The Science Behind Our Pumpkin Spice Obsession

The Science Behind Our Pumpkin Spice Obsession

 It’s that time again… when the leaves start to change to glorious hues of red and gold,  and the moon grows to immense proportions as it looms over the horizon. When the crisp early morning and late evening air makes us reach for a sweater, and when the arrival of the pumpkin spice latte is heralded far and wide.

The pumpkin spice arrival frenzy has continued to grow in popularity ever since Starbucks introduced its seasonal latte version in 2003.

Although, Starbucks is often credited for initiating the obsession for this fall flavour, the real reason it was such a success has to do with our brain and not the seasonal beverage industry.

Although it was a Starbucks’ employee that brought the latte idea to the Research and Development team for new seasonal flavours, the flavour hit the right notes with their Beta tests thanks to a small, specialized sensory nerve bundle that is tucked between the amygdala (responsible for tying emotional meaning to our memories) and the hippocampus (new memories, learning and emotions) called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is situated at the front our brains, in close proximity to- you guessed it- our nose.

Scents travelling through the Olfactory cortex stimulates the amygdala and hippocampus to recreate vivid memories, pleasant or otherwise.

Studies showed that when subjects were presented with the pumpkin spice flavoured beverages, they could not identify the flavour when they were blindfolded, and while their noses were plugged. However, once they unplugged their noses and took a whiff of the aromatic cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg concoction, they immediately recognized it.

The Olfactory Cortex plays a critical role in scents and memory. Fresh cut grass can evoke a memory of a childhood summer, a freshly cut pine tree can bring back memories of the holiday season and pumpkin pie spice stirs the memories of changing seasons, cozy fires and hosted dinners with family and friends. These nurturing memories evoked by scents is what the candle industry is banking on. But just as wonderful memories can be revitalized, uncomfortable memories that are buried deep in our subconscious can also be stirred by a scent.  

In the world of brain science, we are learning how to harness the power of positive memories associated with scents in order to improve mood, reduce stress, and disrupt cravings (The Psychology of Odor and Memory by researcher Rachel S. Herz).

So, while supplies last, enjoy your cup of wonderfully, wafted memories. If pumpkin spice doesn’t do it for you, find a scent that does bring you to your happy place and power your day with positive thoughts.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published