Is maple a better fall flavor than pumpkin spice?


Pumpkin spice is the Icarus of fall flavors.

Seasonal flavors have low-key always existed. Which is to say: Seasonal flavors have their roots in seasonal produce, i.e., the foods that are most plentiful during their respective seasons. You then have a variety of dishes and desserts made from those fruits, vegetables, plants, herbs, squash, etc. that, in turn, become flavors of their own. For example, pumpkin, seasonal produce, and pumpkin pie, a dessert made from seasonal produce, are both fall flavors.

This has transformed the grocery store — for the last decade or so — into a meta-flavor wonderland. You can now get products that are flavored the seasonal flavors of the meals you make with the seasonal produce you also find in the store. It results in a range of confounding products, like pumpkin pie flavored yogurt.

As you may have determined by now, likely by simply living in the world, pumpkin spice is the undisputed dictator of fall flavors. (As you inch into winter, peppermint and gingerbread gain ground, but between September and November, pumpkin spice and its consiglieri, pumpkin pie and pumpkin, reign.) But is it deserving of this power? Is it even the best fall flavor? No.

But first:

A Pumpkin Spice Sidebar

Let’s pause and discuss pumpkin spice. The flavor of pumpkin spice is not pumpkin. It’s important that you know and recognize this.

Most recipes for pumpkin spice, or pumpkin pie spice, include the following, in descending order of prominence:

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice
  • Cloves

The combination is often used in pumpkin pie recipes (hence the association) and there is something, I guess, reminiscent of pumpkin in the taste?

In any case: It’s not pumpkin flavored. Though they are often grouped together in lists, slideshows, etc., along with pumpkin pie, pumpkin is an entirely separate flavor that also features prominently throughout the fall flavor landscape — though not as prominently as pumpkin spice. Pumpkin spice flavor is also often illustrated with a pumpkin and a spice (usually a cinnamon stick) which perpetuates the confusion. Further confusing matters, some brands, like Cheerios, actually do include pumpkin puree, making pumpkin spice an accurate designation but inconsistent with Established Pumpkin Spice Flavor.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand.

Pumpkin spice is not the best fall flavor, in fact it’s a trash fall flavor, mostly because it’s been used so widely on totally inappropriate foods as to tarnish its name forever. It is the Icarus of flavors, except Icarus doesn’t really deserve to be in the sea, whereas pumpkin spice surely does. It could have been good, maybe confined to lattes and desserts, but instead it tried to conquer everything — like coconut milk and hummus and almonds and Jello. (Aligning with pumpkin and pumpkin pie to both confuse and ruin more foods is another strike.)

Maple, on the other hand, is a more discerning palate partner. It appears most often with bacon (team sweet and salty forever) or with pecans. It’s used sparingly in desserts (cookies, donuts, a chocolate bar) or snacks (pretzels) and sometimes even liquor. (There is not a world in which pumpkin pie flavored vodka is better than maple whiskey.)

Most importantly, maple flavored foods pass the gut check. Meaning, nine out of 10 times, when you hear about a maple flavored fall item, your reaction will be “ooh” — assuming of course you like the flavor of maple syrup.

On the other hand, nine out of 10 pumpkin spice flavored items inspire a reaction of “what in tarnation.” Pumpkin spice salmon. Pumpkin spice Pringles. Pumpkin spice mole sauce.

Nothing that has ever been called the best has been associated with so much trash.

Next: The best fast food joint in every state

And don’t even bring up caramel apple. The only good caramel apple flavored anything is a caramel apple.