I hate to love seasonal pumpkin items. They just waltz into my life, make me crazy with desire, and then, before I know it, disappear. So this year, I decided to go all out and eat everything to find out the best of the best for future years of nomming pleasure. Eating all the pumpkin food I could get my hands on hasn’t been easy, and it definitely hasn’t been pretty, but the experiment is over, and I now present my findings.
While I ate every pumpkin food I could find in the past month, for the purposes of this analysis, I will only discuss foods available at chain stores. (The pumpkin cookie I stole from an MBA student potluck I walked by was delicious, but that’s not going to help you — the fall food fanatic with too many choices.)
I should also note that money and calories were no object in this study. Case in point: Einstein Bros. Bagels. One would assume pumpkin items would be served until the end of the pumpkin season — Thanksgiving — but the Einstein’s on my campus stopped serving most pumpkin foods on November 1. After much pleading, I was able to get a pumpkin latte and they found some pumpkin cream cheese in the back, which I ate on a honey wheat bagel.
Three hours later, I called the Einstein’s a mile away from campus. The manager told me, yes, they still had pumpkin items but they would probably be out by today and the season was over. I had 40 minutes before my next class. I biked over, ordered the LAST MUFFIN and a pumpkin bagel, devoured both, made it to my next class sweating (pumpkin juice?) and realized I had probably spent fifteen bucks and 4,000 calories before 3 p.m. My point is: this study, like me, doesn’t consider cost or health — just taste. I also need to get this off my chest: I have been told there is a pumpkin scone from Starbucks, but I have never seen one. So, if you only wanted to get some critical feedback on said scone, stop reading. If you want to hear about pumpkin ice cream, muffins, coffee, and other, please continue on.
The worst pumpkin ice cream: Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard. It doesn’t even taste like pumpkin. I’m pretty sure it’s just vanilla with food coloring and some crunch bits of cracker to mimic crust. It’s gross.
Not technically dairy, but coming in second to last on frozen pumpkin treats is Jamba Juice’s Pumpkin Smash smoothie. Sometimes Jamba Juice tries to sell me non-sweet veggie-like smoothies, which annoys me, so I was sure to ask that this was a dessert smoothie. I was told yes, “It’s like pumpkin pie in a straw.” At first sip, I LOVED the pumpkin, but then SMASH, the overly-sugary aftertaste hit me hard. Sip and repeat. Overall, unpleasant experience.
Edy’s ice cream and Yogurtland/Mojo frozen yogurt are right in the middle of the pack — smooth in texture and taste, subtle pumpkin flavor, enjoyable. Taking a surprising second: Jack in Box’s milkshake. This is basically what Dairy Queen was going for, only good. The only downside is the heavy faux whipped topping, but since I like faux cream, I still liked the shake. Baskin Robbin’s Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream reigns supreme. It barely tastes sugary at all, emphasizing the simple spices, thickness, and texture. All the excellence of pumpkin pie but refreshingly cold.
Starbucks markets the seeds out of their pumpkin drink, and it’s for good reason: their Pumpkin Spice Latte and Frappachino are delicious — smooth, sincerely pumpkin, but not too sweet. The Bux wins by a longshot against Dunkin’ Donuts’s Pumpkin Latte and coffee, which, has a bitter generic “fall” taste (cinnamon-y), and puts Einstein’s slightly pumpkiny but very sugary drink to shame. But the winner of the pumpkin coffee contest is a surprise underdog. Circle K Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino blows all pumpkin coffees out of the running. It’s smooth, besides little tangible cinnamon flecks, and it tastes strongly of pumpkin — not the sweet impersonation of pumpkin, but legit I-imagined-standing-on-a -pumpkin-patch-when-I-drank-it pumpkin.
Once again, Dunkin’ comes in last. Their pumpkin muffin is really crumbly — it’s even served with cinnamon crumbs on top. The flavor is decent, but the texture makes it not only messy, but dry. The actual muffin part of the Kirkland-brand pumpkin muffin from Costco has a delightful texture and flavor, but it falls short in the topping department. Einstein’s and Starbucks’s muffins on their own are moist with fresh pumpkin flavor, delicate once in your mouth, yet firm during the biting process. But while both muffins had cream cheese topping, Starbucks took the prize for a more simple cream cheese dollop as opposed to the sweeter frosting-like blob Einstein’s adds.
IHOP’s Pumpkin Pancakes barely taste like pumpkin, and they’re dry. (IHOP? more like I HOPE you never eat there) Starbucks’s Pumpkin Bread is also a bit dry for my taste — not as moist as their muffin, and bland with only seeds as garnish. Finally, Dunkin’ Donuts gets something right with their Pumpkin Donut, the perfect balance of sweet and spicy with its discreet glaze and balance of cinnamon and pumpkin flavor. But Einstein’s Pumpkin Bagel and Schmear comes in first — mainly for the schmear, which had a unique taste and made the flavored bagel (kind of a weak flavor, but there nonetheless) doubly pumpkin-y.
(Also, I personally thought the store-brand Philadelphia pumpkin cream cheese was better than Einstein’s, but that’s because Einstein’s was on the cusp of dessert, and I like to pretend cream cheese is my real food for the day.)
Bonus: though Sprinkles is not accessible to everyone, but their Pumpkin Cupcake is the champion over all categories.
Fake Pumpkin Foods
If you’re like me and want to rationalize eating horribly in the name of a “research project,” may I also suggest these non-pumpkin pumpkin foods?
- Pumpkin-shaped Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins
- Pumpkin Peeps
- Oreo Halloween Orange Crème Cookies
- Low-quality Russell Stover chocolates wrapped in orange foil
Now that I have helped you navigate through all the pumpkin possibilities for next year, you might be thinking, “This is all well and good, but if I eat even half of the things you suggested, I will get diabetes!” Good news: Healthy Choice makes a Pumpkin Squash Ravioli!