Dan Murphy: Pumpkin Phobia

Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice SPAM. ( Spam )

The seasonal insanity of marketing every edible concoction in a ‘pumpkin spice’ flavor has begun again. But one new entry actually makes sense, in terms of culinary tradition, anyway.

Got five bucks you’re don’t need cluttering up your wallet?

If so, may I suggest you consider purchasing the here-we-go-again, let’s-pretend-this-is-brand-new, OMG-I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-coffee creation once relegated to Autumn but now available months earlier: the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

What’s there not to love? A grande size (16 fluid ounces) has only 380 calories (with one-third from added fat) and contains a meager 50 grams of sugar. That might sound like a lot, but in fact it’s less than a comparable size serving of Coca-Cola (52 grams of sugar) and way less than Mountain Dew (60 grams of sugar).

Plus, the beverage also features a nice blend of additives, like potassium sorbate, mono- and diglycerides, carrageenan and sulfiting agents. Who doesn’t need more of those in their daily diet?

Nutritional value (or lack thereof) aside, however, the bigger issue with the pumpkin spice craze is that it’s now everywhere and in everything!

A brief sampling of such products includes pumpkin spice cream cheese, rum shots, liqueurs, pancakes, muffins, bagels, biscuits, cake, donuts and cupcakes — there are even pumpkin spice sprinkles that can be dumped on top of foods that normally would never be adulterated with this manufactured flavor concept.

Perhaps the best example of how deeply this insanity has affected consumer food purchasing is the availability of a product called Michelle’s Pumpkin Spice Granola. As might be expected in a food item targeting an elite subset of woke foodies, the granola is described as “inspired by harvest flavors” and manufactured with “hand-selected ingredients” that are totally free of any noxious GMO contamination.

Best of all? It’s only $28 bucks for a generous 12-ounce package — which is made from recycled and biodegradable materials.

Of course; I’d expect nothing less for what amounts to a fan-friendly $37 bucks a pound price point for the product.

C’mon! Can we please return to reality?

Pumpkin Spice isn’t the Holy Grail of food science. It’s not even in the same Zip Code as the “11 secret herbs and spices” Colonel Sanders (allegedly) locked away in an undisclosed location years ago. It’s nothing more than a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, cans of which have been sitting, unused, in the cupboards of millions of American kitchens for decades.

Vegetable shaming

The final problem with this ill-advised obsession is the fact that pumpkins are outliers in the vegetable kingdom. If we didn’t have Halloween and the mandatory carving of jack-o-lanterns, plus Thanksgiving and the mandatory consumption of the eponymous variety of pie, nobody, but nobody, would bother growing pumpkins.

The fact that foods featuring pumpkin filling — the very use of the f-word reveals how low on the culinary totem pole these orange space wasters reside — have to be super-seasoned with some of the strongest spices on Earth tells you all you need to know about how unappealing the vegetable’s “natural” flavor truly is.

All that said, I must admit that there’s one product joining the craze that actually makes some culinary sense: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice SPAM.


Look, assuming you buy the claim that SPAM bears some kinship to ham, the use of such spices as cloves and cinnamon are part of a venerable tradition in pork processing and thus semi-appropriate for flavoring a canned meat treat.

But in case this new product’s branding itself doesn’t activate the pumpkin gene responsible for triggering impulsive purchasing of anything labeled with that magic two-word phrase, here’s how the PR folks at Hormel are tempting consumer sensibilities:

“The leaves are golden in the trees and crunchy underfoot. The air is colder, but not bitterly so. The apples are ripening and the SPAM is pumpkin spice flavored.”

I get it: Fall foliage, apple cider and Pumpkin Spice SPAM — the idea being that they go together like motherhood, apple pie and saluting the flag.

The latter of which, thankfully, hasn’t been reimagined (yet) in stripes of pumpkin orange-and-black … you know, to celebrate the golden leaves that are falling from trees and crunching underfoot.

Even with this on-trend new version of SPAM, however, the central question lingers: What do you do with it?

As a reviewer on the Yahoo.com/lifestyle website suggested, “Pumpkin Spice SPAM certainly seems to err on the side of a breakfast food and could easily be slathered in maple syrup as you might with breakfast sausage.”

Uh, pretty much anything could be slathered in maple syrup and as a result, improve its flavor profile.

But I’m quibbling. I’ll be neither purchasing nor consuming anything tainted with pumpkin spice, even when “harvest flavors” are in season a couple months from now.

With one exception: There’s just too much street cred to be gained by boasting about eating a Pumpkin Spice SPAMwich for breakfast.

While waiting in line at Starbucks with the rest of the pumpkin-loving aficionados.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-wining journalist and commentator.

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