We all know that pumpkin spice has become a massive cultural food craze, but why is it a massive cultural food craze? It’s the kind of question only the journalistic mavens at the Associated Press could get to the bottom of, so the news organization recently set out to answer the question, “Where did it all come from?”
Their short answer: nostalgia for a simpler time. “It represents a sense of goodness, natural abundance and old values that people think are good,” Cindy Ott, author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, told the AP. “Americans root themselves in this tradition,” she continued. “When times feel uncertain that they can turn to these things for a sense of comfort and goodness.” At the very least, I guess it’s more comforting to snuggle up to a pumpkin than a pineapple.
Pumpkin spice also might go back further than you think. Apparently, it was first name-checked by Amelia Simmons in 1796, in her seminal cookbook American Cookery. And though the number of pumpkin-spice products sold in restaurants has more than doubled in the past decade (along with everything else pumpkin spice), McCormick & Company has been hawking a literal pumpkin pie spice blend since way back in 1934—which goes to show you that 70 years of patiently waiting for a trend to take hold can really pay off.
A couple of other dynamics are also at work. First, food brands have continued to push pumpkin-spice products earlier and earlier, allowing the phenomenon to help fuel itself. And Americans' love of the pumpkin is uniquely American—apparently we are the only country that eats pumpkin seasonally—which means pumpkin subconsciously fuels your patriotic side.