Hey, Pumpkin. Care to Spice Things Up?

Believe it or not, it’s already that time of year when most of us enjoy a good pumpkin spice “whatever.” There are plenty of choices—from beverages to sweets to savory dishes to toothpaste.. But how much do you really know about this magical pumpkin spice? First off, it’s far from a new invention. Some food historians trace the spice’s origins back to medieval Europe, and others go even further back to Indonesia 3,500 years ago.

Secondly, there is no pumpkin at all in pumpkin spice! Although many products do add pumpkin as a companion ingredient or flavor (including the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), which now does include a “splash” of pumpkin juice), pumpkin spice is, in fact, a spice blend, typically of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and mace. Together, it’s a wonderful aromatic and flavor combination that conjures up all the warm-and-fuzzy feelings of fall and Grandma’s pumpkin pie.

The pumpkin spice craze has impacted our product choices, commerce and economy over the past decade. It’s also turned heads in the water industry. Here is just a little food for thought to illustrate why.

  1. 350 million Starbucks PSLs sold since 2003. Assuming those lattes are 16 ounces (even though the 20-ounce Ventis are extremely popular), that translates into more than 6 million gallons of water to make the coffee alone, for just one product, from one company. If you consider how many other shops—from Wawa to Dunkin’ to Wegmans Café and more—also peddle the PSL, well, the water usage implications blow the lid right off your coffee pot!
  2. 350 million Starbucks PSLs sold since 2003. No, this wasn’t a mistake. To appreciate water’s role in your PSL, we have to take an even deeper look at just how much water it takes for coffee to go from “bean to market,” or in other words, coffee’s water footprint. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce one 8-ounce cup of coffee. Doing the math, that comes to a 25.9-billion-gallon water footprint for Starbucks PSLs since 2003.
  3. 50 million pumpkin pies consumed every Thanksgiving. Let’s say the average pie recipe uses 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. With a water footprint of 1,860 gallons per pound, the production of just cinnamon for just one holiday’s worth of pies requires more than 48.4 million gallons of water.
  4. We all scream for ice cream! One of the things I most look forward to is taste-testing the plethora of ice cream options spurred by the pumpkin spice craze. On average, for the three-month pumpkin spice season, U.S. farmers supply 5.75 million gallons of milk for ice cream production, creating a total water footprint of 23 million gallons. And that’s for milk only. We also have to consider other ingredients, like our pumpkin spices, to calculate the amount of water required to satisfy our autumn ice cream cravings.

Needless to say, the trend that began with the PSL really has “spiced up” discussions about water. While we appreciate all that water contributes to our ability to enjoy our pumpkin spice tea, cookies, candles, body wash and so on this season, we must also keep in mind what the pumpkin spice craze means in terms of increased water consumption and, therefore, increased responsibility in water conservation efforts.