The Village Idiot: American as pumpkin spice


By Jim Mullen
Signal Contributing Writer

Three years ago at this time of year, I mentioned that I had just gone through an entire day without having a pumpkin spice latte.

I wrote that I had also successfully avoided dozens of other seasonal delights: pumpkin spice soup, pumpkin spice marshmallows, pumpkin spice granola, pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice beer, pumpkin spice donuts, pumpkin spice beef jerky, pumpkin spice potato chips, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice crepes, pumpkin spice scones, pumpkin spice bread, pumpkin spice cookies, pumpkin spice oatmeal, pumpkin spice syrup, pumpkin spice cheesecake, pumpkin spice hot chocolate, pumpkin spice waffles, pumpkin spice liqueur, pumpkin spice smoothies, pumpkin spice coffee creamer, pumpkin spice french toast, pumpkin spice sticky buns, and a few million others.

A fad is usually over by the time everyone has heard of it. Surely, pumpkin spice was as dead as Beanie Babies and bitcoin three years ago. I should know; I lost money on both of them. But, as usual, I was on the wrong side of history.

In the store yesterday, I saw pumpkin spice menthol cough drops. It’s hard to imagine a more disgusting flavor than that — other than, say, a pumpkin spice Tide Pod. But I suppose these are the cough drops to take after you’ve smoked a pack of pumpkin spice cigarettes.

Clearly, the trend is not over. Any day now, I expect the reconstituted Spice Girls to rename themselves the Pumpkin Spice Girls so they can double the price of their concert tickets.
It is time for the lawmakers to step in and stop this before we lose our taste buds altogether.

I’m all for pumpkin spice in a pumpkin pie, and maybe even some additional baked goods. But not all of them. Don’t be making a pumpkin spice cherry pie. It’s a dessert too far, and it’s just plain wrong. At this year’s Thanksgiving, someone brought an apple pie to my house with a secret ingredient. Cumin. We had to ask him to leave. Sorry about that, Dad, but as you used to say, “My house, my rules.” Try a little harder next year.

One day, in the distant future, this trend will finally be over, and in the name of all things good and holy, pumpkin spice — and its loathsome cousin, hazelnut — will go the way of Jell-O ring molds and bell bottoms, never to be seen again.

When that glorious day comes, we will only taste pumpkin spice once or twice a year in a slice of pie on Thanksgiving or Christmas, the way it was meant to be. I will no longer lie awake at night wondering where it will be misused next. (Pumpkin spice taco shells? Pumpkin spice KFC?) Instead, I will lie awake at night wondering what new spawn of the industrial food complex will start to appear on our store shelves.

Pumpkin spice will be replaced by some new flavor — something that seems unique at first, taken from some food that almost everybody likes once in a while. Food companies will glom onto it and overuse it until it’s in almost everything you touch. Sriracha comes to mind. Lime is another possibility. Cranberry and pomegranate — flavors you would have been hard-pressed to taste outside of their actual namesake fruits a few years ago — are now everywhere.

With food science, the possibilities are endless. One day, a guy in a lab coat will say to his boss, “Who doesn’t like a corn dog at the state fair?” and we’ll be off to the flavor races once again.
After all, if it’s good at the state fair, why wouldn’t it be good in your coffee? Or as a breakfast cereal? Or a candle? Or a cough drop?
Contact Jim Mullen at [email protected].

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