If you're familiar with the classic Peanuts movie, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, you know that, sadly, Linus never gets to meet the Great Pumpkin. Unlike Linus, however, if you're a fan of pumpkin-flavored food and drink, you're in luck: The Great Pumpkin has made its annual return to supermarkets, coffeehouses, restaurants, and elsewhere.
Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite for things pumpkin. If you're among them, your quest for pumpkin-flavored products is helping corporate bottom lines. Indeed, according to Nielsen's "Pumpkin Power!" report, "Pumpkin-flavored offerings in the U.S. grew 18.8 percent in Nielsen-measured retail outlets, selling over $290 million during calendar year 2012." The report concludes, "While we don’t know yet exactly how pumpkin will do in 2013, it will likely pack a punch in retailers’ sales across categories."
Trader Joe's—which last year ranked second in our supermarket survey—is a particularly good place to satisfy pumpkin cravings. The retailer's pumpkin lineup includes bread, coffee, cream cheese, granola, ravioli, tea, and even pumpkin-flavored dog treats. A colleague notes that the pumpkin selection at the northern New Jersey Trader Joe's where he shops is overwhelming. ("Who needs pumpkin body butter?' he wonders.)
The offerings extend into adult beverages. More pumpkin-flavored seasonal beers have popped up, perhaps an inevitability given pumpkin-mania or maybe just a result of the American beer palate growing ever more varried and sophisticated. And of course there's all that pumpkin-and-spice coffee, available not only at such chains as 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Panera Bread, and Starbucks but also for brewing at home.
We can't speak to the health aspects of the myriad pumpkin-flavored products on the market, but pumpkin itself—a squash that comes in dozens of varieties—offers some dietary benefits. It's a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, as well as a powerhouse of beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A). Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin E. The seeds are high in calories, so limit yourself to a quarter cup per day. All that makes it a shame that some many good pumpkins are wasted at the annual Punkin Chunkin world championship.
One tip: If you're passionate about pumpkin, stock up on some of your favorite goodies. Many are available for limited duration, and you don't want to be stuck waiting with no seasonally inspired options until countless peppermint/candy-cane concoctions arrive in advance of Christmas.