PSL has nothing on BSS. (That’s brown sugar spice).

By Kimberly Holland
Updated September 16, 2019
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festive fall flavors
Credit: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm

When the clock strikes midnight on September 1, all things pumpkin spice appear as if out of thin air. In recent years, the pumpkin spice craze has reached new levels of culinary fervor, with pumpkin spice lip glosses, pumpkin spice wines, even pumpkin spice potato chips. If you’re spiced out of your autumnal squash cravings come mid-September, 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 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.

This autumn, explore more of the season’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 fiends 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’re going to 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. Mix up a jar of the spice and keep on hand to stir into oatmeal, popcorn, yogurt, and more.

Ginger

You may associate gingerbread with the holidays, but spicy, tingling ginger is actually a wonderful fall spice. It gives new life to cookies, 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 a 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 right alongside the PSL, 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 Instagrammers and cooks may flock to apple orchards when the tree limbs become heavy with fruit, but pear orchards are typically first to enter the 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 tenderize slightly when baked for a pear pie or heated in a grilled cheese. For the ultimate fall dessert, use them 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 a pasta dinner 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 on using it anywhere you think it might work. You’re probably right.