As the season gets cooler, the number of coffees and culinary confections containing pumpkin pie spice multiply. From bread to lattes, we just can’t seem to get enough of this amazing fall blend!
What is pumpkin spice and where did it originate?
Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of 5 spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Some blends may also contain mace (made from the skin of a nutmeg seed). Spice giant McCormick started Pumpkin Pie Spice in 1934 as a shortcut for flavoring pumpkin pie. Despite its name, pumpkin pie spice does not contain any pumpkin.
Why is it popular?
Pumpkin pie spice is popular for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a seasonal flavor that has a short window of availability. The psychology of “limited time only” is appealing to some people. Think of it as the McRib of Autumn.
Pumpkin is a symbol of American culture. It’s native to North America and is the oldest domesticated crop in the new world. Pumpkin sustained colonists when their crops from Europe failed. The same combo platter of spices was widely used in colonial American cooking. Cinnamon is the predominant spice in pumpkin pie spice, which is frequently used in apple pie and cake recipes too.
In addition, the availability of pumpkin pie spice in foods marks the start of fall and all the memories of holidays that go along with it.
Is there any nutritional value in pumpkin spice?
Spices come from a variety of plants and therefore, may contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that help prevent disease. For example, cinnamon comes from bark while ginger comes from a root. Nutmeg originates from a pod and allspice comes from a dried berry.
Cinnamon: the base of the spice and used in highest amount. Cinnamon has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also aid in blood sugar regulation.
Allspice: contains glycosides and polyphenols with antibacterial, hypotensive, anti-neuralgic and analgesic properties. Also, may contain anti breast cancer and anti-prostate cancer properties.
Ginger: often used as an anti-nausea treatment or to settle an upset stomach. It’s also a source of antioxidants.
Nutmeg: contains anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant and analgesic properties. It’s been used in high doses as a hallucinogenic drug. Nutmeg toxicity may mimic many other neurological, cardiac and psychiatric conditions. Women that are breastfeeding should avoid nutmeg in high amounts.
Cloves: similar to nutmeg, cloves have anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. It contains a substance called eugenol which is a powerful antioxidant that may be beneficial in protecting the liver.
What are some ways to enjoy pumpkin spice?
Don’t just go for pumpkin spice lattes! There are loads of ways to enjoy pumpkin spice. Here are a few favorites:
- Add a dash of pumpkin pie spice to your morning oatmeal or breakfast cereal.
- Sprinkle pumpkin pie spice over apple or banana slices.
- Mix pumpkin pie spice into peanut or almond butter and spread on a bagel or toast
- Add pumpkin pie spice to yogurt and use as a dip for seasonal fruit.
- Blend pumpkin pie spice into pancake or waffle batter.
- Make spiced nuts using pumpkin pie spice.
- Use pumpkin pie spice as a rub for pork.
- Dust sweet potatoes with pumpkin pie spice and serve roasted or mashed.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
PS: Here's a handout that you can use in your next display or newsletter about pumpkin spice! Use it soon -- it won't be seasonal for long!