The Seasonings That Make Up Pumpkin Spice Blend

These days it's difficult to think of a food or drink that has not been touched by the annual pumpkin spice craze. What began as seasonal coffees and lattes has turned into an all-out obsession to find just how many foods can be successfully infused with pumpkin spice blend. That includes beer, cereal, tea, Jell-O, cookies, and even SPAM. The products all come rolling out in autumn or even weeks before the start of autumn to get everyone excited for cool, cozy weather and the blitz of holiday sweets in the months that follow.

Pumpkin spice, both as a flavor and a state of mind, has become so ubiquitous in the United States that it's easy to forget that this spice blend was originally created for a sole purpose, to flavor just one dish, and it's right there in the name; if you grab a container of the spice from your cabinet, you'll usually see its full name is actually "pumpkin pie spice" as the blend was intended to be used for pumpkin pies. The flavors of the blend are what give the favorite Thanksgiving pie its classic, baked-by-grandma flavor. Little bottles of the spice blend, labeled as either pumpkin spice or pumpkin pie spice, are easy to find in the spice aisle of supermarkets. 

As it turns out, the individual spices that make up the blend are recognizable and easy to find. One of the easiest to pick out is cinnamon, but it takes the addition of a few others — ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sometimes cloves — in there that give the blend its delectable flavor.  

These flavorings really put the spice in this blend

Pumpkin pie spice is composed of four or five ingredients, and ground cinnamon is the one used in the largest quantity. It gives the blend a warm and sweet flavor that complements baked dishes like pumpkin pie so well. Cinnamon also has a bit of spicy flavor to it, but the other ingredients in the blend bring even more spice. 

Ground ginger, though not as pungent as fresh ginger, still brings quite a bit of spiciness and a little heat to the pumpkin pie spice blend. Also bringing lots of flavor and spiciness is nutmeg, which has a woody and somewhat peppery flavor. It's a natural flavoring for sweets but is also a favorite to pair with savory foods like cheese and spinach. The flavor of nutmeg is very punchy and a little goes a long way. 

Most pumpkin pie spice blends contain allspice, which are harvested as tiny, unripe fruits from evergreen trees. When dried, allspice looks like tiny, brown berries, and it's commonly sold already ground. It has a strong flavor that's often compared to nutmeg, anise, and clove — a very Christmasy flavor. The final ingredient included in some but not all pumpkin pie spice blends is clove, another one that comes from evergreen trees. Although the flavor of clove is sometimes mistaken for allspice, it's actually much stronger. Just a little ground clove is enough to enhance the flavor of this spice blend.

It's a spicier mixture than apple pie spice

Also to be found in the spice section of grocery stores not far from the pumpkin pie spice are little bottles of apple pie spice blend. Apple pie is another favorite at holiday time, and when made with freshly picked apples is another celebratory dish of fall. Its warm and homey flavor is every bit as loved as pumpkin pie, and yet it hasn't become the viral sensation that pumpkin pie spice has. A difference of just one or two ingredients might be why: while the two pies and the two spice blends have some ingredients in common, apple pie spice is a much simpler blend with a mellower flavor.

As with pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice features cinnamon first and foremost, and then has just two other ingredients: nutmeg and allspice. Together the three spices bring the warmth and sweetness to desserts like Dutch apple pie, apple dump cake, and apple crumble, with just a hint of spiciness. Since this blend doesn't have any ground cloves or ground ginger, it has less of a spice kick than pumpkin pie spice. 

Knowing the breakdown of the ingredients in warm and spicy pumpkin pie spice gives PSL fans a better understanding of just why this blend is so delicious and pulls us back in every autumn. In addition, the four or five spices that make up the blend are easy to find and keep on hand, so you can make up your own custom pumpkin spice blend anytime the craving strikes.