pumpkin spice

Meanwhile in Pumpkin Spice: People Are Hard-Wired to It, Experts Say (Plus 1 Startling Missing Ingredient)

If you’re like us, the beginning of fall isn’t marked by cooler temps or leaves changing colors. It isn’t defined by apple orchard trips, jack o’ lanterns, or even horror movie marathons. It begins – and ends – with pumpkin spice.

Why does this seemingly natural (yet completely manufactured) flavor embody autumn? According to scientists, we’re hardwired to love it.

That’s because there’s a part of the brain that processes smell – and it’s in cahoots with another section of your grey matter that stores memories. How do we know this? Because Jason Fischer and Sarah Cormiea of the Dynamic Perception Lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, have been studying this cranial connection, specifically as it’s related to pumpkin spice.

“Your brain fills in the gaps between the scent of the spices and the memories associated with the smell,” Cormiea, a doctoral candidate in the department of psychological and brain sciences, told CNN.

The irony is that pumpkin spice is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Allspice and cloves are also often included. Did you notice a missing ingredient? Pumpkin. Yeah, there’s nothing pumpkin-y about pumpkin spice. But our brains make the association of pumpkin spice with all things fall and nostalgic anyway.

And don’t forget the power of marketing – the fact that it’s a seasonal, limited-time-only flavor makes it that much more special – and the association between scent and memory that much more powerful.

“The seasonality of it is really intentional, it’s part of the ploy,” Fischer said.

“Part of why it so strongly conjures the season and why they only sell it in the fall is because if it were available year-round, it wouldn’t have such powerful memories,” Cormiea said.

So the next time you walk into a coffee shop, get a whiff of a pumpkin spice latte and can’t resist ordering one to sip on just like all the other basic java addicts out there, blame your brain…and advertisers.

Cover Photo: dado (Getty Images)