It seems like every year the pumpkin spice craze starts earlier and earlier. Usually, it starts with one brand promoting their newest pumpkin spice item for the fall, and then the rest soon follow, making it a trending phenomenon. Is it really that serious? For many pumpkin enthusiasts, it is — from designer cups to shirts, the PSL (pumpkin spice latte) fans waste no time indulging in all of the pumpkin items they can get their hands on. But has anyone wondered why the obsession began, or why it’s even a thing to begin with?
If you’ve noticed a longer-than-usual drive-through line at your local Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts lately, it’s probably thanks to the seasonal treat. If pumpkin spice was a person, I’m sure their catchphrase would be, “Why are you so obsessed with me?” Would you believe me if I said it all comes down to the science of how our brain works? PSL was first introduced in 2003 and has become Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage ever. Even when it’s 90 degrees outside, it can conjure feelings of cooler weather, wearing boots and jackets, and the start of the holiday season.
Dr. John McGann, a sensory neuroscientist at Rutgers Department of Psychology, explains that it all has to do with the olfactory system, aka our sense of smell. He says, “About 70 percent of our [perception] of taste is retronasal smell, and then maybe 25 percent of it is true taste: salty, bitter, sweet. But there are also additional components: the feeling of creaminess, which really contributes to a perception of flavor [and entails] your sense of touch.”
Science. Of course, so much more goes into it, but your brain is putting all of these things together along with memories that come to mind when you take that first sip or bite to bring out the need for more. The companies and manufacturers have figured this out, too, and are capitalizing on it: from pumpkin spice Oreos to pumpkin spice shampoo for your dog (yep, it’s a thing), we as consumers eat it up. For me personally, while I love a good pumpkin spice fall candle like the next person, I don’t need all of the stores or restaurants to amplify pumpkin spice versions of everything.
While the science of our brain has a lot to do with the PSL obsession that’s not letting up, social media is a bigger factor that’s kept this pumpkin spice train forever chugging. It fuels pretty much everything we see and do come August, and just saying it out loud will have your phone populating an ad for a good ol’ PSL. The pumpkin spice craze has even become the base of a popular joke — that if you like pumpkin spice lattes, you must be considered “basic.” Who decided that? Heck, reading this post might even make you go get one or want one. Maybe that’s the point — when is enough, enough? Pumpkin spice products grow in sales year after year, and there is no sign of slowing at the moment. As fall descends upon us, the marketing campaigns for pumpkin everything are in overload, so if a little cup of happiness or the simple smell of pumpkin spice is all that’s needed to brighten a day, I say to hell with it and just do what makes you happy. However, I’ll be the first to say I can’t wait until the reign of all things pumpkin spice ends and a new flavor obsession arises.
Are you all about the pumpkin spice — or so over it?