It's that time of year again. With the falling leaves and back to school comes the ever popular, pumpkin spice latte. The beverage has a following on social media, with #PSL trending almost daily. But is there any real pumpkin in these drinks? What's the science behind this flavor favorite? Most pumpkin pie recipes have cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, but none of the leading pumpkin spice drinks contain those ingredients. There's no pumpkin in most of the pumpkin spice lattes either. It's chemistry. At food companies, there are certified chemists that mix up compounds designed to taste like other things. Natural flavors come from the actual items they are supposed to taste like, but chemists can cook up similar flavors without the costly extraction of the flavors from the original natural source.
Lattes are not the only treat to take advantage of the pumpkin spice craze. It's in everything from beer to Pop Tarts, but why do we love it so much? It's all in your head, mostly. Marketing companies use the concept of "limited time only" to sell pumpkin spice items. Knowing that fall is the only time some treats are available, spurs consumers to buy more of them. Pumpkin pie is the 2nd most popular pie behind apple, but most people only have it on Thanksgiving, so it evokes memories of family holidays and time spent together, which also contributes to its popularity.