Is Pumpkin A Fall Scent?

The topic at hand considers whether pumpkin is primarily recognized as a fall scent. Strong evidence points to the idea that for most people, pumpkin scents and aromas are linked to the fall season more than any other time of year. When one encounters the aroma of pumpkin spice or breathes in the earthy scent of an actual pumpkin, it triggers thoughts of everything that is wonderful about autumn – vibrant leaves, cool air, and holidays. Indeed, the association between pumpkin fragrances and fall is robust enough that for many, the pumpkin spice aroma has become a kind of olfactory signal announcing the new season.

History of Pumpkin Scents

Pumpkins have long been associated with fall due to their harvest season. Pumpkins are warm-season crops that are typically planted in early summer and harvested in October when they reach full maturity. The tradition of pumpkin picking dates back centuries to when Native American tribes gathered wild pumpkins as an important food source leading into winter.

When European colonists arrived in North America, they adopted the use of pumpkins and incorporated them into their autumn traditions. Pumpkins were an integral ingredient for pies, breads, soups and other foods that were commonly eaten at harvest celebrations. The spices used in typical pumpkin recipes like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves came to define the signature “pumpkin spice” flavor profile.

As pumpkins continued to be a hallmark of fall feasts and festivities, their unique scent also became ingrained as part of the seasonal experience. The aroma of pumpkins, as well as pumpkin pies baking in the oven, signaled the arrival of fall for many families. So while pumpkins themselves have no inherent “fall” scent, the nostalgic associations with pumpkin harvests and holiday baking are why pumpkin notes evoke such strong connections to the autumn season today.

Scents and Seasonal Associations

Certain smells can trigger strong memories and emotions in people. This is because our sense of smell is directly linked to the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. When we smell a particular scent, it can unlock memories and feelings associated with that smell.

This is why certain scents become so strongly associated with seasons or holidays. For example, pine and cinnamon are connected to winter holidays, while citrus and floral scents remind us of spring. Pumpkin spice is a scent that has become an iconic representation of autumn.

During the fall, the scent of pumpkins, cinnamon, nutmeg and other warm spices creates nostalgic feelings and reminds us of the sights, sounds and traditions of the autumn season. Retailers and home fragrance companies capitalize on these scent associations to evoke the essence of fall in their products.

So while pumpkin spice as a scent has no intrinsic connection to autumn, the repetitive use of it year after year by brands and consumers has forged a strong associative link. Thanks to this seasonal branding, the scent of pumpkin spice triggers nostalgic autumnal memories and feelings for many.

Popularity of Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkin spice has become an iconic scent and flavor representing fall. According to Nielsen data, sales of pumpkin flavored products in the U.S. increase dramatically starting in early September. In 2019, over $500 million was spent on pumpkin flavored products from August through October. This was a 15% increase compared to the previous year.

The pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks has become emblematic of the popularity of pumpkin spice. Starbucks reports that the pumpkin spice latte is their most popular seasonal drink with over 424 million sold since its introduction in 2003. In 2019, over $100 million was spent on Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes in August and September alone.

This surge in pumpkin spice product sales illustrates how strong the association between pumpkin scent and the fall season has become. Retailers are eager to stock pumpkin spice products to capitalize on this seasonal demand.

Retailers Promoting Pumpkin Scent

Pumpkin spice has become a highly popular scent during the fall, and many retailers create products intended to invoke the smells of autumn. Here are some examples of pumpkin spice offerings from major brands:

Bath & Body Works releases new fall fragrances every August, many of which feature notes like pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Some of their most popular yearly pumpkin scents include Pumpkin Pecan Waffles, Pumpkin Apple, and Pumpkin Cupcake. They offer these in hand soaps, body lotions, candles, and wallflowers.

Yankee Candle sells both jar candles and wax melts in pumpkin scents such as Pumpkin Wreath, Creamy Pumpkin, and Pumpkin Apple Cider. Stores like Target and Wal-Mart also offer seasonal pumpkin-scented candles as an affordable option.

During the fall, Starbucks offers the Pumpkin Spice Latte featuring espresso and steamed milk with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. This drink first appeared in 2003 and has grown into one of their most popular seasonal offerings. Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s, and other coffee chains also debut pumpkin coffee drinks and baked goods each autumn.

Many grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s stock pumpkin spreads, butters, baked goods and other treats meant to deliver the tastes of fall. Limited edition pumpkin cereals, yogurt, ice cream, and candy are produced by major food brands as well.

The ubiquity of pumpkin spice products shows retailers know consumers desire cozy, nostalgic scents that remind them of the fall season.

Use in Home Decor

Pumpkin scented candles and home fragrances have become hugely popular for home decor during the fall season. The distinct sweet, spicy aroma of pumpkin is now strongly associated with autumn and harvest time. As soon as the leaves start changing color and the air becomes crisp, many people love bringing out their pumpkin scented candles to make their homes smell like the fall season. The demand is so high that retailers now produce new collections of pumpkin scented products every year for autumn. Customers eagerly await the release of the latest pumpkin scents for their home like Pumpkin Apple Pie, Pumpkin Caramel Latte, Spiced Pumpkin Cupcake and more. People burn pumpkin candles not just for their pleasant fragrance, but for the nostalgic fall feeling they evoke. The scent elicits cozy memories of crunching leaves, trips to the pumpkin patch and sipping warm apple cider. For many, a house doesn’t quite feel ready for fall until the pumpkin scented candle is lit. The popularity of pumpkin scents shows how certain smells can become tied to a season in our minds.

Psychological Effects

The comforting, nostalgic scent of pumpkin can trigger happy memories and emotions for many people. Studies have shown that certain smells are strongly tied to memory formation and recollection. When we smell a familiar scent like pumpkin spice, it can transport us back to joyful moments from our past.

During the fall season, pumpkin becomes a ubiquitous scent. Candle companies, coffee shops, and home bakers start producing pumpkin-scented goods. For many, this creates nostalgia and a general feeling of hygge – a Danish concept of coziness, comfort, and contentment. The pumpkin scent becomes tied to memories like spending time with family, celebrating holidays, enjoying the fall harvest, and more.

Retailers are well-aware of this psychological tie between scent and memory. That’s why so many seasonal products feature potent pumpkin spice smell – they want to tap into those warm, positive emotions connected to pumpkin and autumn. So while the craze around pumpkin-scented everything is commercially driven, it’s working because it builds upon the underlying nostalgic sentiments the scent can evoke.

Pumpkin Festivals

Pumpkin festivals and fall fairs provide a festive way to celebrate the autumn season. These events often take place in September and October when pumpkins are ripe and plentiful. From picking your own pumpkin at a patch to pumpkin carving contests, these community gatherings fully embrace the pumpkin theme.

One of the most famous pumpkin festivals is held annually in Circleville, Ohio. This Pumpkin Show attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see record-breaking pumpkins and enjoy rides, shows, and pumpkin treats. Other popular events are held across the United States and Canada, including the Pumpkinfest in New Hampshire, the Pumpkin Nights Festival in Calgary, and the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival in California.

The ambiance at these autumn events is very sensory, with pumpkin scents diffusing through the air. Vendors sell pumpkin pies, muffins, donuts, and other tasty treats. Attendees take photos posed in pumpkin patches or with creatively carved jack-o-lanterns. These community celebrations allow people to fully immerse in the sights, sounds and smells of fall.

Exceptions and Variations

While pumpkin scents are strongly associated with fall, there are some cases where the scent is used outside of the autumn season:

  • Summer pumpkin scents – Some brands offer fresh, citrusy pumpkin scents marketed for summer. These are lighter and blended with summery notes like lemon, bergamot, and lavender.

  • Year-round pumpkin candles – Big box stores like Bath & Body Works sell their popular pumpkin scents year-round to meet consumer demand.

  • Pumpkin recipes – Pumpkin flavors aren’t just for fall baking. Some people enjoy making pumpkin pancakes, smoothies, and other treats during warmer months.

  • Tropical pumpkin drinks – Coffee chains sometimes offer pumpkin spice flavored drinks with a summery tropical twist, like pineapple pumpkin lattes.

  • Out of season usage – Some people enjoy the nostalgic scent of pumpkin in non-fall months to remind them of the autumn season.

However, these examples tend to be the exception rather than the norm. Pumpkin scents still maintain a strong seasonal association with fall and harvest time for most consumers.


Pumpkin is strongly associated with the fall season for a variety of reasons. Pumpkins themselves are harvested in the fall and decorate homes and public spaces during this time. The popular pumpkin spice flavor emerges in the fall across coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery store shelves. Retailers capitalize on fall pumpkin themes in their marketing campaigns and home decor items. Festivals celebrating pumpkins and fall harvests reinforce the seasonal connection. While there are some uses of pumpkin scents outside of fall, such as tropical pumpkin cocktails, the overwhelming evidence points to pumpkin as a quintessential fall scent for most people.

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