Pumpkin is just another squash— albeit one with an entire personality built around it. When fall comes around, pumpkins walk into the room and everyone stops. Pull out the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. "Pumpkin spice” is everywhere, but pumpkin has so much more potential than this perceived personality gives it.
Cubed, mashed, stewed; there’s honestly nothing you can do with pumpkin that you wouldn’t do to a squash fruit—and in some cases, even a sweet potato. Now that it’s diversity is being recognized in kitchens this fall season, here are a few spices (and herbs) to add to the pumpkin spice collection that you might already have in the cabinet.
Your eyebrows might go up at that, because this isn’t a solo spice with pumpkin. The kinds of spicy flavors found in cayenne are added to recipes as a way to deepen the flavor of a dish, heating it up and adding a delicious component to whatever you choose. It’s a personal preference, but brings something unexpected to a recipe with pumpkin in the title. Warming stews with other root vegetables or thick, leafy greens like collards or kale can benefit greatly by adding a bold spice like cayenne. Alternatively, favorites like sriracha and chili pepper can add similarly sharp spice that adds new elements of flavor to any savory dish.
All right, this isn’t your fun-time spice. It’s bitter, it’s bright orange and it means business. It’s a base spice for curry blends and can tie a more complex spice blend together, if you’re looking to experiment. It can add bitter depths to meals that aren’t always welcome when overused, but it’s anti-inflammatory and incredibly good for you. Tumeric can be added to pumpkin soup to increase the vibrancy of color or to balance and bind together bold spice blends. It’s excellent in curries and stews and can be a fantastic addition, taste-wise and visually, to savory pumpkin patties.
Fresh rosemary should be in everyone’s garden. It grows like a weed and looks like giant bush of pine needles. The smell alone makes everything feel bright and invigorating. Pumpkin, roasted with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, can taste like fall in your mouth, but in the way that says, “I’m fancier than that latte.”
Cumin is like a flavor cousin to cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, which means that it’s also absolutely delicious with pumpkin. Featured in most savory pumpkin recipes, it’s exactly what you want when you want that “pumpkin spice” to translate to a savory profile, like a warming, robustly seasoned pumpkin chili.
Basil is an extremely versatile herb in the mint family. Generally, it’s sweet and savory in one bite, providing a fresh tone to delicate flavors. The traditional Italian-style pesto in combination with a savory pumpkin sauce over some pasta can bring both the depth and heartiness of the pumpkin flavor and texture with the fresh pop of a slightly sour, herbaceous pesto. Basil can also work wonders in a pumpkin curry full of intense spices and coconut milk.
Sam Stephens is a freelancer based in Athens, Ga. and the Food Editor at My Athens.