By Julia Tilton ’20, Eliza Lamont ’22, Anna Induni ’22
To most, pumpkin may seem like a relatively mundane vegetable between the months of December and August. However, as September rolls around each year, and leaves begin to turn vibrant shades of red and orange, the squash transforms into an iconic symbol of autumn. In recent years, the concept of pumpkin spice has become incredibly popular, in part due to the coveted “PSL”, or Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. Since the drink’s debut in 2003, the flavor has emerged as a beloved fall treat. All kinds of brands and food items have adopted the nutmeg-and-cinnamon-packed spice, from tortilla chips and salsa to marshmallows and granola bars. This year, Purina, a dog food brand, even boasts limited edition, “real pumpkin” flavored dog treats.
This past week, Lamplighter staff scoured grocery store aisles in search of the strangest pumpkin spice products we could find. When we reconnected, we each contributed a pumpkin-inspired snack to the table, some far more outrageous than others. Unfortunately, we were not able to bring pumpkin spice-flavored Spam, or processed ham, to our food review, as it sold out just hours after its release.
To kick off our pumpkin spice taste-testing, we tried a traditional pumpkin (baked in the oven with allspice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) to see how other pumpkin spice products compared. Our staff’s general consensus was that, despite all of the different spices added to it, it needed sugar or some type of sweetener; otherwise, it just tasted like a vegetable you would have with dinner.
Next, we tried pumpkin chips, garnished with—you guessed it—pumpkin salsa. One of Lamplighter’s editors, Erica Moore, eats these pumpkin chips year-round, but other Lamplighter members weren’t as taken with them. We thought the pumpkin chips tasted like regular tortilla chips in terms of saltiness, and they had what Julia Tilton called a “spunk” of nutmeg as an aftertaste. The salsa did not have much appeal at first glance; in fact, we thought that it looked like baby food (or vomit, to be completely truthful). However, once we tried the salsa, it tasted much better than it looked. It tasted, for the most part, like regular salsa, but, like the chips, had a pumpkin aftertaste.
The pumpkin butter proved to be one of the biggest successes of our taste-testing. For lack of any other options, we tried the pumpkin butter with regular tortilla chips, but the suggested way of using it is as a spread on bread.
Julia and Erica both thought that it tasted like “a fall breeze or crunching autumn leaves.” The pumpkin butter was the most comparable to the original pumpkin- except with the needed sugar and honey!
Cookies were one of the pumpkin spice samples everyone was excited to try. The cookie itself was like the top of a muffin, and coated in frosting that gave off the fall appeal due to the color scheme of orange and white. The frosting was very sweet and sugary which made the cookie taste delicious, although we found it a bit overpowering. There was no hint of pumpkin spice until we tried the muffin part of the cookie. Even after trying the undertone of the cookie by itself, the pumpkin spice seemed bland compared to the very tasty frosting.
We assembled a wide array of pumpkin-spice flavored energy bars: Rx bar, Larabar, Clif bar, and Kind bar. After sampling them, we decided that they all fell short of our expectations. The Rx bar was bland, with what Ms. Burdette called a “plasticky” texture. The Larabar was the undisputed loser; we all agreed that it tasted like a Yankee candle smells. The Kind and Clif bars tied for first place. We enjoyed the Kind bar’s nutty flavor, and the Clif bar’s crunchy texture and hints of spicy carrot cake.
All in all, we decided that pumpkin spice, while an iconic symbol of fall, does not necessarily live up to the hype. Sure, brands tend to go a little crazy with new squash concoctions at this time of year, but just because they are creative and eye-catching doesn’t necessarily mean they actually have meritable taste. When in doubt, we decided, perhaps we would be best served by just sticking to the original pumpkin spice product: the orange squash itself.