The Pumpkin Spice Trend May Predate Starbucks by at Least 3,500 Years
Nutmeg was around for millennia before millennials fell in love with it.
Yes, the pumpkin spice trend really only took hold of our modern collective conscious after Starbucks first introduced its now infamous latte back in 2003. But clearly, Starbucks didn’t invent pumpkin spice. Seasonal fall ingredients have been around for as long as the Earth has spun on a tilted axis. And now, researchers have shown that humans have even been using nutmeg—one of the key ingredients in pumpkin spice—as far back as 3,500 years ago.
According to a new paper from the University of Washington, an archaeological site on the small island of Pulau Ay in Indonesia appears to show new evidence of the oldest use of nutmeg as an ingredient in human cooking. Residue found on ceramic potsherds was tested and estimated to be 3,500 years old—or about 2,000 years older than any previous evidence of human use of nutmeg. So much for Starbucks and McDonald’s battling to be the first to get their pumpkin spice lattes out: Indonesia had them both beat by a long, long time.
“[It's] fascinating to see such early use of nutmeg, a spice that changed the world a few thousand years later,” Peter Lape, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, said, alluding to the spice’s resurgent modern fame. Along with nutmeg, Lape’s team also found residue from six other plants including purple yam. So yeah, sounds like these ancient people were maybe making more of a yam spice… Not too far off really. Though, for the record, no evidence of frothed milk was mentioned.
For those who are not up on their nutmeg history, most commercial nutmeg is actually native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia—with the University of Washington suggesting that long-distance traders were visiting the islands at least as far back as the 14th century to score the beloved spice. Think of that the next time you’re complaining that the nearest Starbucks is a full six blocks away from your office.