In defense of pumpkin: Products that get the flavor right

Oct. 2, 2012 at 9:51 AM ET

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Has pumpkin jumped the shark? We don't think so.

Over the weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: I spotted a sign announcing the arrival of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte—and walked right past it. In previous years, I would have marched right in and ordered one of those suckers, no matter if it were an 80-degree day in late September. 

I didn’t think much of it until the next day, when I read this Wall Street Journal post about pumpkin product overload and it made me wonder—has pumpkin jumped the shark?

Suddenly, I feared that pumpkin is going the way of the pomegranate—remember a few years ago, when it seemed like there was a new pomegranate product every week?

The funny thing is, if you’ve ever tasted straight-up pumpkin, you know it doesn’t taste a thing like this commercialized idea of pumpkin “flavor”—it tastes like any other squash.

But for better or worse, that combo of allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg has come to represent the arrival of fall, and there are good pumpkin-spiced food products out there. One rule of thumb I’ve found: The best ones seem to be breakfast foods. Take, for example, pumpkin beer—as much as I want to like it, I’ve never found one that works. (Eds. Note: Our beer writer might disagree. Taste for yourself!)

Look out for these foods in stores or dig out that bottle of pumpkin pie spice from the back of your cupboard and sprinkle it in coffee, pancake batter, whipped cream and more, to make your own pumpkin-inspired goods.

Pumpkin coffee

A diner in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn served the best pumpkin coffee, and after I moved, I craved it so badly, I called them up and asked for the brand: Barrie House. The company says it’s painfully aware of how many cloying pumpkin drinks are out there, so its coffee has just a hint of cloves, anise and other spices, and a blend of beans with just the right tang of acidity to balance out the sweetness. Add a splash of milk to make it as creamy as a slice of pumpkin pie. Prices vary; at select Wegmans, Sam’s Club and Giant stores or Amazon.com and barriehouse.com

Pumpkin granola

Another place doing pumpkin right is small-batch granola maker Hammer & Tuffy’s. Its just-released Pumpkin Patch granola is full of pumpkin seeds, cranberries, slivered almonds, coconut and flax seeds, and the pumpkin spice mixture is, thankfully, more spicy than sweet. It’s easy to eat this stuff by the handful, but it would also be perfect sprinkled on the top of your favorite fall desserts. $10 per pound, hammerandtuffys.com

Pumpkin tea

If pumpkin coffee is too much for you, try Zhena’s Pumpkin Spice Tea, from the makers of Green Mountain Coffee. The spiced tea also contains a hint of vanilla and makes the whole house smell as great as mulled cider or wine. Curl up with a cup as the perfect low-cal stand-in for a pumpkin latte. $11.95 for 22 sachets, greenmountaincoffee.com

Pumpkin pancakes

There are some pretty weak pumpkin pancakes out there, but this Spiced Pecan Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle mix nails it. It makes thick flapjacks with a hearty texture that stands up to the rich pumpkin pie spices and loads of candied pecans. Yes, it’s a tad pricey, but you’ll get a few breakfasts out of it—just enough for you to get your fill of pumpkin ’til next year. $15 for 1 pound 8 ounces, williams-sonoma.com

Tell us, are you a fan of pumpkin-flavored products? Tell us your favorites in the comments!

Tracy Saelinger is a writer in Portland, Ore. She will probably break down and order a pumpkin latte this week. 

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