By now, pumpkin spice is more of a meme than it is a flavor. Every time even a hint of chill appears in the air, brands launch an onslaught of new stunt foods all coated in what has become fall’s favorite flavor. This year, there were pumpkin spice Goldfish crackers, marshmallows, diet ice cream, and for whatever reason, deodorant. The phrase even earned its own entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in September, fully cementing pumpkin spice’s status in the pop culture lexicon.
Pumpkin spice is not the only fall flavor that crops up around this time of year. Toasted marshmallow is popular — there is also, somehow, a toasted marshmallow deodorant — and apple cider is inescapable. This year, Krispy Kreme’s interpretation of an “autumn’s orchard,” a moniker that should imply bounty, highlights maple, pecan, and apple. From the Starbucks apple macchiato to Spindrift’s new hard apple cider, once a fall flavor proves popular, the brands immediately capitalize on our nostalgic affinity for warming spices and desperate attempts to find comfort in this brutal world, and slap that flavor on everything that they can think of. And even though I love both a pumpkin spice latte and a warm mug of apple cider, not everything has to taste like nutmeg and clove as soon as September rolls around.
There are so many fall flavors that just fall by the wayside when pumpkin spice makes its debut. Why isn’t Starbucks offering me a macchiato infused with cranberries? Why don’t pear and fig have a place at the table? The same could be said for juicy persimmons and quince, not to mention winter-grown citrus like ruby red grapefruits. Fall is a cornucopia of flavors — it’s literally in the season’s most iconic imagery — and here we are, stuck with a bunch of syrups and cookies and (ugh) cup noodles all tinged with the same boring combination of flavors called only “spice.”
The fight over pumpkin spice is a battle lost. Those who roll their eyes as the “basics” line-up in the Starbucks drive-thru and clear the shelves of pumpkin ravioli at Trader Joe’s have been fully defeated by those of us who stalk Instagram to find out when both will come available at the end of summer. And trust me, as someone who lives in Texas, I deeply understand the late-summer malaise that inspires obsession with the impending fall and the warm beverages that come along with it. After months of miserable heat, I too want to blast the air conditioning while I sip my PSL and pine for the days when the mercury won’t rise over 65.
But I don’t want everything to taste like a pumpkin spice latte between September and January, and that certainly feels like the direction we’re headed in right now. Fall is an abundant season, and it deserves more than being reduced to a couple of flavors that we’re already tired of — the PSL now debuts on or around August 30, remember — before the first cold snap of the year even hits.