Last week, I received an email from a representative of the public relations firm Weber Shandwick asking if I was “interested in receiving a first taste of the newest treat from OREO.” “We can’t tell you what it is yet,” the email continued, “but I can say … you’ll want to get your hands on these cookies before they’re gone.” I doubted that—I’ve never been a huge Oreos fan, finding them simultaneously cloying and bland—but I said yes anyway. (What can I say? The email was the PR equivalent of a tantalizing Upworthy headline, and the curiosity gap got the better of me.)
I was nonetheless surprised and perplexed when I found a box on my desk yesterday containing a package of Pumpkin Spice Oreos. These aren’t new, I thought to myself. I could swear that Pumpkin Spice Oreos already exist. A Google search soon disabused me of that notion. I had apparently only imagined that Pumpkin Spice Oreos had comprised part of my colleague J. Bryan Lowder’s “Pumpkin Spice Diet,” the weeklong experiment in which, last fall, he ate nothing that was not pumpkin-spice-flavored. (Apparently I’d confused them with pumpkin spice M&Ms, pumpkin spice Pop Tarts, and pumpkin spice Pringles.)
Oreo seems to be the last major food brand to release a pumpkin spice version of its signature product. At least I hope it’s the last. Pumpkin Spice Oreos do not bode well for the enduring popularity of pumpkin spice as a corporate-culinary concept.
That Pumpkin Spice Oreos do not have any pumpkin in them is the least of their problems. This is par for the course for pumpkin-spice-flavored things: In an odd yet pervasive lexical leap, “pumpkin spice” typically refers not to pumpkin itself but to the spices typically found in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sometimes allspice or cloves. But Pumpkin Spice Oreos don’t contain any of those, either. The only ingredients forging its tenuous relationship with either pumpkin or its attendant spices are: “natural and artificial flavor, artificial color (yellow 5 lake, red 40 lake, blue 2 lake), paprika oleoresin (color).” These various dyes have produced a gorgeous orange cream, deep and soothing, the essence of decorative gourd season. It’s a triumph worthy of Pantone.
Would I could say similar things about the orange cream’s flavor, or that of the vanilla wafers enveloping the frosting. Pumpkin Spice Oreos taste primarily like sugar and oil, with only the slightest hint of a cinnamon-y aftertaste. (Even this flavor isn’t like actual cinnamon, to be clear; it seems closely related to the pseudo-cinnamon chemicals used in Red Hots.) The plastic bag from which they came exudes a headache-inducing candy corn perfume. I imagine that Pumpkin Spice Oreos will be very popular with children and people whose palates have been decimated by years of chain smoking.
If you belong to either of those groups, or if you’re an aspiring pumpkin spice completist, you will be able to find Pumpkin Spice Oreos on grocery store shelves beginning on Sept. 24 and lasting for six to eight weeks. If you don't belong to either of those groups, look on the bright side: Compared to Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, which has been around for 11 years, six to eight weeks is hardly any time at all.