Taste Testing This Fall's 12 Craziest Pumpkin Foods

Gone are the days when pumpkins were good for jack-o’-lanterns and seeds only. By the middle of September, it’s virtually impossible to walk through a grocery store without seeing something with pumpkin or pumpkin spice.

Sales of pumpkin spice products topped $361 million last year, up about 80 percent from 2011, so it’s clear the autumnal spice isn’t going away anytime soon. So long as there’s money to be grabbed, food producers will infuse pumpkin into their products at will.

So with our latest Taste Test Tuesday, we decided to sort out the good uses of pumpkin spice from the crazy, trend-hopping-gone-overboard uses of the spice. We took to supermarkets around Westchester and found 14 pumpkin-spiced products total for testing. There’s certainly more, but it’s best to limit the options and avoid an office mutiny. People only have so much patience for pumpkin.

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A quick primer on the ratings: Since this is not a straight comparison of one product across multiple brands, the scores (between 1 and 5, with some occasional zeros from staff members bad at reading directions) indicate more than just taste. We also factored in whether this product even needs to exist in the first place. A score of one indicates that this was an insane, unnecessary use of pumpkin. A five indicates that this was a delicious and totally smart use of pumpkin. The dividing line between crazy and worthwhile is, naturally, 2.5.

Lets start with the crazies and work our way up…

Photos by Eliza Gladwin

Product: Pumpkin Spice Almond Milk

Purchased: Whole Foods

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Score: 1.6

Sorry pumpkin spice almond milk, but the people have spoken, and they hate you. Comments ranged from the straightforward “WTF,” to the specific “weird chai aftertaste,” to the somewhat existential, “why does this even exist?” One tester described the taste as “interesting,” which one could construe as positive.

            

Product: Pumpkin Spice Cashews

Purchased: Stop & Shop

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Score: 2.1

Stop & Shop really went for it with the pumpkin-spice cashews, but the taste testers here at the magazine did not reward them for it. Things got off to a bad start when the first tester wrote, simply, “GROSS,” and hardly improved from there. “Tasted more like burnt sugar than actual pumpkin,” read one comment, while another argued the cashews actually tasted more like they were “honey roasted.”

 

Product: Pumpkin Cereal Bar

Purchased: Trader Joe’s

Score: 2.4

With the Trader’s Joe’s cereal bar, we reach the first of many pumpkin items that appeared to split the discerning taste buds of the magazine’s testers. With a score of 2.4, this bar technically lands on the crazy side of the spectrum, but some people did like it. “Nice change for a cereal bar,” one taste tester wrote. “Would eat again!” But then comments like that were tempered with ones like this: “Taste is equal parts candle and air freshener.” Ouch.

 

Product: Pumpkin Spice Butter

Purchased: Trader Joe’s

Score: 2.5

The pumpkin butter results were very spread. It received seven scores of either four or five, but also seven scores of one or zero, out of the 17 people who tasted it. A comment from a fan: “The spice-factor is a bit on the heavy side, but literally everything else about this stuff is enjoyable.” And from a pumpkin butter hater: “So so sweet. Why?” The previous reviewer actually tried to give a negative score, which this moderator decided just to count as a zero.

 

Product: Pumpkin Spice Oreos

Purchased: DeCicco’s

Score: 2.7

Oreos are the big name at this taste test, and actually the hardest to find. Rumor has it they sell quickly wherever they arrive. Either way, tasters were generally lukewarm about the cookie. “I wanted to hate this—I’m an Oreo purist—but it’s pretty good,” one tester wrote. But another countered with “very sweet, can taste the sugar granules.” And one succinct tester described the cookie only as “not terrible.”

 

Product: Tuscany Pumpkin Sauce

Purchased: Cucina Antica Foods Corp, Mount Kisco

Score: 2.7

The pasta sauce, made by Mount Kisco specialty Italian sauce company Cucina Antina Foods Corp., was the item that garnered the most eye-rolls when it was presented to the Westchester Magazine taste testers, but then also the one that received the most verbal reactions of “Wow” and “That’s actually pretty good.”  One taster wrote that it has “just enough pumpkin” to still be tasty. While another wrote it was “better than the more sugary uses of pumpkin.” Still, it had its detractors, such as the tester who wrote “Ew,” then drew a frown-ey face.

 

Product: Pumpkin Shortbread Cookies

Purchased: Whole Foods

Score: 2.9

A more traditional use of pumpkin, these cookies went over generally well. “Level of pumpkin spice is just right,” wrote one tester. “Very sweet, but a bit crumbly,” wrote another.

 

Product: Laurel Hill Pumpkin Seed Tortilla Chips

Purchased: Whole Foods

Score: 2.9

People generally didn’t hate these tortilla chips. Of course, it’s also possible they just like tortilla chips in general, as the most common feedback was on the lack of any pumpkin taste. “Fine,” wrote one tester, “but where’s the pumpkin taste?”

 

Product: Pumpkin-flavored Frosted Toaster Pastries

Purchased: Trader Joe’s

Score: 3.2

While Pop Tart has its own variant with pumpkin, we went with Trader Joe’s brand for this test. “Sweet, but not too sweet. Yummy,” one tester wrote. “Very sweet, but didn’t taste much pumpkin,” wrote another. 

 

Product: Pumpkin Cookies

Purchased: Stop & Shop

Score: 3.2

Stop & Shop’s pumpkin cookie was the highest rated of all three cookies tasted. Tasters loved its cheesecake filling, which one taster wrote went “perfect with the the pumpkin cookie.” Another reviewer gave the cookie “two thumbs up.”

 

Product: Entenmann’s Pumpkin Muffins

Purchased: A&P

Score: 3.4

The people loved the “upfront pumpkin flavor” of these muffins from this mega mini muffin producer. The pumpkin flavor added a “nice sweetness to the muffin,” another reviewer wrote. Although one taster did note the muffin seemed “very processed and not healthy.” Fair enough.

And the winner is…

 

Product: Pumpkin O’s

Purchased: Trader Joe’s

Score: 3.9

In a bit of an upset victory, Trader Joe’s specialty cereal item, Pumpkin O’s (essentially Cheerios with pumpkin flavor) came away top pumpkin. People loved the “subtle pumpkin flavor” and noted that they couldn’t wait to try the cereal with actual milk (just not the far less popular Trader Joe’s pumpkin almond milk). “Tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios, but with just enough pumpkin,” one reviewer wrote, seemingly summing up the cereal’s wide appeal.

Bonus Beer Section:

 

We turned to two pumpkin beers to wash down all that sugary pumpkin: Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale and Elmsford-based Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Pumpkin Ale. And so it didn’t look like we were just seeking an excuse to sip beer on the clock, we rated those as well:

Product: Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale

Score: 2.4

Tasters weren’t huge on the Brooklyn Brewery’s only pumpkin-flavored ale. “Don’t taste the pumpkin, just really hoppy,” one taster wrote. Another wrote that the beer has a “good taste, but I wouldn’t know it was pumpkin flavored.”

Product: Captain Lawrence Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale

Score: 2.8

The local beer fared slightly better among the Westchester Magazine tasters. “Good flavor, without being overpowering,” wrote one reviewer. But again, the people appeared to want more pumpkin taste, as one reviewer summed up the overall flavor as “very bland.” 

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