|The taste of fall (Credit: AftonApple.com)|
According to a seven-page PowerPoint from the MenuTrends database of the firm Datassential, “This year is on track to be one of the most active years for seasonal pumpkin menuing” and could top the 2011 record, when more than 60 pumpkin-related dishes appeared on the menus of America’s top 250 chain restaurants. (Datassential really gets into this stuff, further reporting, among other things, that in appetizers, pumpkin is more likely to be roasted than toasted or puréed.) Zero in on beverage menus, and the increase is even more striking: Pumpkin drink offerings have increased 400 percent during the past five years.
The weird thing about pumpkin’s rise to baconlike ubiquity is that pumpkin, on its own, is not a very appetizing food at all. A dense and stringy fruit, it needs the accompaniment of a lot of sugar and spices before it becomes particularly palatable. As a marketing tool, however, pumpkin is perfectly pitched for today’s eaters. The fact that it needs that extra flavoring? That’s a bonus, not a bug, as far as the restaurant business is concerned. A pumpkin dish, in the era of the locavore, has connotations of virtue—when you think of pumpkin, you think of something farm-grown and wholesome. That helps make it a permissible indulgence, even when what you’re eating is mainly just sugar and spice. Never mind the recipe realities—savor those associations! [snip]
...The secret of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, for instance, is that it’s just a latte spruced up with pumpkin-flavored syrup—connoisseurs cite cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. Dunkin’ Donuts takes the feint further, dropping the “spice” from the name, though that’s mostly what you’re tasting. But no matter: If a restaurant served actual pumpkin purée, the taste and texture might shatter customers’ illusions. “Pumpkin,” on the other hand, is delicious.It has long been my assumption that there was some sort of advance in flavor chemical manufacturing that allowed for this explosion in pumpkin flavoring. I was mentally picturing rough hard-hatted men in white coveralls, loading pallets of pumpkins into reactors, turning on the steam to the jacket, the oh-so-careful distillation of essence of pumpkin... Now all my dreams are shattered, now that I've learned that it's probably just the spice and the sugar that is so popular.
I know my readership in the flavorings industry is not large -- anyone care to comment whether there is a single molecule of pumpkin flesh in pumpkin flavoring?