound. You’ve been warned.
Spice of Life Award: While real pumpkin pies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, most pumpkin spice flavored items blast you with nutmeg and call it a day. Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses are no exception. They are hyper-sweet and not even remotely pumpkin-y, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that a strong dash of cinnamon and a cream-cheese(ish) filling make these orange-coated Kisses worth a Fall fling.
“I like these better than the M&Ms,” one of my tasters said. “But I need another one to make sure.”
Best Undercover Dessert: With pumpkin purée as its fourth ingredient (behind low-fat yogurt, evaporated cane juice and water), Chobani Greek Yogurt’s Pumpkin Spice Blended flavor is the only item in this roundup whose taste kind of lives up to its name. But don’t get too excited about the pumpkin’s guest appearance. With 12 grams of sugar in a 5.3-ounce cup, your healthy snack is really dessert with a hefty side of protein.
So why not have some plain Greek yogurt and skip directly to Starbucks’ frosty Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino? It’s right on trend, and if you order the 24-ounce size, you can take a nice cool bath in it. ’Tis the season!
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