7 Festive Fall Flavors Even Better Than Pumpkin Spice

From brown sugar spice to ginger, these flavors beat out PSL.

Half an Apple with a Cinnamon Stick, Ginger Root, Pears, and Maple Leaves
Photo: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm

When the clock strikes midnight on September 1, all things pumpkin spice appear as if out of thin air. Indeed the pumpkin spice craze has reached new levels of passion, with the existence of pumpkin spice lip glosses, pumpkin spice wines, and even pumpkin spice potato chips. If by mid-September, you're already spiced out of all autumnal squash cravings, you're not alone.

This may come as a surprise to you: Pumpkin spice has no actual pumpkin flavor. Instead, the flavor we associate with pumpkin baked goods is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice used in pumpkin recipes. Individually, each of these spices is quite special on its own, but together, they create a warm and tingling combination that evokes cravings for chilly nights by the campfire and cozy flannel shirts.

Explore more of autumn's comforting flavors without turning to the most famous squash-related seasoning. You can pick from a plethora of fall-infused tastes that are just as good as (or, dare we say it, better than) pumpkin spice. Use these as a substitute for pumpkin spice in any recipe, or let them serve as inspiration for a whole new genre of flavor exploration.

Brown Sugar Spice

Sweet-and-spicy flavor fans will find a lot to love in a combination of molasses-y brown sugar and either pungent black pepper or kicked-up cayenne. In a savory application, you can use it as a ham glaze. If you like things on the sweeter side, this spiced cookie uses a hefty bit of black pepper (along with biting spices like cloves and ginger) for a rich treat that's quintessential fall dessert material.

Apple Cinnamon

Never was there a more iconic duo (except perhaps Sonny and Cher) than apple and cinnamon. In the fall, which is peak apple-picking time, you can find a variety of apple cinnamon snacks and recipes that feature the pair, including pancakes, homemade applesauce, and latkes. No one will turn down an apple pie in the fall, either. You can even use these flavors to make a grown-up apple cider mixed with a bit of brandy or spiced rum.

Chai

You'll recognize some of those beloved pumpkin spice flavors in a chai blend. It is a combination of clove, cinnamon, and cardamom, but when deployed in tea, it's warmed with black tea and a bit of creamy milk for a soothing, comforting beverage that hits the coffee-craving spot but layers on a great deal of warming spice. Gather a jar of the chai mix and keep it on hand to stir into oatmeal, popcorn, yogurt, and more.

Ginger

You may associate gingerbread with the holidays, but spicy, tingling ginger is also a wonderful fall spice. It gives new life to cookies—like gingersnaps—livens up pumpkin soup, and is even welcome in savory dishes like chicken rubs and pork dumplings. Fresh ginger has a bit more bite than dried, ground ginger, but both fill food with vigor and zip.

Maple

Before there was pumpkin spice, there was maple. It is the epitome of fall food and the backbone of many comforting autumnal favorites, like maple pumpkin pie and mashed sweet potatoes with maple. Even coffee shops are placing maple lattes on menus alongside pumpkin-spiced lattes, and bars have found favor in maple-infused cocktails. But you can use this sweet tree sap with savory foods, too, like maple-glazed salmon and sweet-and-salty nut mixes.

Pear

Eager shutterbugs and cooks may flock to apple orchards when tree limbs become heavy with fruit, but typically, pears are the first to enter fall fruit season, with prime growing periods between late August and October. A classic fall fruit, pears are succulent and sweet when fully ripe. They also slightly tenderize when baked for a pear pie or heated in a grilled cheese. For the ultimate fall dessert, use pears with apples in a spectacular free-form galette.

Browned Butter

While not a spice, browned butter can add a rich flavor to everything from mashed potatoes and pasta dinners to cupcakes and lemon bars. When cooked down to burn off excess water, butter's milk solids and butterfat will separate, and what remains will begin to darken and develop rich, nutty flavors. A little goes a long way with browned butter, but don't be shy about using it anywhere you think it might work. You're probably right.

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