Pumpkin Spice Triggers Nostalgia

As Scott Szevery, social studies teacher, talked with his class, he brought up the pumpkin-shaped pumpkin spice cake he found at the grocery store that he could not wait to cut into.

“I bake pies, and I love making pumpkin pie,” Szevery said. “I don’t know that I’m a pumpkin spice fanatic the way some people are, but I do enjoy the flavor.”

He’s not alone. Americans spent more than $236 million last year on the flavor, according to the market research firm Nielsen IQ.

Seasonal trends tend to not stick around for years on end, but pumpkin spice has been a trending fall flavor for the past 20 years. This is due to two possible reasons: Starbucks and science.

Noses have a way of “sniffing out nostalgia,” Szevery said. 

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  • While waiting for her coffee, Maggie McGinn spotted a sign that said, “Say hello to pumpkin spice,” perfect for the arrival of the pumpkin spice latte.

“They have done studies on the way that certain aromas can trigger feelings of nostalgia, making people long for something in the past,” he said. “Fall, in particular, is full of distinct smells. I think pumpkin spice just adds to that.” 

People usually associate pumpkin spice with fall holidays, like Thanksgiving, giving them a sense of familiarity and comfort. 

Another reason for the popularity of pumpkin spice may be its limited fall release in the popular coffee chain, Starbucks.

Nia Williams, senior, is a barista in a Starbucks and is used to making pumpkin spice drinks during this time of year. On average she makes about ten pumpkin spice drinks. 

It’s not an overpowering drink, which I like,

— Maggie McGinn

“Because the pumpkin spice latte is only available for a few months out of the year, I think that adds to the appeal,” Williams said. “People miss it every year and it gets them in the mood for fall.”

Maggie McGinn, sophomore, has never tried a pumpkin spice latte and was happy to try it for the first time to see if it was worth its popularity. 

“I’m so excited, I’ve never tried one before. The anticipation is killing me,” said McGinn while in line to order a pumpkin spice latte with a pumpkin loaf.

It never crossed her mind to order the drink in past years because she usually doesn’t like coffee, but after a few sips, McGinn began to understand the appeal. 

“It tastes like the season of fall,” McGinn said.