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Consumer Behavior

The Psychology Behind the Pumpkin Spice Craze

Scarcity, flavor, and nostalgia equal obsession.

Key points

  • People's obsession with pumpkin spice is an intriguing psychological occurrence.
  • The taste of pumpkin spice may be desirable due to its scarcity, as it's only available during the fall.
  • In addition to flavor and taste, pumpkin spice can also create nostalgia.
Valeriia Miller/ Pixabay
Source: Valeriia Miller/ Pixabay

It’s that time of year again with all things pumpkin spice.

The craze is real: doughnuts, coffees, candles, and pies.

It’s irresistible and unavoidable. The deliciousness (aka sugar) keeps us coming back for more. But have you ever tried a pumpkin spice latte outside of the fall?

It may be more challenging to get your hands on one due to the prestige and limited availability, but if you’ve tried pumpkin-spice anything outside of the fall, you’ll quickly realize it’s just not the same.

The pumpkin spice phenomenon is perhaps one of the most intriguing psychological occurrences, as it has an entire nation going near-crazy for several months. But why? What makes pumpkin spice, specifically, so desirable, even addicting? Here’s a hint: It’s not just flavor, but it does start there.

The Science Behind Flavor

Many will argue that the pumpkin spice flavor itself is delicious. Ironically, most pumpkin spices have next to no pumpkin in them but are mostly the toppings added to a pumpkin pie (eg., sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves). Let’s look at a few of these ingredients.

  • Sugar can speak for itself.
  • Cinnamon is a natural aphrodisiac and is known to relax muscles and increase sexual desire. According to Goswami et al., (2013), cinnamon has been long time used in Ayurveda for the management of sexual dysfunction.
  • Nutmeg is another spice that has aphrodisiac properties. In one study on rats, the extracts of the nutmeg and clove were found to stimulate the mounting behavior of male mice and also to significantly increase their mating performance (Tajuddin, et al., 2003). Another study by Iwata et al., (2022) demonstrated that nutmeg had an antidepressant-like effect involving various serotonergic and noradrenergic nervous systems.

These being the most prominent ingredients of pumpkin spice, one can quickly begin to see why there is such a strong pull.


What may be even stronger than the actual taste is pumpkin spice’s desirability due to its scarcity. Social psychology tells us that once something is “limited supply,” “seasonal,” or “for a short time only,” its desirability increases. This can also lead to a bandwagon effect.

It’s human nature to want to be part of something; if everyone is doing it, I want to be part of the group and do it too. People want to feel relevant, involved, and part of the conversation.

The Influence of Season

And then there is the season. Why do people love fall so much?

The answer lies in numerous constructs. Fall is associated with coziness. We can love all things flannel, warm, fuzzy socks, and comfort. Fall is also a time of greater stability and predictability regarding schedules.

Many individuals utilize the summer months to vacation, travel, and take time off. As enjoyable as this is, as human beings we also desire stability and structure. Coming off the summer months of travel, generally, we feel refreshed and rejuvenated and are eager to get back into a structured schedule.

Conversely, there is the excited anticipation of the holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Interestingly, temperature also plays a factor. The summer months are hot. Heat can add to lethargy, irritability, and lounging. As the summer temperatures drop, many areas of the U.S. are left with mild temperatures, perfect for outdoor activities without feeling overheated or too cold.

Further, the transition in season leads to nostalgia; the beauty of the trees changing colors, crisp, dewy mornings, and crunchy, fallen leaves.

As such, pumpkin spice speaks to us on a conscious and subconscious level, interplaying numerous facets that pique our interest, craving, and nostalgia.

So the next time you go through a Starbucks drive-thru with that innate desire for a pumpkin spice drink, understand that it’s truly so much more than just the taste.

Facebook image: soeka/Shutterstock

LinkedIn image: Nataliya Arzamasova/Shutterstock


Iwata N, Kobayashi D, Kawashiri T, Kubota T, Kawano K, Yamamuro Y, Miyagi A, Deguchi Y, Chijimatsu T, Shimazoe T. Mechanisms and Safety of Antidepressant-Like Effect of Nutmeg in Mice. Biol Pharm Bull. 2022 Jun 1;45(6):738-742. doi: 10.1248/bpb.b21-01059. Epub 2022 Mar 19. PMID: 35314522.

Goswami SK, Inamdar MN, Jamwal R, Dethe S. Efficacy of Cinnamomum cassia Blume. in age induced sexual dysfunction of rats. J Young Pharm. 2013 Dec;5(4):148-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jyp.2013.11.001. Epub 2013 Dec 9. PMID: 24563594; PMCID: PMC3930108.

Tajuddin, Ahmad S, Latif A, Qasmi IA. Aphrodisiac activity of 50% ethanolic extracts of Myristica fragrans Houtt. (nutmeg) and Syzygium aromaticum (L) Merr. & Perry. (clove) in male mice: a comparative study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2003 Oct 20;3:6. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-3-6. PMID: 14567759; PMCID: PMC270058.

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