pumpkin spice

It's what we wait all year for (well, some of us, at least.) The perennial favorite: pumpkin spice. It's making its way back onto our shelves and into our hearts. The fall season isn't complete without this highly contested blend spice, but do you know its origin story?

First and foremost, let's get something out of the way: pumpkin spice is actually a blend of different spices, including nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

The history of these spices goes back thousands of years. The oldest of them all, nutmeg, can be traced back to Indonesia 3,500 years ago. Throughout history, these spices have been used for both medicines and food. Cinnamon cured fevers, nutmeg treated flatulence and warmed ginger was believed to be an aphrodisiac. In culinary history, these spices were highly prized among members of the elite.

When discussing the history of spices, it is important to remember the spice trade and its ramifications on indigenous people. In the 1300s, European merchants made their way to the Banda Islands in what is now Indonesia. After this initial contact, the European merchants began trade routes to these islands for these highly coveted spices, no one more so than the Dutch East India Company. At one point, a pound of nutmeg was considered more valuable than gold. The Dutch presence in the Banda Islands resulted in the massacre and enslavement of indigenous Bandanese peoples. This isn't to say you can't enjoy your pumpkin spice lattes or the cinnamon you sprinkle on top of the pumpkin pies, but acknowledging the origin of the spices we use today is crucial.

Throughout their early history, the spices in pumpkin spice were mainly used as medicine and in food. Nutmeg was believed to cure flatulence, cinnamon for fevers, and warmed ginger was considered an aphrodisiac. In 1675, a British pumpkin pie recipe called for cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. In 1761 "The Practice of Cookery" listed an ingredient called "mixed spices," which included nutmeg, clove and Jamaican pepper.

But how did we end up with the bottles we see in the spice aisles? While recipes listed the four spices together, they would not be packaged together until 1934. The most prominent spice manufacturer at the time, McCormick & Company, came out with a new product called pumpkin pie spice. Previously, bakers had to buy the usual four spices separately, resulting in more expensive grocery trips and the ubiquitous wild goose chase when one grocery store ran out of a particular spice. Packaging the spices together made baking easier. After McCormick & Company released their version of the spice blend, many other companies followed suit.

Today, pumpkin spice is a holiday staple. For many of us, the moment this spice makes its way back to store shelves and lattes marks the beginning of the holiday season. For some of us, it also marks the beginning of three months of tasting pumpkin-laced everything until you either become one or succumb to your fate of never escaping the pumpkin. Whatever relationship you have with pumpkin spice, you can't deny it has a fascinating history.