No, Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Doesn't Have Pumpkin In It -- But Neither Do Most Pumpkin Pies

Back in August, just as pumpkin spice season was about to descend upon us all, Vani Hari at Food Babe revealed that there is “absolutely no real pumpkin” in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Everyone freaked out, taking to social media to express their disdain. ‘Pumpkin is literally in the name,’ they cried, ‘how can these lattes not have pumpkin in them?!’

It seemed obvious that Pumpkin Spice Lattes were named after the spice mix used in fall favourites like pumpkin pie, but many people were still surprised.

That spice mix — namely cinnamon, cloves, gingers, and nutmeg — is what makes your lattes taste delicious, not actual pumpkin.

For those of you thinking ‘why couldn’t they include pumpkin? Then it would taste like pumpkin pie,’ I have two answers for you: First, then it would be called a Pumpkin Pie Latte, and secondly, most pumpkin pies aren’t made with real pumpkin, either.

I’ll give you a moment to process that.

Dickinson pumpkins libby's selectUniversity of Illinois Extension‘Dickinson’ pumpkins are more like butternut squash than sugar pumpkins.

The orange, round, sugar pumpkins we all know so well are actually really bad for making pumpkin pie, mainly because the insides are just too fibrous and watery (roughly 90% water) and not sweet enough to make a decent filling. You can do it, but you probably won’t enjoy eating it.

Instead, the majority of ‘pumpkin’ canned mixes are developed and sold by a company called Libby’s Select (roughly 85% of the flavoring comes from there, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center). These mixes are made with Libby’s specially developed “Dickinson pumpkins,” which aren’t really pumpkins at all but a type of squash known as Cucurbita moschata.

Not to get super scientific, but traditional sugar pumpkins are a species of winter squash known as Cucurbita pepo while butternut squash is Cucurbita moschata. That means Dickinson pumpkins are more closely related to butternut squash than our friendly orange sugar pumpkins.

The Dickinson pumpkins (and butternut squash) are simply better suited to pie-making than our Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins. Their insides are fleshy, sweet, and creamy, pureeing easily and tasting delicious with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg — our “pumpkin” spices.

Slice of pumpkin pieAPMight as well call this ‘squash pie.’

This is not to say that the Cucurbita pepo variety of pumpkins are not also delicious, they’re just better suited to savory dishes, and not pies…or lattes.

So the next time you order a Pumpkin Spice Latte, enjoy the delicious fall flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and be thankful there’s no real pumpkin in your cup.

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