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Pumpkin is fall’s comfort flavor, observers say

Have you been to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte so far this season?

No? You say you don’t like Starbucks’ coffee? Well, you could go by a local outlet of Dunkin’ Donuts, which has upped the ante with its pumpkin creme brulee latte. Or Krispy Kreme, for a pumpkin spice latte. Or The Coffee Bean &Tea Leaf, for pumpkin spice coffee.

Want something cold? You could try Starbucks’ pumpkin spice Frappucino. Or Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin iced latte, pumpkin mocha iced coffee or pumpkin creme brulee iced coffee.

Oh, you say you don’t drink coffee? No problem, you can get your pumpkin-spice flavoring in about a zillion other food items at this time of year.

If you’re looking for a beverage that’s a little harder, you could try Burnett’s Pumpkin Spice Vodka or Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie Vodka. Or pumpkin beer by Shock Top and a bunch of other brewers.

You’d rather get your pumpkin-spice flavoring in food? How about pumpkin spice Jell-O pudding? Pumpkin spice Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies? Or Ben &Jerry’s pumpkin cheesecake ice cream with a graham cracker swirl? Baskin-Robbins’ pumpkin cheesecake ice cream? Cold Stone Creamery’s pumpkin ice cream? A Pumpkin Pie Blizzard from Dairy Queen? Or Las Vegas’ own Luv-It Frozen Custard’s pumpkin custard?

Pumpkin-spice sweets abound, in fact. Dunkin’ has its pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake and pumpkin crumb cake doughnuts, Krispy Kreme its pumpkin spice cake and pumpkin cheesecake doughnuts. There are Jet-Puffed pumpkin spice marshmallows, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s and Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses.

If you’re looking for something a little healthier, you might consider Thomas’ pumpkin spice bagels and pumpkin spice English muffins, or Einstein Bros. Bagels’ pumpkin bagels, pumpkin walnut crunch bagels, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin clusters, maybe with a spread of pumpkin shmear and consumed with a pumpkin latte. Or Chobani pumpkin spice Greek yogurt, or Noosa Pumpkin Yoghurt.

If it all is enough to make your head explode like … well, like a pumpkin, know that you’re not alone. The pumpkin spice flavor craze has even inspired a YouTube clip called “Pumpkin Spice: The Movie.”

“And it’s not even food; it’s soaps and air fresheners,” wailed Jean Hertzman, associate professor and dean of operations and academics at the Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I, personally, one more pumpkin spice — probably don’t need that.”

So what’s the reason for the pumpkinapalooza?

“I think it’s comforting,” said Jaret Blinn, executive pastry chef at Red Rock Resort. “It’s the cooler time of the season; it’s the warmth, the spice, the hot apple ciders. Cooking with Mom, Grandma and Grandpa during the holidays, the pumpkin pies, the apple pies, the stuff you would have at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s almost like it’s a happy scent, it’s warming.”

“People want things that remind them of comfort, remind them of home,” Hertzman said. “The spices, like the cinnamon and the nutmeg, have a warming effect, and they go so well with the teas and the coffees and things like that. It is very much related to the comfort foods.”

And you’ll notice that most of those autumnal flavors are pumpkin-spice, not just pumpkin.

“Pumpkin doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but you get the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger into it, it just opens it up,” Blinn said. “You’ve known this since childhood.”

And he pointed out that those autumnal spices are needed to jazz up a whole lot of things at this time of year in addition to pumpkin.

“Apples, quinces, pears — some of them have good flavor, but a lot of them don’t,” he said. “You need to bring it out with the spices. During the summer and spring, you have all the stone fruits and the berries and a lot of fruits that have better natural flavor. I love spring and summer because you have the cherries, the peaches, everything like that. Come fall, we want the spices.”

At Red Rock, he said, they’re highlighting those flavors with spiced pumpkin breads, spiced pumpkin muffins and a sticky pumpkin spice cake with Valrhona chocolate soup, poured tableside and served with spiced ice cream, which is a featured special at T-Bones Chophouse. And he said it’s all in response to guest demand.

“It’s a seasonal thing,” Blinn said. “They definitely like going toward the pumpkins and the apple pies during the fall season.”

As does Blinn himself.

“I love the fall,” he said. “I love being warm and cozy, having apple pie at home with the kids. It’s bringing you close to the holidays and the family. Those aromas and flavors are what bring you home.”

If you want to think about all of that, you can do it while you’re munching on a Pumpkin Spice Oreo. They’re due in stores Sept. 24.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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