Fall is upon us here in the Midwest – though you wouldn’t know it with the temperatures in the high 80’s. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a cold, rough winter, and yet it’s been so warm that the poor trees are too confused to even change color. I’m staring to wonder if there even IS a Farmer’s Almanac anymore, or if some guy named “Jim” just starts the “harsh winter” rumor ever year around August to give people hope. I mean, come on – have you ever seen it? And how could a book possibly foretell the weather with the kind of accuracy and repeatability we’ve come to expect from our highly-trained local meteorologists?! Absurd, right? If you had a book that inaccurate you’d throw it away immediately! But regardless of how warm the fall has been, and how cold the winter may or may not be, one thing is certain; the pumpkins are BACK – and they’ve returned with a vengeance.
For years, I figured the best thing to do with these misshapen goo-buckets was just to blow them up, splattering their disgusting, stringy innards all over the neighborhood. I’d actually be lying if I said I didn’t still feel that way, and I’ve cooked up some pretty entertaining ways to blast those suckers into oblivion over the years. Between terrifying homemade fireworks and my giant fruit-firing air-cannon (I’ve always had a flare for the dramatic), I’ve put your standard Halloween hooligans to shame! But as the years go by, and fewer and fewer people are inviting me back to their houses around this time of year, I’ve come to see that there are other worthwhile fates for the humble pumpkin – as long as I don’t have to do the gutting. First there was the #PSL – which was the gateway coffee that got me hooked on Starbucks. The spiced aroma and creamy sugar-soaked taste sunk into my soul like hook into a worm, and now they’ve got me – to the point that I actually have a Starbucks category in my budget. But that was just the tip of the iceberg! When the rest of the business community saw how fanatical PSL drinkers were about the flavor, they immediately hopped on the bandwagon and started producing Pumpkin Spice everything; from breakfast cereals and protein supplements to feminine hygiene products and motor oil. (“Get your car ready for winter – try our new Valvoline Pumpkin Spice Synthetic-Oil blend!”) Ironically, that last one uses the same ingredients as Starbucks. Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in your local grocery store. You can’t walk down a single aisle – INCLUDING the one with the dust mops and kitty litter that everyone just skips – without being inundated with seasonal pumpkin products. Usually I avoid most of these autumn gimmicks, but this year I figured, “What the heck – I’ll take one of everything, and write a blog!” I even roped my wife into participating, and have included her responses along with my own (some quotes may be the slightest bit enhanced for effect…) – in hopes that together we might help you navigate this minefield of artificial flavors, and find your own bit of Fall nirvana. Enjoy!
Breakfast seems to be the most popular meal for the pumpkin pushers, and we hit several categories, the first of which was cereal. I have to believe the is the easiest item on the planet to flavor, color, and package, because – in addition to the variety of Limited-Time-Officially-Licensed-Superhero-Puffs-With-Villain-Shaped-Marshmallows lining the shelves – there are at least 5 different Pumpkin flavors in this category alone. We tried two of them.
Quaker Oats Pumpkin Spice Life Cereal:
Dan’s Take: I was pretty underwhelmed by this stuff. I’ve always been a big fan of Life – never wanting to be labeled as ‘weird’. Obviously I eat it with a spoonful of sugar mixed in, but I think that’s actually in the directions – I’ll occasionally even stray into the Cinnamon Life arena – but the Pumpkin Spice flavor was just unimpressive. It had a pungent aroma of spice, but none of the creaminess it needed to really pull the flavor off. Verdict: Don’t buy.
Nina’s Take: In my opinion, Pumpkin Spice Life fell short for several reasons; First, I was hoping for a little more ‘kick’ in the flavor, second – I don’t actually remember it because it’s been a week or two, so in conclusion, Verdict: Don’t Buy
Kellogg’s Pumpkin Frosted Mini-wheats:
Dan’s Take: These were little bales of awesome – much better than the Life – and even tastier with milk. The frosting added just enough sweetness to balance the spice, and it was nice to eat a mini-wheat that didn’t taste like straw. Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: I don’t like mini-wheats. It tasted like a big bale of pumpkin grass. If you ‘pumpkin spice’ a piece of cardboard, it’s still a piece of cardboard. Verdict: Don’t buy.
Kellogg’s Pumpkin Pie Poptarts
Dan’s Take: If you follow this blog at all you’ll know that I am something of a Pop Tart aficionado, and I was very excited to see that this flavor had returned. I had tried and enjoyed them before, but THIS time I found a way to elevate them to a whole new level – I had a stroke of GENIUS! – I was afraid it might have just been a regular stroke at first, but it turned out to be the greatest idea ever: top Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts with Cool Whip! DIVINE! Trust me, you’ll hate yourself forever if you don’t immediately run out, buy both items, and try this RIGHT NOW! Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: Amazing! By far one of the best non-fruit Pop tarts I’ve had in a long time, and not heavy, like the peanut butter flavors. My BRILLIANT and ATTRACTIVE husband’s GENIUS idea of putting Cool Whip on top made them taste exactly like pumpkin pie! Verdict: Buy
Pillsbury Pumpkin Pie Toaster Strudels:
Dan’s Take: These are pretty tasty – I feel like they jammed real pumpkin pie filling inside, and the crust – as always – is flakey and delicious. Ironically, these weren’t as good with Cool Whip as the Pop Tarts, but they were good enough with the included frosting that it didn’t really matter. Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: I like this – much like the pop tart, the toaster strudel has a good flavor without being overpowering. There is a lot of cinnamon but the vanilla frosting offsets and it’s so good warm and toasty. Yum. Verdict: Buy
Quaker Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
Dan’s Take: Now here’s a product that’s a perfect match for the pumpkin flavor; it’s warm, hearty, comforting, and sticks to your ribs. Eating this oatmeal is like wrapping your tastebuds in a warm blanket as you stare out at the freshly fallen snow. It just tastes…snuggly. Just don’t overdo the water. Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: So it’s good, but it doesn’t taste like pumpkin to me. It tastes like……something else? Verdict: Probably Don’t Buy
Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice K-Cups:
Dan’s Take: As noted above, I’m a huge fan of the PSL. I’m always one of the first in line when it comes out, even though it’s inevitably 85 degrees and humid – I don’t care – it’s like that first Samoa you get when the Girl Scouts FINALLY get around to delivering your cookies every year, or the wondrous pork-like concoction that is the McRib; you spend all year thinking about it, and then all of a sudden, BAM! It’s finally there, and you go nuts. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I found out they were selling Pumpkin Spice K-cups in stores! Something like that could cut my coffee expenditures ~75%! My children could potentially even go to college! Unfortunately, while this had a warming aroma of Pumpkin Pie while brewing, it was weak and disappointing in the cup. It was more like cider with a little pumpkin flavor. It fared no better with a splash of milk, and even whipped cream couldn’t save it. So I’m sorry kids; looks like you’re destined for a future in the fast food industry after all…just do me a favor and hit me up each year when the McRib is coming back. Verdict: Don’t buy.
Nina’s Take: Not being a huge fan of flavored coffee, I was hesitant to try this, but I was pleasantly surprised. It had a nice pumpkin aftertaste without overdoing it. There was definitely more ‘spice’ than ‘pumpkin’, and I though a little dollop of Cool Whip gave it just the right finish. Verdict: Buy
Thomas Pumpkin Spice English Muffins
Dan’s Take: Oh my Good God these are delicious – they smell good, they taste good, they even melt-in-your-mouth good. I enjoy the occasional English muffin – maybe twice a year – but I’ve already bought these a second time – they’re that good. You get just a subtle hint of pumpkin when topping with peanut butter or jelly, or let the flavor of the muffin shine through by topping with just a thin layer of butter. Verdict: BUY LOTS!
Nina’s Take: Oh man, these were good! I let the better melt into all the little cracks and it was delicious! Verdict: Buy
Pillsbury Grands Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls
Dan’s Take: As excited as I was about these, they were really nothing to write home about. They have the same kind of artificial flavor you get with the originals, and very little pumpkin or spice notes at all. That being said, they’re loaded with cinnamon and covered in frosting, so it’s hard to say they’re terrible. Still, Verdict: Don’t Buy
Nina’s Take: As a big fan of the regular flavor, I was excited to try these. While not as pumpkinny as I hoped, they were still very good, and I would buy them again. I think they’d have been better with more pumpkin flavor. Verdict: Buy if you’re really into cinnamon rolls from a tube
Chobani Flip Pumpkin Harvest Crisp Yogurt
Dan’s Take: Because man cannot live on breakfast alone, we moved on and tried some pumpkin flavored items you could eat later in the day. The first these items was the Pumpkin Harvest Crisp yogurt from Chobani, and I was not disappointed. This yogurt is rich, flavorful, and very creamy. The added crunch from the mixers is a nice touch, and saves the yogurt from seeming overly thick. It’s like pumpkin pie in the blender. Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: Loved it. Deeeeelicious. This yogurt was smooth, creamy, and had delicious cream cheese undertones. The cinnamon crunchies made it for me. They hit the nail on the pumpkin head (*Note* I have no idea what that line means, I’m just taking dictation) Verdict: Buy
Chobani Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt
Dan’s Take: In a word, “Blech”. Even though both of these yogurts were from Chobani, this one was WAY too thick – it was like biting into a brick of cream cheese – and almost fruity tasting. It was a hard flavor to place, but it was not pumpkin spice. This also lacked the crunchiness advantage of the first one. There was a clear winner in this fight, and it was the previous entry. Verdict: Don’t Buy
Nina’s Take: Gross. I was not a fan of this, and considering it was also made by Chobani, it fell WELL short of expectations, and actually had a sour flavor. I would NOT buy this in the future, and would urge them to stop making it immediately. It was like someone peed in my yogurt and was like: “Here, eat this.” Verdict: Don’t Buy
Pumpkin Spice Pudding
Dan’s Take: It’s easy to go overboard with sweetness in pudding. For instance, I enjoy chocolate pudding, vanilla is alright, and banana can be good in small amounts; but a flavor like butterscotch – which is great in baking chips or hard candy – makes for nauseating pudding. The pumpkin spice pudding definitely went the butterscotch route with the amount of spice flavoring. It was good for the first bite, but went steadily downhill after that, and was ultimately not good enough to make for an actual meal – it probably would’ve been better as mousse, but I used all my Cool Whip on the Pop Tarts so there was none left to spare for the pudding…Que Sera! Verdict: J-E-L-L-NO!
Nina’s Take: That was good for about three bites. At first, very good – rich, creamy, and full of flavor, but after the 3rd bite I was done. I wouldn’t be able to handle even a small cup – I liked it, but it was overpowering. It might have been better as a topping for something. Verdict: Don’t Buy
Nabisco Pumpkin Spice Triscuits
Dan’s Take: There have been a lot of Triscuits in my house lately – they keep coming out with new flavors that my wife has been buying by the bushel. She eats almost as many crackers as the two-year-old, but truth be told, they are pretty good – even if they are just a dry, thick lattice of crunchy wheat. The Pumpkin Spice flavor was surprisingly tasty – especially with cranberries, which we have about 40lb of on account of shopping at Costco. I’d like to experiment with some other toppings too. For the time being, my wife may have some cracker-competition… Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: Good! I’ve liked a lot of the recent Triscuit flavors; Balsamic Vinegar, Rosemary Olive Oil, and Roasted Red Pepper. They’re doing a good job, and I’m not surprised they jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon. These have a good pumpkin flavor and maybe a hint of brown sugar. I bet they’d be great with Gouda! I also like the recipe ideas on the box. Verdict: Buy
Boom Chick A Pop Pumpkin Spice Kettle Corn
Dan’s Take: I had no idea how incomplete my life was until I tried this product. It was so good that I cut open the bag and licked the residue off the sides. It was pretty sweet, but the delicious “Holidrizzle” frosting added a little bit of moistness that you don’t usually get with popcorn (it was like CRACK! I want to put it on my vegetables!), and there was also a nice cinnamon flavor. You won’t want to share. Verdict: Buy by the boatload!
Nina’s Take: I really liked it! I like kettle corn anyway, but the frosting made this really good, and I would definitely buy it again! Verdict: Buy
Steak and Shake Pumpkin Pie Shake
Dan’s Take: A few weeks ago while choking down a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino at the airport, I thought, “Cold pumpkin just isn’t very good.” Failing to learn my lesson, I swung through Steak and Shake last night during their 2-5pm Happier Hour and grabbed myself one of their Pumpkin Spice milkshakes at half price. I grossly overpaid. My high hopes were once again dashed as I was forced to admit once and for all that cold pumpkin is just fundamentally terrible. Don’t make the same mistakes I have. Learn from me. Verdict: Don’t Buy
Nina’s Take: Wait, you got a SHAKE?
Dan: I think you’re missing the point – it was awful.
Nina: No! The point is that I had to eat oatmeal and pudding, and you’re out eating ICE CREAM!
Dan: Again, I feel like you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story…
Verdict: Don’t get ice cream without your spouse
Lindt Lindor Pumpkin Spice Truffles
Dan’s Take: Wow. These are billed as “Smooth, Melting, and Luscious” and they live up to that description. They’d be dangerous little calorie bombs if you had a whole bag – but they’d definitely be worth the added pounds! Verdict: Buy
Nina’s Take: WHERE DID YOU GET TRUFFLES?!?! Verdict: Hide your wrappers
Starbucks Pumpkin Scone
Dan’s Take: These struck me as being a little like a runway model; sure, the frosting is alluring and they’re very pretty from distance, but they’re actually very dense and unpleasant up close. They ate more like a heavy gingerbread than a standard scone, with way too much extra moisture. Stick with the PSL and grab yourself a cranberry orange scone. Verdict: Don’t Buy.
Nina’s Take: Seriously, I’m going to kill you.
Krispy Kreme Pumpkin Spice Donuts
Dan’s Take: These were only available for ONE DAY, so if you didn’t get one, TOO BAD, LOSERS! Luckily, I’ve got a guy, so I was able to review them for posterity – overall, I thought they were a little too sweet – but I feel that way about all Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, and these were definitely better than most. The cake was wonderfully pumpkin spiced, and they were small enough that you could eat a couple without being overwhelmed by the flavor. Verdict: Wait for next year, and buy
Nina’s Take: Oooo! Soft and pumpkinny! These are pretty awesome!
Dan: There, see? You got a donut! Are we good?
Nina: This isn’t over…
So that’s it! Sure, there are more items out there, but I don’t have the time or money to try them ALL! Geez! I’m here to help, but I can’t do EVERYTHING for you, so get out there and make your own mistakes! Happy Pumpkining! And if the police should happen to ring your doorbell and ask about any exploding gourds, you heard nothing…