Fall is pumpkin season, and Halloween represents the apotheosis of the annual pumpkin frenzy. Or at least, the pumpkin flavor frenzy.
It should first be noted that pumpkins are native to North America. In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the Saint Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons” (large melons). In French this was translated to pompion, from “pepo” in Latin and “pepon” in Greek (words meaning “large melon”) which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”
A 2015 Nielsen consumer report shows that sales of pumpkin-flavored products (including pumpkin-flavored dog food with sales of $12,878,380 last year) are way up:
“Last year, 37% of U.S. consumers purchased a pumpkin-flavored product. And this means big dollars: Pumpkin products accounted for $361 million in sales in the last year alone, having grown 79% since 2011.”
As Forbes reported in 2015, if you add in the huge revenues from Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSL), and millions more from sales at similar drinks from competitors, “Forbes pegs the size of this growing pumpkin spice economy — annual sales of pumpkin-flavored food, drinks and novelties — at more than $500 million this year.”
Not convinced? Check out this amusing list of “66 Pumpkin Spice Foods That Have No Business Being Pumpkin Spiced.”
But oddly enough, sales of actual pumpkins have gone down:
“Sales of fresh pumpkins have been declining, with unit sale losses in 2011, 2013 and 2014 accounting for 8.6 million fewer pumpkins sold.”
How is that possible?
NPR asked the Institute of Food Technologists that very question and found:
“… flavor companies have come up with a simplified recipe that includes just a few of the chemicals that occur naturally in pumpkin and cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg. A small selection of those flavor compounds is enough to make our brain think, ‘Ah, pumpkin pie!’ Instead of actual nutmeg, for instance, they use a compound called sabinene. Instead of cloves, they use eugenol.”
And you thought science wasn’t important in everyday life! (Or at least, that’s what my niece in high school complains when she has to do chemistry homework.)
Nevertheless, it seems like a good thing to do to lend support for actual pumpkins, and Halloween, with it’s pumpkin carving tradition, does just that. There is a very complete guide to carving pumpkins on this Illinois site if you scroll down on this site. (Illinois is the nation’s largest pumpkin producer.)
And if all that isn’t enough pumpkin-ness for you, you could make an effort next year at least to get to Illinois for Halloween, because eleven years of Google Trend data reveal that the state’s most common search for Halloween costume is “Slutty Pumpkin.” (Click here to see what the most common Halloween costume search is in your state.)