It may still be hot outside, but with the arrival of pumpkin spice lattes at cafes around the country fall is already in the air.
This year, Starbucks brought back its Pumpkin Spice Latte (aka the PSL) on Aug. 25, the earliest date the coffee chain has ever released the signature seasonal beverage. Dunkin' debuted its fall-flavored offerings earlier than ever on Aug. 19, more than two weeks before Labor Day.
But not everyone is happy about it — especially Al Roker.
"So I'm going to go on the record. I hate pumpkin spice lattes," Al told his 3rd hour of TODAY co-hosts, Dylan Dreyer, Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin Wednesday.
Hate may be a strong word, but when it comes to great food, Al never messes around.
"There's no pumpkin in it. It's chemicals, it's artificial flavoring — just why?" Al said."OK, if you want it in your coffee, fine. But you start putting it in all these other things, it doesn't taste good! I've tried the Pumpkin Spice Oreos. It's horrible."
When Oreo debuted its pumpkin spice cookies in 2014, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford loved them ... although, they did dip them in wine.
Al's opposition to the PSL is rooted in its deviation from real pumpkin, though some recipes do contain a hint of pumpkin puree. According Starbucks' website, the chain's pumpkin sauce is now made with sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree and other ingredients like vegetable juice, annatto (food coloring) and potassium sorbate. However, if Al was presented with a plate of homemade pumpkin muffins, he wouldn't say no.
"So you like the flavors of cinnamon and cloves, like, you like fall flavors, right?" Dylan asked.
"I like where it belongs — in a pie or in a muffin," Al said.
While Sheinelle supported Al's stance against the popular drink, calling it his best in five years, many people clearly disagree. Members of the The Leaf Rakers Society, Starbucks' private Facebook group devoted to worshipping all things fall, would have plenty to say about why pumpkin spiced-anything should be celebrated. According to Psychology Today, there's a very good reason for folks' obsession with the drink.
It all comes down to neuroscience, specifically as it relates to taste and memory. According to psychologist Matt Johnson, PhD, tastebuds are the least developed human sense, so the brain often contextualizes how something tastes with the situation in which it was tasted. So when people drink pumpkin spice lattes, they're often reminded of what they smelled, heard, felt or even wore the day they drank it. Over time, memories develop and connect to our tastebuds.
Therefore, if a person experiences a happy memory when they tasted a pumpkin spice latte — like the smell of crisp fall leaves, the feeling of the cup's warmth against chilly hands or general excitement for Halloween — they begin to have a pleasant association with the drink every time they have one ... even if they're drinking it on the beach.