From the good to the bad to the downright ugly, we taste-tested some of the season’s best and worst pumpkin spice food and drinks so you don’t have to. Unless of course you want to.
Each year and every year until the end of days (probably) as summer slips into fall, rosé is nudged gently off the shelves of basic boys & girls everywhere and pumpkin spice assumes its rightful place as the novelty fall flavor we love to hate.
We can mostly thank Starbucks and its cult classic latte (or “PSL”), for the unending parade of sketchy items featuring pumpkin and a mix of fall spices originally intended for pie. Each year brings new spins on a pumpkin spice this, and a pumpkin spice that. At times they seem as much a publicity stunt as a serious addition to a brand’s portfolio, but any hope by detractors of this fad flavor fading into obscurity have long been been washed away. Probably by Meyer’s artisanal pumpkin spice cleaning spray.
Before we fully ascend our soapbox and decree the phenomenon with blanket condemnation, we thought we’d give a few items from the growing pumpkin spice empire the benefit of a taste test and, as luck would have it, some actually work! This list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a mix of the odd, interesting, and unexpected. Some unholy creations elicited a gasp of horror followed by “well, maybe…” while others simply sounded too good not to try.
In any event, and without further ado…
The weather may be cooling off but ice cream really never goes out of style. Especially Jeni’s new pumpkin cake roll ice cream with swirled sweet cheese and heirloom pumpkins (ok…fancy). The dish on this sweet fall treat is the pumpkin tastes real, not like synthetic spice. It’s made with real cream, sweet cheese, Chinese 5-spice, ginger, and other warm Autumn flavors.
Related Reading: A One-Bowl Apple Snacking Cake for Hangry Kids
Pecans and warm baking spices are an obvious match (pecan pie, ever heard of it?). This pumpkin spice pecan just works, for a healthy mid-day snack or salad toppers. Or to bake into a mind-bending pumpkin spice pecan pie. Ok, we just invented that, don’t steal it.
Santé Pumpkin Spice Pecans (6 bags), $24.99
Spice and whiskey go together like festive pumpkin-carving and the existential dread of having no artistic ability whatsoever. This proud micro-distillery (in my home state of Rhode Island!) puts out a new seasonal batch every fall but you can still find the extremely yum pumpkin spice whiskey from a few years back at certain online retailers. It’s got good balance with just enough vanilla, clove, cinnamon to be interesting without tiring out your tastebuds. It does great things to a tumbler of eggnog. Trust me.
Related Reading: A Guide to Fall’s Most Underutilized Fruit: The Almighty Fig
“Out of stock” on Amazon and some confusion with the brand’s website prompted me to call the oh-so-lovely folks who make this Caribbean style salsa in Louisburg, North Carolina. I was promptly schooled on the brand as well as a local fondness for the pumpkin spice variation and a few days later, a jar arrived at my doorstep. Now, salsa is not something I take lightly. I eat it often and my standards are high but this was a very pleasant surprise. Smoky flavors mixed with subtle pumpkin and mild spice all made for an unusual but interesting twist.
I should probably preface by saying I’ve always been more of a Pillsbury Toaster Strudel guy but I found this pumpkin Pop-Tart palatable, all things considered. The pastry delivered on a promise of pumpkin flavor via pie-like filling, but it had enough supporting flavors, like the crusty/bready shell and creamy vanilla icing, to strike a balance. If you like Pop-Tarts and you like pumpkin, I suspect you’ll like this pumpkin Pop-Tart. That’s just math, folks.
Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Pop-Tarts, $10.95 on Amazon
This limited release made the most sense to me when considering the full lineup at hand. Let’s face it, cereal has always been a trojan horse for sugar and I was fully anticipating the glorious leftover pumpkin spice cereal milk. It was good although very sweet, of course, and to get through a full bowl would have been tough. In a perfect world maybe they’d tone down the pumpkin spice and sugar a touch, but I guess true pumpkin spice heads come to play.
Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes, $3.84 on Walmart
The Not So Good
Listen. I was excited as anyone would be who’d been given an excuse to eat butter, shamelessly and alone in the darkness of their apartment on a weekday evening. But life just isn’t that simple and neither was this. The butter spread had by far the most concentrated pumpkin spice flavor of anything I tried. Too strong and it crushed the unsuspecting slice of bread I’d smeared it on. It wasn’t so much the presence of pumpkin but the deep spice that proved too aggressive for my tastebuds, although I could live in a world where it’s subbed in for regular butter in a sugar cookie recipe or melted down over pancakes.
Upon opening the small canister of Blue Diamond roasted almonds, I was bludgeoned with a sharp waft of pumpkin spice. I really was hoping these would win me over but something was just…off. A little too much clove and spice and no caramelized sugary crust, as I’d secretly hoped there would be. One point for being among the healthier of the bunch but in the end these nuts are best-suited for a serious pumpkin spice addict only.
The ‘Why God, Why?’
This is billed as a “spread made with crushed cookies” so naturally I was ALL in…at first. Not that I expected a kale smoothie here but check out the ingredients, all of which are actually listed on the label: brown sugar, sugar, glucose syrup, caramel sugar syrup, invert sugar, caramel sugar water, and sugar (again, for some reason). Soooo yeah, it was va-herry sweet and also gloopy with almost no trace of this “ crushed cookie” business. Quite honestly, I’m not sure what one would use this for except lean into a deep depression.
How much further will we slip into this pumpkin spice paradigm? It’s anyone’s guess, so tune in next year and find out. For now, check out Chowhound’s recipe for pumpkin spice mix and go make your own wild pumpkin spice concoction! You might just end up on next year’s list.
Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.
Related Video: Pumpkin Spice – So Much More Than a Latte
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.