Pumpkin Spice 101

In this fact sheet and the associated video above, food scientist Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS answers questions about the science behind the popular fall drink, the pumpkin spice latte.

How does commercialized pumpkin spice latte ingredients differ from ingredients found in your cabinet?
Commercial pumpkin spice latte ingredients focus on giving you a complete and pleasurable experience that is consistent every time and evocative of pumpkin pie and the holidays. Pumpkin spice mix contains at least 340 flavor compounds and these are not found in the kitchen cupboard. But the human brain can fill in the blanks, so commercial operators use about 5-10 percent of the natural blend of spices.

What are some common ingredients that are found in pumpkin spice lattes?
The major and common ingredient in pumpkin spice lattes include: cinnamic aldehydes for cinnamon, eugenol for clove or allspice, terpenes such as sabinene for nutmeg, and zingiberene for ginger. They may also contain vanillin and cyclotene for the burnt butter or maple notes to round off the flavor.

Are most ingredients found in different coffee brand’s pumpkin spice lattes similar?
The recipe for pumpkin spice lattes is not set in stone, and commercial recipes can change depending on the region of the country. But, they typically contain cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove or allspice. 

Is it possible to make a pumpkin spice latte at home using spices or similar flavors?
Yes, but it will probably taste more like Indian masala tea – popularly known as chai in the Western world and less like the pumpkin spice latte you’re used to getting at a coffee shop.

Why is pumpkin spice such a trendy flavor?
People in the Western culture associate pumpkin pie with the holidays, family gatherings, and nostalgia. 

Some companies are now using real pumpkin for their PSL—what is involved in making this change?
The inclusion of real pumpkin is achieved by the addition of a Pumpkin Spice flavored sauce that consists of sugar, condensed skim milk, and pumpkin puree, two percent or less of fruit and vegetable juice for color, natural flavors, annatto (color), potassium sorbate (preservative), and salt. The amount of pumpkin puree added does very little other than appease those who wanted to see real pumpkin on the list of ingredients.

Did the addition of real pumpkin affect the flavor?
The food scientists ensured the ingredients would replicate the flavor of the original PSL that was made without real pumpkin. The flavor and texture are the same but with a different set of ingredients.

Does the addition of pumpkin puree make it healthier?
The amount of pumpkin puree in most of these pumpkin spice lattes is so miniscule that it does not change its nutritional value appreciably.

Source: Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS, IFT member


Categorized under: Chemistry
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