One moment the air is sticky and warm. The next, it’s suddenly cool and crisp and boom. Pumpkin spice season has officially arrived.
And not just in the form of the infamous latte. These days, you can pretty much find pumpkin-spice flavored everything — from cereal, to protein powder, to potato chips. (Well, maybe not the chips. Seems like those have already sold out.)
There’s a catch, though. Most pumpkin spice-flavored foods and drinks that you find in a package or buy at a coffee shop don’t usually contain actual pumpkin or real spices.
What’s Actually in Your Pumpkin Spice
Believe it or not, what you think of as “pumpkin spice” can actually be a mix of more than 340 flavor compounds, according to the Institute of Food Technologists. Many of those are artificial, meaning that they’re made from synthetic chemicals. But even if they say “natural” on the ingredients list, you probably won’t find any of them in your own kitchen.
There’s more, since pumpkin spice-flavored treats don’t just contain questionable flavors and colors. Like other processed foods, they tend to be packed with excessive amounts of sugar and not much nutrition, says registered dietician Sarah Pflugradt.
Real pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse that serves up vitamins A, C, and K. But plenty of pumpkin spice-flavored foods contain zero of the orange squash. And the ones that are made with some pumpkin often have just enough of the ingredient to pass the inspection of a label-conscious consumer, but not enough to deliver any nutritional benefits.
The Healthier Way to Get Your Pumpkin Spice Fix
Okay, so most pumpkin spice delights aren’t exactly good for you. But does that mean you need to institute a full-on pumpkin spice ban?
Ultimately, that’s your call. One pumpkin spice latte or bowl of pumpkin spice cereal in the spirit of the season isn’t going to kill you. Just don’t make it a habit.
A better way to deal when the inevitable pumpkin spice craving strikes? Rather than hightailing it to the convenience store or coffee shop, head straight to your kitchen. Make your own pumpkin spice latte using real ingredients like pumpkin puree, ground spices, and pure vanilla extract.
Or, add a dash of cozy spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice to things like popcorn or smoothies. Or, if you’re pumpkin spice-obsessed, add those spices to everything. You’ll get the same great flavor — minus all of the unnecessary extras.