You don’t need a calendar to tell you which season you’re in. One whiff at your favorite coffee shop, candle store, bakery, brewery or even beauty store, and the scent of pumpkin in the air will let you know.
From pumpkin beer to body wash, pumpkin is the reigning flavor of fall. But the funny thing is, most of these products don’t actually contain any pumpkin, says Dr. Marcia Pelchat, a sensory psychologist who studies the factors behind food preferences at Monell Center, a nonprofit taste and smell institute in Philadelphia.
“What they do contain is the spices that are associated with pumpkin and pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg. These are basically aromas,” Pelchat said.
So, what is it about pumpkin — or the spices used to enhance pumpkin — that makes folks so ga-ga for the gourd this time of year?
“We think people’s reactions to smells are almost completely learned,” Pelchat says. “So, through shared cultural experience, a lot of people find that these spices remind them of the holidays and comfort foods and make them feel relaxed.”
There even have been reports the smell of pumpkin pie acts as an aphrodisiac — especially for men, she adds.
A sense of urgency also has something to do with pumpkin popularity, Pelchat says.
“If it’s something seasonal like the green milkshake and the pumpkin coffee, people feel they have to go and get it before it goes away,” she says.
Ready to go and get your pumpkin on? You’ve probably already downed a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, guzzled a pumpkin beer and lit your pumpkin-scented candles. But here are some pumpkiny products you may want to check out. (No actual pumpkin required.)
Demeter Pumpkin Pie Perfume: It may not quite compare to the aromas coming from a Thanksgiving kitchen, but if you could come close with a fragrance, wouldn’t you at least try? $6-$39.50, www.demeterfragrance.com.
Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie Vodka: Back for a limited time after its seasonal debut last year, this flavored vodka is described by the company as having the “sweet taste of pumpkin blended with the smooth, spicy flavor of cinnamon and nutmeg, topped with a delectable dollop of whipped cream.” (www.pinnaclevodka.com)
Arcona Pumpkin Lotion: Pumpkin extracts — along with a little glycolic acid — are used in this body lotion, $35, www.nordstrom.com.
Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin Lip Gloss: You’ll really want to lick your lips when they’re covered in this gloss all day, $8, www.bathandbodyworks.com.
Philosophy Homemade Pumpkin Pie 3-in-1: This shampoo, body wash and bubble bath smells like our favorite fall dessert. Good enough to eat. But try to contain yourself. $16.50, www.philosophy.com.
Kahlua Pumpkin Spice: Available through Dec. 31, the latest flavor offering from Kahlua tastes great in a Kahlua Pumpkin Martini, according to a release from the brand. Mix 1 part of the liqueur with 1 part vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain into a chilled glass. Well, if you insist. (www.kahlua.com)
Gourmet Tails Pumpkin Biscotti Dog Treats: Why should Fido miss out on the pumpkin-palooza of fall? $5.99, www.petco.com.
Pumpkin Spice M&Ms: We took one for the team and gave this new flavor a spin. We gotta say, we didn’t taste a lot of spice there. Of course, we may need to give it another test — they are still M&Ms, after all. At www.target.com.
Glade Pumpkin Spice Premium Room Spray: When a candle is too subtle, spray your room — or even your whole house — with pumpkin. “The mouth-watering scent combination of cardamom, nutmeg, ginger extract, crystallized caramel, pumpkin spice latte and molasses leads the trail to fall fun,” according to www.glade.com. Does it double as a body spray?
Maine Root Pumpkin Pie Soda: Pumpkin beer? Well, heck, yeah. But pumpkin soda? We’re not so sure, but we’re willing it to give it the ol’ college try. Made with cinnamon, clove and allspice, the company claims it’s “like Pumpkin Pie in a bottle!” $25.95 for 12 bottles, www.maineroot.com.
Smashing Pumpkin Beer Soap: Pumpkin-scented grooming products aren’t just for the gals. This manly soap contains roasted pumpkin mixed with malt liquor, hops, fruits and spices. $7.50, www.thebeersoapcompany.com. Trick or treat? We say treat.