Why We Crave All Things Pumpkin

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We love cozying up in leggings and flannel once temps start to drop, but we can probably all agree that the crisp, fall feeling we want isn’t complete without the warming scent of pumpkin spice! In 2003, Starbucks introduced its first PSL (pumpkin spice latte) and that’s when the pumpkin spice craze began. Have you ever stopped and wondered why we love all things pumpkin?

The Science of Pumpkin Spice

Dr. Kantha Shelke, a food science communicator with the Institute of Food Technologists and an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, says that “pumpkin spice mixes are typically a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves or allspice. The human brain is adept at identifying aromas quickly in terms of when they were last encountered. In Western culture, the aroma of a baking pumpkin pie immediately transports people to all the warm and friendly times associated with pumpkin pie—holiday gatherings, families, celebrations, treats, sweets, things that childhood memories are made of.”

In addition to the research of Dr. Shelke, Kristen Hovet, a Vancouver-based science journalist and yoga instructor, said the addictive nature of pumpkin spice goes to a biological reaction we have when we eat these foods. “It’s this pleasure sensation, as well as the memories the flavors evoke, that have us reaching for every pumpkin-spiced food we can find. The warmth of the mixture is an ideal comfort during cooler weather. Being warm and happier—and therefore, nicer and more giving—especially during the holidays makes pumpkin spice as effective as juniper and pine in fireplaces in changing our frame of mind and soothing us. Optimized spirits can be uplifting and foster a feeling of wellness, and this can make people crave it repeatedly.”