Food & Drink

The Surprising Truth About What's REALLY In Commercial Pumpkin Spice

We're just going to get this out of the way first: there's no pumpkin in it.

Pumpkin spice products have become such a big part of the fall season ― everything from lattes to candles gets a seasonal makeover ― that we hardly even remember what it is. Most of us know that there are no pumpkins in pumpkin spice. Some of us know that it’s a medley of spices. But how many of us know which spices make up pumpkin spice?

Homemade pumpkin spice ― the kind home cooks used before it became the fall relic that’s as celebrated as it is despised ― is always based around cinnamon. And that cinnamon is most often mixed with ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Mace sometimes makes an appearance, too. How much of each spice you use is a matter of preference, but there’s generally more cinnamon than any other spice, followed by ginger, and then it’s usually equal parts nutmeg, cloves and mace (if being used).

One ratio we like is:

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon mace

In a bowl, mix all the spices together. Store and use as needed.

That’s it. That is homemade pumpkin spice. It is most traditionally used to make pumpkin pie, but these days you can use it to make lattes, breads, and pretty much anything that spices can be added to.

There is one thing you should know, however. Many of those food products being heavily marketed during fall are not exactly made with those spices above. Commercial pumpkin spice is made by flavor companies using just a few chemicals that naturally occur in pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in order to mimic the flavor of pumpkin pie. For example, a compound called sabinene is used in place of nutmeg, and eugenol in place of cloves.

Actually, the pumpkin spice recipe above won’t give you a pumpkin pie experience like commercial pumpkin spice products can ― unless of course you’re using it to make pie. What you’ll get tastes more like chai, because, well, we don’t have labs at home to make everything taste like one of our favorite fall foods. But, it sure will make everything taste nice.