Economy, Millennials

How millennials made pumpkin spice an enduring cultural icon

Inside the rise of pumpkin spice — the millennial obsession that everyone loves to hate

10/17/2021 5:28:00 PM

Inside the rise of pumpkin spice — the millennial obsession that everyone loves to hate

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found that pumpkin spice's popularity lies in its smell, which is the strongest sense to trigger powerful memories. The scent of pumpkin spice evokes cozy, autumnal memories. Even knowing that your drink or food is pumpkin spice revs up the brain, telling it to anticipate the smell and helping us perceive the taste more distinctly.

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—𝐀𝐮 𝐧𝐨𝐦 𝐝𝐞 𝐥’𝐚𝐫𝐭. (@aunomdelart)October 11, 2021Jason Fischer, a JHU professor of psychological and brain sciences and one of the researchers behind the study, told Insider that nostalgia for pumpkin spice is stronger than other flavor and aroma combinations because of the"whimsical feeling of familiarity" that it summons up. It's a"feeling that has been built up over the years as pumpkin spice products emerge to mark the change of the season," he said.

Fischer noted that the perception of pumpkin spice as a millennial drink may be based more on a social narrative than actual buying habits. But nostalgia could be more potent for the generation, he added, since science shows we form stronger associations between odors and memories earlier in life.

"For someone who has spent a large portion of their life experiencing the seasonal pumpkin spice craze year after year, the link between pumpkin spice and fond memories of fall is bound to be especially strong," he said.What began as a millennial drink has ultimately become a cultural marker both beloved and reviled, that's launched an entire industry and a more experiential food economy. Nielsen said pumpkin spice has added to the richness of American food culture in a way that didn't exist 20 years ago, with brands working to create unique, seasonal flavors like spiced pear or salted maple.

As for pumpkin spice itself, Nielsen said,"It may not always be the most popular, but it's place in history is secure."Sign up for notifications from Insider! Stay up to date with what you want to know.Subscribe to push notificationsAn icon in the shape of a lightning bolt.

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