Do any of these mass-market pumpkin treats actually contain pumpkin?

Our cultural obsession with pumpkins has little to do with the gourd itself

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Lindsay Abrams
September 22, 2013 7:11pm (UTC)

The official start of fall means a deluge of "limited edition" variations on the theme of pumpkin. More accurately, drinks and foodstuffs usually strive just to evoke pumpkin -- which we associate with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and ginger. Sugar usually plays a major role in their appeal, as does orange food coloring.

If someone were to sit down and eat an actual pumpkin, one serving would fulfill 245 percent of their daily vitamin A requirement, zero fat and only a small amount of sugar. It probably wouldn't taste anything like a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, though. As Cindy Ott, who wrote a whole book about the craze told NPR last year, pumpkin is more of a feeling than a flavor -- she interprets their popularity as an expression of nostalgia for the good old days on the farm.

Below, an overview of some of the more creative pumpkin offerings hitting shelves and fast food menus this season. Some of them contain trace amounts of the fruit (yes, it's technically a fruit). Most don't. See if you can guess which (if any) are legit:

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    True to the second part of its name, Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte contains "natural and artificial flavors" to evoke the taste of fall, but no actual pumpkin. Of course, that didn't keep demand from causing the Great Pumpkin Spice Latte Shortage of 2012. More controversial, at least according to vegan fans of the seasonal favorite, is that it's impossible to order a version that doesn't contain dairy.

    Dunkin' Donuts rolls out an entire pumpkin menu come September. Its classic Pumpkin Donut, though, features two percent or less pumpkin amid its very long list of ingredients; its Pumpkin Pie Donut contains none.


    Pinkberry plays up the pumpkin-derived vitamin A in its seasonal swirl. But even though a single serving only contains 2 percent of the nutrient's daily value, its ingredient list does include the fruit as a component of its pumpkin flavoring.

    Blue Moon

    Back in colonial times, pumpkin was used as a substitute for wheat when supplies of the latter were low. Not all pumpkin spice flavored beers are guaranteed to have been brewed with the gourd, but several take the amount of actual pumpkin they fit in the barrel as a point of pride.


    New this year, Pumpkin Spice M&M's predictably don't have any actual pumpkin squeezed into them. According to early reviews, they don't taste much like pumpkin, either.


    Thomas' limited edition pre-sliced bagels aren't an obvious contender for a product that goes beyond the spice claim, but the bag proclaims that the toaster favorite has "real pumpkin" mixed in.


    No, Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts are not the same as real pumpkin pies, and their "pumpkin pie-flavored filling" contains two percent or less pumpkin. But with a 10 percent daily value of vitamin A, they at least beat out a lot of other pumpkin posers for pumpkin-related nutrition.


    Kashi's Pumpkin Spice Flax granola bars aren't held together with pumpkin innards, but they do contain roasted pumpkin seeds. That counts, right?


    Fast food giant McDonalds is actually one of the few places to offer a seasonal treat that takes the classic form of a pumpkin pie (at least in theory). Its Baked Pumpkin Pie does indeed contain pumpkin filling, and at least to some extent, that filling contains pumpkin.

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Lindsay Abrams

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