Introduction: Pumpkin spice, a name that's become synonymous with fall, is a flavor that has seen two distinct eras: the period before the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) and the one that followed. The PSL, standing for Pumpkin Spice Latte, is the iconic Starbucks beverage that has been gracing the company's cafes since its original launch in 2003, with an annual return that has customers counting down the days.
Before the PSL: A Flavorful History
Before the PSL became a cultural phenomenon, pumpkin spice referred to a blend of spices that added a warm and aromatic flair to pumpkin pie. This traditional spice blend typically combined a medley of flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves. It was an integral part of American baking traditions, with historical records dating back to the late 18th century. In Amelia Simmons' 1798 reprint of her cookbook "American Cookery," two recipes for spice-filled "pompkin" pie can be found—one made with nutmeg and ginger, and the other with allspice and ginger.
The Emergence of Pumpkin Pie Spice
Fast forward to the 1930s, where spice manufacturing companies like Thompson & Taylor Spice Co and McCormick & Company brought innovation to the scene with their pre-blended product called Pumpkin Pie Spice. This game-changing spice mix allowed bakers to simplify their recipes by offering a one-stop solution for the spice needs of pumpkin-based dishes. Thompson & Taylor's version, introduced in 1933, boasted a blend of nine spices, while McCormick's mix, launched in 1934, included four key spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, along with a few other agents.
Pumpkin Spice in a Cup: The Birth of the PSL
Although it remains uncertain who first had the brilliant idea to add pumpkin spice to a latte, it's important to note that the notion likely didn't originate with Starbucks. The credit for introducing the Pumpkin Spice Latte to Starbucks is often given to Peter Dukes, who, at the time, served as the director of espresso. Dukes' team was responsible for crafting various seasonal drinks, including the renowned eggnog latte and peppermint mocha.
Notably, during the development of the PSL, the Starbucks research and development team conducted taste tests by pouring espresso shots over pumpkin pies to determine the perfect blend of cinnamon and nutmeg to complement the coffee and steamed milk. It wasn't until 2015 that Starbucks began using real pumpkin in the drink, taking the PSL's authenticity to a whole new level.
The Global PSL Phenomenon
Initially introduced in only 100 Starbucks stores in Vancouver, BC, and Washington, DC, the PSL has since spread its influence worldwide, making it Starbucks' most beloved seasonal beverage of all time. Over the years, since its 2003 debut, Starbucks has sold an astonishing 424 million PSLs in the United States alone.
Pumpkin Spice: A Cultural Icon
The PSL's astounding popularity has turned pumpkin spice into a cultural icon, symbolizing autumn as vividly as the changing leaves. This unexpected craze gave rise to an entire market of pumpkin spice-infused products, leading to the diverse array of pumpkin spice-ified items we see today, ranging from hummus and hard seltzer to marshmallows and mac and cheese.
While Starbucks may take credit for initiating the global pumpkin spice frenzy, we can all be grateful they didn't choose the alternative name "Fall Harvest Latte" – which, let's face it, just doesn't have the same ring to it. As for fall harvest SPAM, we'll gladly stick with the pumpkin spice version any day.