The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow #7

Welcome to another The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow, where I irregularly post about products made with that most extraordinary combination of flavors, pumpkin pie spice (or just “pumpkin spice”).  It’s fall and the number of pumpkin spice foods to try is swelling, and they’re rolling out faster than I can write about them, as I’d like to let you know what’s available so you can try them for yourself if you’re interested.  One good thing to come out of this onslaught/backlog is that it allows me to compare similar products, which I’ve done below for breakfast cereal, energy/breakfast bars, beer, and bagels, so let’s get rolling!

🎃 Pumpkin Cereal Department 🎃

Frosted Flakes: Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkin spice cereals are becoming pretty common, and although I generally try and avoid heavily sugared stuff 1, I had a feeling that Tony the Tiger wouldn’t do me wrong for some reason, and my hunch paid off.  These are pretty much exactly what they say, Frosted Flakes with pumpkin spice flavor, and it’s a rich, plentiful flavor too. My girlfriend and I first experienced that flavor begin to take hold at end of our first mouthfuls and then linger into the next bite and so on, daisy-chaining the full pumpkin spice taste along, but that gave way to suspecting the cereal was falling prey to the usual milk curse of losing more pumpkin spice flavor the longer it sat in milk, leaving us with “just Frosted Flakes.”  And yet, later we agreed that the milk actually powered up the pumpkin spice flavor, much moreso than with the other two cereals I talk about below.

The only one of the four pumpkin spice spices missing from the ingredients list is cloves, which might be covered by the “natural flavor” dropped in the middle of the spices on the list, and there’s no actual pumpkin in these, but that’s OK!  It does include allspice and I never cared for cloves anyway. The one possible disappointment I have with it is that Frosted Flakes: Pumpkin Spice is pretty damn sugary, plus if getting soggy in milk after a few minutes is a problem for you like it is for my girlfriend, then you’re going to be saddened.  So yeah, guess I’ll go ahead and make the obvious joke here: they’re grrrreat!

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin-Os:

I couldn’t find a web page for Pumpkin-Os, Trader Joe’s website has let me down!  And the cereal isn’t very exciting, which is what really stings here. These weren’t at all pumpkin spicy but had a nicely sweet, decent cereal flavor anyway.  Each little ring isn’t as dense as a Cheerio ring, which they’re clearly imitating, but they are still very crunchy – more like a cheese puff. They did have an off putting aftertaste that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time, but I didn’t notice it upon second tasting, so now I’m not sure which tasting I should trust more.  Still, these are better than the following brand, just not for any pumpkin spice-related reasons. I should probably invent some dumb buzzword to cover the “decent product, but not a good pumpkin spice” situation I often find myself in. Pumpkin-Os are made with real pumpkin however, but beyond the listed “natural flavor” – a phrase which feels less and less meaningful every time I write it – the ingredients list only had cinnamon of the four traditional pumpkin spices.

Sprouts Toasted Pumpkin Loops:

As I had done with the preceding cereal at Trader Joe’s, I was bought these sort of hoping that  these store brands might have been made by the same company that makes the pumpkin spice Cheerios  and these were pumpkin spice Cheerios,  just repackaged into the Sprouts brand box with its vaguely “country kitchen” aesthetic.  Both store brands have the exact same ingredients, but both boxes say their contents were made “exclusively” for their respective brands.  Hm. Suspiciously, both were also made in Canada. I blame NAFTA or something here, or that Canadian company’s been two-timing Both Trader Joe’s and Sprouts.

That company’s also not doing its best to make good pumpkin spice cereal, the weasels.  Yet another take on the iconic Cheerios cereal, these had the expected texture as Cheerios but were a bit more orange than them or the Trader Joe’s brand, so they look more like pumpkin spice, but didn’t taste it any more like it than the Pumpkin-Os did.  I think. Maybe a tad more, but only by degrees at best, it’s still hardly identifiable as pumpkin spice.  Their strange aftertaste (what is that, “bitter fall,” or “dried leaves”?) is less unpleasant too. Weirdly, I stumbled across another pumpkin-favoring food blog that accused this cereal of tasting like a pumpkin spice candle, which I think I’m about ready to welcome by now, I mean, eating something, candle or not, that tastes like pumpkin spice might be a nice change!  Both this and Pumpkin-Os’ pumpkin spice game improved once they hit the milk, but both still ultimately came up failures as a good pumpkin spice cereal.

Kellogged Konkulsion:  My girlfriend and I taste-tested all three side by side and I’ve listed them in descending order our our preferences..   The Frosted Flakes are decent pumpkin spice, the other two are not bad by any means unless you were hoping for a pumpkin spice experience.

🎃 Pumpkin Bar Department 🎃

RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar, Pumpkin Spice

I’m not much of a fan of energy or protein bars or whatever else you might call these things, so maybe I’m not the best person to listen to about these.  Bars seem to fall into two broad categories, either “sludgy protein bars like the ones they feed the underclass in Snowpiercer,” or “candified granola wolves in ‘healthy!’ sheep’s clothing.”  Still, pumpkin spice is pumpkin spice, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised!

I like the fact that the RXBAR is made of only 8 ingredients, dates being the leading one; dates are loaded with sugar and are pretty much nature’s candy that way, so this bar was pretty sweet, but at least there’s no added sugar, it’s all just from the various plant materials within.  It also has pumpkin in it, and as for spices, the only two of the four confirmed by the ingredients list are cinnamon, which is a fine spice on its own, and cloves, which is flowery trash, yet came in dead last on the ingredients list, so at least there’s that.  But that old chestnut “natural flavors” directly follows cinnamon on the list, and the pumpkin before that.

But how was it?  Well, probably better than eating Snowpiercer roach-bars,2 but it was still just a very dense and gummy sludge that stuck to my teeth way too readily.  The flavor was an OK near-miss for pumpkin spice, although the clove was a bit strong for me, even if there was little of it. The company’s web page said this bar should “remind you of your favorite pumpkin pie,” and I was reminded of how much more I would have enjoyed a real pumpkin pie, so I guess that part was nominally true.  “Smooth pumpkin, blended together with warming hints of cinnamon and cloves” however wasn’t, as it makes it sound as if the pumpkin is a major ingredient, which I don’t think it really could have been, being so far down that list; this sludge can’t be called “smooth”, either.

I can see the appeal of something like this bar if you absolutely have no time to eat and want to grab something you can wolf down at the bus stop or in your car, and that dense sludge has to be good at making you feel like you’ve eaten enough to keep your stomach off your back until lunchtime – and it beats roach-protein bars by a mile – but I’m still not so sold on bars as something worth buying.  Maybe the next one will persuade me.

Pumpkin Pie Larabar Gluten Free Bar

Who doesn’t want pumpkin pie in a bar you can eat sitting at your desk at work?  The website says “while it’s traditionally a holiday dish, we believe there’s no wrong time to eat pumpkin pie,” which is also one of my fundamental beliefs about pumpkin pie.  It goes on to claim their product is “smooth and spicy with a rich festive taste, this pumpkin pie contains 200 calories and the taste of fall,” and admittedly it did taste kind of fall-y, but more like apple pie than pumpkin pie.  Unlike the RXBAR, it has three of the four major spices (it’s missing cloves, even if I’m not) and also allspice. The flavor is an improvement over the RXBAR, and also wasn’t half as sludgy or teeth-sticking, but it still was pretty sweet.  Dates are again the main ingredient, plus pumpkin comes in before any of the spices, so there may actually be more than just a trace in these. But if I had wanted apple bars I would have bought apple bars, so I’m still not sold. These are fine enough for something I normally wouldn’t eat I guess, but not something I’d choose to eat again, which really is more on me than the bar.  Maybe only consider this one if you’re a bar fan or something.

Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar…” Cereal Bar

Aaand here we are in “candified granola” land, keep your arms inside of the moving vehicle and be sure and brush afterwards.  These bar certainly have the most “Fozzie Bear Approved Name” of the three for sure, and while that detail has little to do with pumpkin spice, it’s still worth noting because I think these are aimed at kids as something sweetish but not too horrible that a parent can drop into their lunch.  I suspect this because each bar’s label is just a simple design featuring a happy cartoon pumpkin speaking the product’s name, omitting the usual small print info like nutrition, etc. (these aren’t packaged for resale). Mine also had the manufacture date stamped on it as well, which was June 5th at 7:15 am,3 and boxed up just two minutes later, which may be more info about a bar than I needed, but it does kindle my childish glee to know that pumpkin spice never sleeps, not even in June!

Think of a single Fig Newton minus the fig grit, then make it about three times as long, and you’ll have a good grasp on what these look and feel like.  Like the Larabar, you could have told me these bars were an apple “fall bar” and I wouldn’t have suspected any pumpkin subterfuge, even though “pumpkin filling” is the first listed ingredient.  The box does boast there’s “none of those dreaded partially hydrogenated oils (very unfunny)” in these, but that’s almost like boasting no one’s downloaded a virus with Limewire lately, it’s pretty much an out of date metric.  Tell me instead about not having any palm oils (which is true), which is where food manufacturing has displaced all their pent-up “let’s find some filler fats that don’t separate out when sitting on a shelf” inclinations. But that pumpkin filling of course isn’t just pumpkin but a handful of ingredients, more rice syrup, cane syrup and apple powder than man now, or I mean actual pumpkin.  Overall these are just a bit too small and too sweet – again, like a Fig Newton, a cookie – than something I’d want to eat for breakfast if I had any concern about my health.4

Trader Joe’s website also has nothing about these bars, so maybe they’ve recently cleaned up the place and cut down on some extraneous pages?  It just worries me because now I’m beginning to doubt their dedication to pumpkin spice. Having seen so much information and material disappear from the TJ’s website also means I struggled to find the ingredients list online, which was annoying (Google’s algorithms may have tagged my mania and are trying to cut me off for my own good).  Those ingredients include a few different forms of sugar, which would explain the sweetness, and I do wonder why there’s thickeners in a cereal bar, and finally, once again, there’s more “natural flavor” than the Four Spices Of The Apumpkinolypse. Fine for kids I think, but not for me.

Down To The Bar Conclusion:  If I had to go with one to tuck into my backpack in case the train runs late and I don’t want junk food, the Larabar would win for evoking what pumpkin spiciness might be, and the overall eating experience, I guess.  I really didn’t care much for either of the roach-protein bars, which felt like they needed a tagline something like these I found Soylent’s website: “Don’t want to think about food?” or “let us take a few things off your plate.”  No, do not take something off my plate.  Put something on it that tastes like a pumpkin pie.  Both of the sludge-bars are nearly interchangeable ingredients-wise (one difference being that the Larabar is vegan, whereas the RXBAR has egg whites), so you might feel differently, if your the soulless sort who wants to eat one of these.  If you’re a kid, go for the candy of the apple Fig Newton bar, enjoy the sweetness and the cartoon pumpkin.

🎃 Pumpkin Spice Beer Department 🎃

PUMKING IMPERIAL ALE & WARLOCK IMPERIAL STOUT

OK, enough kid’s stuff, let’s grow up a bit.  Complete with a simple animated video on their website, the Southern Tier Brewing Company really leans into the Halloween kitsch for their seasonal beers and I love it.  I tried two of their beers after being hounded here by a few of you, and they both came up pretty good!

The Imperial Ale’s website says “at first sip, a magical spell will bewitch your taste buds, yet another victim enraptured by the Pumking,” and that rings true enough as the wisp of pumpkin spice glamoured me into drinking this great beer.  It’s damn good stuff, with a full, rich beery taste (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself typing) with little downside… except that the pumpkin spice is but a gossamer-thin ghost at best. I hate to say anything against this because it was such good beer otherwise, but it literally claims it’s “pumpkin pie in a glass” on the side of every bottle, and that’s just simply not true.  The pumpkin spice spell may have broken, or been little more than smoke and mirrors, but when it comes to beer you could do much, much worse than this one.

The web page for the Warlock Imperial Stout’s 5 says “dark and mysterious, reanimate your senses with Warlock’s huge roasted malt character, moderate carbonation & a spiced pumpkin pie aroma” and this time I think they got it right.  Being a stout, it reminded me a lot of Guinness extra stout in flavor, color, and body, but wrapped in a shroud of pumpkin spice. The stout qualities still reign over the pumpkin spice (which seemed to fade the more I drank, anyway), and maybe that’s a good thing because I’m not sure if it would work if the roles were reversed.

Last Call Conclusions:  I’m not much of a beer drinker these days so my perception of these two is pretty strongly colored by the pumpkin spice factor and personal taste when it comes to beers (deffo a fan of stout over paler ales).  The Imperial Ale may be “the King of pumpkin beers” as the website proclaims, but that’s an easy crown to snatch in my experience with other pumpkin spice beers. I came for the pumpkin spice and was disappointed, but still stayed for the beer anyway, this four pack didn’t last long in my fridge.  But the real power behind this pumpkin throne is the Warlock Imperial Stout which won me over with its Rasputin-like power; were I buy to buy more beer from Southern Tier, this is the charmer I’d invite back into my home. Both list using actual pumpkin in the brewing process, which may hold true for Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s other couple of Pumpking varieties, should anyone else feel more beery than I am this fall.  Me, I just can’t see trying a beer with either coffee or chai in it; but then again, who would have guessed pumpkin spice could work in a beer?.

🎃 Pumpkin Spice Bagel Department 🎃

Dave’s Killer Bread Pumpkin Spice Madness Bagels

These nearly win for just including the word ‘madness’ in their name, and Dave’s brand of breads are the best grocery-store-breads I’ve ever had.  No they’re not cheap, because they’re made of real food rather than fillers – every ingredient in these bagels sounds like something that should be in a bread and is not out of place being in bread, which is a real rarity for the American market.

The bagels themselves are pretty decent, a bit chewy, which I understand is something bagel aficionados like New Yorkers define as “good” for a bagel, and true to the ad-copy, the flavor stuff is swirled throughout, but I can pinpoint where the real madness lies: “pumpkin swirl and sweet maple flavor.”6  There it is! These don’t taste like pumpkin spice at all, they taste like maple.  Damn it, Dave, and I used to think you were cool!  Why’d you even bother using three of the four pumpkin spices when you were just going to smother everything with “ORGANIC MAPLE BITS” anyway?  Those “BITS” are way further up the ingredients list than even the “natural flavor”, which of course occurs before the organic pumpkin spices. Dave, why do you betray pumpkin spice like this?  Still… yes, I will admit you make a killer bagel. I was just hoping for a pumpkin spice bagel.  So I’m not mad, just disappointed.7

Thomas’ Pumpkin Spice Bagels

These used to be my jam, and in years past I spent the pumpkin spice season playing a game of cat and mouse (or tease and denial) with my local grocery stores, hoping they had restocked.  When I took sandwiches for lunch, I’d switch from whatever-on-Dave’s Killer Bread to nut-butter on these, and round it off with some pumpkin butter; life was pretty good, as long as I didn’t read the bagel ingredients list.  I think the brand has improved them over the years though, as the current list on their website isn’t too awful, except for “NATURAL & ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS,” but they still don’t have any real pumpkin spices apart from cinnamon (be happy for small favors I guess), but still found room for a couple of thickeners,8 an artificial sweetener,9 and added colors made from petrochemicals – which yes, probably aren’t poison or anything, but why eat petrochemical-derived stuff instead of, I dunno, just food? It can be done, as Dave has proved.

So I think I’m over these.  As bagels go, these are much foamier too, more airy than the other two bagels here, and sort of left me feeling like I wasn’t get a real bread so much as a hard angel food cake or something.  Also, the pumpkin spice taste wasn’t too strong, but I have had less-there pumpkin spice products before, so at least these had that going for them. “One could do worse” sounds like faint praise, but…

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bagels

I went in to Trader Joe’s a true believer, but I leave an agnostic, I guess, except for those madeleines and ice cream I covered in #5 of these articles.  These aren’t too bad, and for once don’t have any “natural flavor” to me to ponder over, but I didn’t really care for them. Maybe the flavor balance of the spices disagreed with me, or maybe it was the “pumpkin flour” (“milled from fresh pumpkin”), which I had never heard of before but is apparently a thing you can use as a flour alternative; these bagels did still have the usual wheat and malted barley flour too, though.  I mean, these bagels aren’t weird, just not great.  Could be that pumpkin flour is where their consistency goes wrong, because as I said above, I understand a bagel is supposed to be a bit chewy compared to most breads, and these aren’t.  If anything, they seemed sort of moistly crumbly instead – not crisp like phyllo dough or a cheese puff’s dry crumble, but like… something unchewy, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a bagel do that before.  Ever had that brand of candy called Razzles that start off as something that sort of crumbles as you chew but turns into gum? That’s the nearest analogue I can think, except these bagels didn’t become gum, or get any more cohesive in my mouth.  I’m probably overstating things, and that certainly wasn’t the worst sensation in the world, just not what I’ve come to expect from a bagel. Combined with the taste, these bagels were kind of a wash-out for me. Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe’s, why hast thou forsaken me?!

My Hole Conclusion:  All three of these disappointed on the pumpkin spice front, but if someone held a pumpkin spice pistol to my head 10and made me choose one, I’d got with Dave’s, easily.  And just look at Dave there on the label: buff, has a porn ‘stache and a ponytail, plays a guitar, what’s not to like? He knows his breads and I’m willing to bet his website sells more merch than Trader Joe’s or Thomas’.

🎃 Extra Credit Department 🎃

I just picked up a package of Voortman’s Pumpkin Spice Wafers and had to slip them in before I go – after all, they’re only wafer thin!  These are the standard “styrofoam-like wafers with thin, thin coatings of flavored sugar between them” kind of wafer snacks you’ve no doubt had in endless varieties and in that regard they’re not all that exciting, just another example of the breed, if a bit on the overly sweet side; I can see maybe eating two of these at a time, but no more than that unless you’ve developed a serious sweet tooth after all that Halloween candy.  But when it comes to pumpkin spice flavor, that’s where these shine. For my tastes of course it could have been a bit stronger, but the taste still really grew on me and my girlfriend after a couple of days.  They’re not made of the best stuff, naturally (or not), because these sorts of things never are, and the “natural flavor” doesn’t really let us know what they’re flavored with, but there is some real pumpkin in here somewhere, at least.  They reminded me of the taste of the Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes covered above, so this marks two winners in one column! These would easily last months in your cabinets, so you might consider picking up a few packages to last you through the long nightmare of warm months of spring and summer.

Whilst googling his name, Megara Justice Machine was recently shocked to discover a rightish-leaning news aggregate site of little renown reprinting his fourth column in this ongoing display of abjectly pagan pumpkin spice worship, which must surely have been used to demonstrate something distasteful about anyone not of their tribe.  The present author isn’t sure just what that might have been, as the site didn’t deem it worthy of retaining a grasp on the pumpkin-spiced content and deleted it, meaning that MJM isn’t even worth stealing from – should you read his past writings on the topic, listed below, you might be able to discern why.

(Perhaps it’s time to set up a Patreon page or something.)