Your Obligatory Fall Pumpkin Spice Post

Pumpkin Spice – alias pumpkin pie spice – contains no pumpkin. And it’s not even a condiment solely reserved for using in pumpkin-based recipes. Break pumpkin spice down to its individual ingredients, and you’ll find yourself probably shaking a fist (or both) at those darned Americans for taking something the world has known and loved for ages and making it all about them. (Okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair since there is a fair bit of American history connected to pumpkin spice. But more on that later.)

Pumpkin spice is actually a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, powdered ginger and mace. Individual taste dictates which of these spices make it into the final mix — that is, if it’s being made from scratch. Store-bought spice is a different story.

Much like a tree falling in a desolate forest, a question is often asked of the wary consumer: “If a spice/flavour isn’t used in a Starbucks drink, does it even exist?” In the case of pumpkin spice, Starbucks fans tend to think the answer is no. But of course that’s not true. Pumpkin spice was being appropriated long before the coffee chain thought to do the same with its bestselling latte since 2003. In fact, it was the Dutch East India Company that was among the earliest pumpkin spice promoters. 

The Dutch colonies included islands in Southeast Asia that were rich in spices such as clove, cinnamon etc. The Dutch East India Company had also gained control of the Spice Islands near Indonesia, and monopolised trade in its riches for years. They developed a fondness for their very own version of pumpkin spice, the less catchily named “speculaaskruiden”, which included cardamom.

Image Credits: Starbucks

Shifting our lens from the Dutch to the early Americans, the settlers had found the New World crop known as the pumpkin a source of abundant food. Initially, they ate it in various savoury preparations, like the Native Americans did. But they gradually came to rely on its enhanced sugar content to create fillings for pies, when there was a scarcity of apples or other fruit. Of course, cooks of the time noted (and could rely on old ‘receipts’ that said the same as well) that spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and mace paired wonderfully with sweet pumpkin preparations. “Pumpkin spice” as an all-encompassing ingredient, however, still hadn’t found its niche in the country. 

That would come much later, following on the heels of the widespread availability of commercially sold canned pumpkin puree. The spice company McCormick introduced its brand of “pumpkin pie spice” in the US in the mid-1930s. The name of the product was later shortened to pumpkin spice. It became a handy and versatile condiment for all kinds of dishes, including meat-based and savoury ones, although the overwhelming association (perhaps due to the presence of cinnamon) seemed to be with sweet dishes. 

Today pumpkin spice is everything, everywhere, all at once. Except in your Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. The PSL instead uses “pumpkin spice syrup”, which is sugar, water and pumpkin puree blended with a quantity of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. 

Flavour fiend, purveyor of pumpkins, or amateur spice scientist? Head on to the Slurrp website, or download the app for recipes, food history and pumpkin-centric trivia.


For the Pumpkin Spice Syrup:

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp pumpkin purée

For the Pumpkin Spice Latte:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 30 ml brewed Starbucks Espresso Roast
  • 3 tbsp homemade pumpkin spice syrup
  • ½ cup whipped cream
  • 1 pinch of pumpkin pie spice (for the garnish)


  • For the pumpkin spice syrup: Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pumpkin purée, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately strain through cheesecloth. Set aside.
  • For the latte: Heat and froth milk. Brew the espresso in an espresso machine or in a stovetop moka pot.
  • Add the specified quantity of pumpkin spice syrup in a mug, followed by the hot espresso. Stir, then add the frothed milk until the mug is ¾ full. Top with whipped cream and a pinch of pumpkin spice.