Friday, October 14, 2016

The Pumpkin Conundrum

aka What Do Pumpkins Actually Taste Like?

It has come to the attention of the cultivorous behemoth that is Consumerism that using pumpkins in autumn is a really good idea. It’s in your cookies, your coffee, and for god’s sake it’s in your condoms. And in all its prestigitory splendor, the big C has even managed to remove the actual pumpkin from the formula, giving us a great example of the Lingua Anosmia at work: There is no pumpkin in pumpkin flavor.

It doesn’t take long for a hyper-mediated society to figure this stuff out, and so Starbucks has committed to using real pumpkins in their recipe. The change came about more as a response to the Natural Food movement than a recognition of the irony in this bogus beta-carotene bonanza.

So what’s the deal; where does this celebrity squash come from? It starts with pumpkin pie, which via whipped cream goes awesome with coffee. You might just like the taste, or you might like the taste because you like Thanksgiving in general. One thing is for sure, you don’t like it for the pumpkin. Anyway, coffeeshops are as much about their product as they are their placeness. The experience has to be as good as the coffee, and what better way to make people comfortable than to remind them of Thanksgiving. And so it begins, the pumpkin-flavored coffee. But as a flavor, what exactly is it?

The flavor that has revolutionized autumn’s bottom line is Pumpkin Spice, and not Pumpkin proper. This refers to the ingredients most often used to flavor pumpkin pie, and they are cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. Chances are, when you hear “pumpkin flavor”, you can expect these four ingredients. As my friend the chef pointed out, apple pie and pumpkin pie both use the same four spices, only in different ratios. So not only is Pumpkin Flavor not Pumpkin, it could almost be Apple.

But what about the pumpkin sans spice? Let’s combine a couple sources, The Good Scents Company and Sigma Aldrich. (I thought it noteworthy that in their circa 2012 catalog, Sigma Aldrich doesn’t index pumpkin as an organoleptic descriptor for any of their chemicals.)

Looks like there are only two chemicals in relation to pumpkin. The first is sorbyl acetate, its more formal name is trans,trans-2,4-Hexadienyl acetate. Good Scents describes its properties as fresh green, oily, herbal, pumpkin, fresh parsley, soapy, metallicSigma Aldrich describes it as pineapple, sweet, and wine-like. If it all makes sense to you, please leave your input in the comments section below(!). All I can add is that Pineapple and Sweet are quite the ubiquitous organoleptics in the SA catalog.

Next is (E,E)-2,4-decadienal, which Good Scents describes as oily, cucumber, melon, citrus, nut, meat, fatty, chicken, aldehydic, green, fried, and potato. Sigma Aldrich indexes the chemical as one of the "other" aromas in the following categories: Meaty, Citrus, and Fatty. Many, if not all of their categories have a sublisting “other”.

This is where we find Pumpkin, in the Other category. After all, “other” is the most favored of the Lingua Anosmia.

Pumpkin pie filling tends not to be made of the quintessential pumpkin, but a similar variety like butternut squash., Sep 2015

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