The other day I cut up a sugar pumpkin (a name nearly as misleading as “sweet breads”) and baked it to doneness and then worked it into a muffin recipe. Before I completed the recipe, I saved myself a bit of alluring sugar pumpkin for a taste. Blech! It was neither sweet nor characteristically pumpkin-like. It tasted more like potato paste.
The fact is, despite the prevalence of things like Starbucks’ incredibly popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, the actual taste of pumpkin is nothing like what we collectively imagine it to be. More often, what we are tasting when we taste pumpkin-flavored things are an assortment of spices (all spice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.) as well as (most of the time) a good helping of sugar. But that hasn’t changed the fact that pumpkin, despite its lack of inherent tastiness, is seemingly the new “it” ingredient, possibly even trumping the longstanding heavyweight bacon.
According to a recent New York magazine article, pumpkin is trending high as a very desirable ingredient in everything from pumpkin doughnuts to pumpkin cocktails. Dataessential, a marketing analysis firm says, “This year is on track to be one of the most active years for seasonal pumpkin menuing” and could top the 2011 record, when more than 60 pumpkin-related dishes appeared on the menus of America’s top 250 chain restaurants.”
No doubt this popularity is not due to pumpkin’s inherent flavor, which it is sadly lacking, but to aggressive marketing that equates pumpkin with all things autumnal and good. What do you feel are the virtues of pumpkin (besides its carving properties)? Does all the pumpkin hype and fanfare amount to anything but another vehicle to move highly spiced and sugared foods into the mouths of the easily duped? Or is pumpkin just too great to pass up?