Fall is upon us, and the annual pumpkin spice cravings are kicking in. So why do we love pumpkin spice so much? Well, it might actually be addictive.
It’s autumn, and there’s a sweet smell in the air… no, not the LA smog or the fallen leaves on your sidewalk. It’s pumpkin spice time, when every Starbucks, bakery, and grocery store aisle tempts you with items flavored with that familiar fall spice blend. Some people look forward to pumpkin spice time year-round, and eagerly anticipate the first day they can have their usual morning coffee spiced up with a little pumpkin magic.
It’s enough to drive some people crazy for a taste of the spice, a pinch of the pumpkin, that odor of orange gourd! But what does science have to say about the fact that we get such a craving for pumpkin spice each fall? Actually, the science on this subject is more robust than you might think.
For starters, don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia on the human mind and capacity for craving. Many of us associate the scent and taste of pumpkin spice with family cooking in our childhood, or with happy memories that take place around autumn. These positive memories and mental associations can trigger deep-seated cravings for sensory affirmations such as a hint of pumpkin.
Are you ready for a shocking fact that might surprise you? Most pumpkin spice out there doesn’t actually contain any pumpkin. That’s right: the flavor combination we know as “pumpkin spice” is usually ground-up cinnamon, nutmeg, dry ginger, and cloves. It’s a very unique flavor, which adds to the powerful odor association and nostalgia mentioned above.
More importantly, though, something really interesting happens when you combine that pumpkin spice blend with sugar: it actually becomes mildly addictive. No, not in the same neurological sense that dangerous drugs are addictive, but it fosters a biological craving in our system nonetheless.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your seasonal pumpkin spice fix, but just make sure you’re not accidentally eating a giant lump of sugar at the same time… and while you’re at it, consider introducing some actual pumpkin into your autumn diet. Now that’s actually healthy for you!