The Hidden Health Benefits of a Pumpkin Spice Latte

Sinclair, Cambria. “Pumpkin Spice Latte.” 2020.

Josey Murray

Written By: Josey Murray | Edited By: Carol Coutinho

October 27, 2020

It’s officially fall, which means it is officially Pumpkin Spice Latte season. If you’re looking to get your hands on a PSL you can feel good about, keep reading to find our recipe and to learn about all of the health benefits of pumpkin pie spice. 

As soon as a chill creeps into the air and a crispness comes to the falling leaves, we dream about taking walks among golden trees. To feel the leaves crunch under our feet and embrace the changing of the seasons. Sometimes we may also imagine a warm latte in our hands to keep us company. There’s something heavenly about the contrast of crisp cool air with a warm spiced drink. 

If you’re anything like us, we’re picky about what coffee we drink. We’re mindful of what we allow into our bodies. We respect the balance of intuitive eating, celebration, and comfort with acknowledging food as nourishment and medicine. When we know that what we are consuming will please our bodies and nourish us, we can be at peace. And when what we’re consuming is good for us and good for the earth, walks among the golden trees become even more peaceful.

The perfect accompaniment to a chilled fall walk is a spiced latte – specifically pumpkin spice, with the warmth and coziness of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, and a hint of the winter squash symbolic of the season: pumpkin. But, if we’re realistic, the flavors of pumpkin spice bring us the first taste of fall and often coincide with the last of the summer sun. No matter how you enjoy it, iced or hot, in the sun or under the falling leaves, a pumpkin spice latte is sure to satisfy a need to embrace the season. It brings the warmth of a friendly hug and immediately makes you feel like you’re in front of a roaring fire under a cozy afghan on an autumn night.

All this talk of fall makes us crave a pumpkin spice latte. Before you grab your phone to order one on your Starbucks app, only to later feel guilty and chaotic after such a sugary indulgence, let us show you how you can enjoy the flavors of fall while nourishing your body and mind. The classic pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks may be the most accessible, but it’s not the most nourishing. While we here at Cook and Culture are firm believers in balance and enjoying food, we know that it is best for our body and mind, both physically and emotionally, to embrace the art of homemade elixirs instead of grab-and-go lattes. When we take away loads of sugar and the mysterious (non-vegan) pumpkin sauce of a PSL, we come back to the basics of a warm, spiced, nourishing drink. Spices that have been used for centuries as medicine, ideally plant milk grown off of the abundance of our land, and a hint of a great fuel: espresso. When we come back to these basics, our bodies, our minds, and our overall well-being will appreciate the comforting sip of a pumpkin spice latte that much more. 

The Spices of Pumpkin Pie Spice

The pumpkin spice we know today is a collection of spices traditionally used for pumpkin pie. Although it does not contain any pumpkin itself, its connection to the favorite seasonal squash gives us more reason to appreciate it. McCormick decided to start selling its pumpkin pie spice to make baking one easier. This made it convenient for the spice to be added to different fall treats, both savory and sweet, boosting creativity and an overall feeling of warmth. 

Let’s dig into the spices that define the classic pumpkin pie spice. Though individual homemade recipes may differ, the core spices include cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and sometimes cardamom and allspice.

Pumpkin Spices

Sinclair, Cambria. “Pumpkin Pie Spice.” 2020.

How They Nourish 

Spices have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal properties. In the list that follows, you can find amazing health benefits of the consumption of these spices. Although their medicinal uses do date back to ancient times, some health benefits lack the scientific studies to prove the effects and others benefits have been shown in animal studies, but not yet in human studies. Nevertheless, we can take what others have learned over thousands of years with what science shows now to improve our wellness through natural remedies.

THE CLASSIC FOUR

Cinnamon

Sinclair, Cambria. “Cinnamon.” 2020.

Cinnamon

There are two significant types of cinnamon, Ceylon and cassia. The cinnamon you buy at the store without thinking about it is cassia cinnamon. Grown in China, it is not as expensive and is more widely available. Although cassia has been studied more, researchers believe that Ceylon cinnamon, grown in Sri Lanka and Thailand, holds more health benefits. If you can’t find the type of cinnamon on the bottle, it is most likely cassia. The flavor profile of Ceylon cinnamon is a little different from cassia. It’s described as milder, sweeter, spicier, and deeper. (1, 2)

Cinnamon is very high in cinnamaldehyde, a compound that sounds terrifying, I know, but don’t worry; it’s responsible for cinnamons health benefits. (4)

  • Loaded with antioxidants, cinnamon beats out other superfoods like garlic and oregano. (4)
  • Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, and, if you know anything about wellness, you know that inflammation is at the core of much of our ailments. (4)
  • Cinnamon reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of bad cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. (4)
  • Cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar. Insulin resistance is associated with metabolic syndromes and type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon’s anti-diabetic effects come from its ability to mimic insulin. (4)
  • Consumption of cinnamon may lead to improvements in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Cinnamon contains two compounds that inhibit the growth of tau, a protein responsible for Alzheimer’s, in the brain. (4)
  • Cinnamon may protect against cancer. Although this research is currently just animal studies, cinnamon extract has been shown to be toxic to cancer cells. (4)
  • Cinnamon has the ability to fight bacterial and fungal infections. Cinnamaldehype can reduce bad breath and tooth decay because of its antimicrobial properties. (4)

Ginger

Sinclair, Cambria. “Ginger.” 2020.

Ginger

Gingerol is the powerhouse compound behind all of ginger’s medicinal properties. That’s gingerol, not ginger ale, although that has some excellent medicinal properties too — at least that’s what moms always say! Gingerol has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. (3)

  • Ginger is effective against nausea, especially morning sickness. New research is saying that it is also possibly effective for chemotherapy-related nausea. (3)
  • Ginger reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis including pain and joint stiffness. (3)
  • Its anti-diabetic properties may help those with type 2 diabetes by lowering hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels.  (3)
  • Ginger treats chronic indigestion by increasing the speed of the stomach emptying. (3)
  • Consuming ginger helps significantly with period cramps. According to Healthline, one study shows that ginger reduces cramps just as well as drugs like ibuprofen if taken during the first three days of the period. (3
  • Ginger helps brain function related to age-related decline. Ginger’s antioxidants and bioactive compounds reduce inflammation associated with reduced cognitive function. Ginger is particularly effective in improving reaction time and working memory in middle-aged women. (3)
  • Ginger can lower your risk of infection by fighting harmful bacteria and viruses. (3)

Nutmeg

Sinclair, Cambria. “Nutmeg.” 2020.

Nutmeg

  • Loaded with antioxidants, including phenolic compounds, essential oils, and plant pigments, nutmeg can prevent cellular damage (7).
  • Nutmeg has anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation in the body is important in helping health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. (7)
  • Nutmeg enhances sex drive possibly by stimulating the nervous system. Traditional medicine including the Unani system of medicine used in South Asia utilizes nutmeg to treat sexual disorders. (7
  • With its antibacterial properties, nutmeg has been shown to inhibit the growth of E. coli. (7)
  • Nutmeg may improve heart health by reducing heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol. (7)
  • It may boost mood as it has been shown to have antidepressant effects in mice and rats. (7)

Cloves

Sinclair, Cambria. “Cloves.” 2020.

Cloves

  • A rich source of manganese, just one teaspoon of ground cloves contains 55% daily value of manganese. Manganese is vital to maintaining brain function and building strong bones. (5)
  • Cloves are loaded with antioxidants. It contains the compound, eugenol, which is found to be a natural antioxidant. (5)
  • That same compound has anti-cancer properties. Research shows that clove oil has the potential to cause cell death in cancer cells. (5)
  • Cloves possess antimicrobial properties that promote oral health. (5)
  • By “increasing uptake of sugar from the blood into cells, increasing the secretion of insulin, and improving the function of cells that produce insulin,” cloves help regulate blood sugar. (5)
  • Cloves can reduce stomach ulcers by increasing the production of gastric mucus. (5)

And sometimes…

Allspice 

  • Allspice was given its name because of its hints of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and juniper. It’s almost like its own little pumpkin pie spice in itself. (9

  • Allspice alleviates gas and bloating. It contains eugenol (also found in cloves), easing diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and constipation. (9

  • With anti-inflammatory properties, allspice can aid digestion. (9

  • Allspice balances hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone levels, therefore, helping menopausal symptoms. As allspice has been used medicinally in South and Central America, population studies point to allspice as responsible for lack of menopausal discomfort. (9

 

    Cardamom

    • With its antioxidant properties, cardamom can lower blood pressure and prevent inflammation. (6)
    • It can help fight cancer. Compounds found in cardamom “enhance the ability of natural killer cells to attack tumors” and “can increase the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer.” (6)
    • Cardamom aids digestion. It can relieve discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. It has been shown to heal ulcers in rats, but more research is needed to see if it has the same effect in humans. (6)
    • It can improve oral health. By fighting away mouth bacteria, it leads to fresh breath. This is an ancient remedy and, in some cultures, it is common to eat a cardamom pod after a meal. (6)
    • Even beyond its ability to kill bacteria in the mouth, cardamom has antibacterial properties that fight strains of bacteria that cause food poisoning, fungal infections, and stomach issues. (6)
    • Cardamom can potentially improve breathing by relaxing the airway and increasing oxygen uptake. (6)
    healthy pumpkin spice latte

    Let’s add some extra nourishment

    Turmeric

    In the recipe you’ll find below, turmeric has been added for extra nourishment. It is a powerful spice with incredible medicinal benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, just because we consume something healthy doesn’t mean that our body will absorb all of the nutrients and experience the beneficial effects. To “unleash the magic of turmeric,” plant-based holistic health coach, Alicia Uhl, recommends warming it up, adding black pepper, and a healthy fat, such as coconut oil. (8) We’ve done some of these things in the recipe below to maximize the absorption of turmeric’s powerful compound, curcumin. 

    ingredients for pumpkin spice latte

    A HEALTHY PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE RECIPE:

    Now that you know the incredible health benefits of the various spices that make up pumpkin spice, you must be craving a healthy version of the pumpkin spice latte. We promise that it won’t be too hard, and, once done, you’ll never dream of going back to the sugared one. Inspired by Minimalist Baker’s Easy Pumpkin Spice Latte, Cook and Culture’s healthy homemade version is a one-pot vegan pumpkin spice latte recipe.

    Oat milk is a favorite of ours, but feel free to use any favorite plant-based milk. Our version also has a golden milk twist; we added turmeric to supercharge the health benefits of our vegan pumpkin spice latte.  We’ve also put a little bit of pumpkin puree into it. After all, pumpkin has its own long list of health benefits, and we’ve aimed to make this latte into a fall wellness elixir. The coconut whipped cream is optional, but the added fat increases your body’s ability to absorb curcumin. (8

    The aroma of the spices in the air makes crafting this vegan pumpkin spice latte a sensual experience. Don’t forget to check in with yourself as you watch the oat milk bubble in the pot, and the powdered spices disappear into the liquid. To further enhance your experience, put your latte into a reusable to-go cup, and enjoy it on a walk around your neighborhood. Being outside will improve your spirits while this pumpkin spice latte nourishes your soul.

    Cook and Culture’s Healthy Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte

    Author: Josey Murray                                                     Total Time: 10 minutes                                                 Difficulty: Easy

    Ingredients:

    • Pumpkin Spice 
      • ½ tsp Cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)
      • ¼ tsp Ginger
      • ⅛ tsp Allspice
      • Pinch of ground cloves
      • Pinch of nutmeg
      • Pinch of cardamom (optional)
      • Pinch of black pepper
    • 1 tsp turmeric
    • 1 cup oat milk (or coconut milk)
    • 2 tbsp pumpkin puree
    • ½ cup coffee
    • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tsp maple syrup (or any sweetener)

    Instructions: 

    1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to incorporate. 
    2. Serve in a festive mug, top with optional coconut whipped cream (see below) and sprinkle with nutmeg and a few whole cloves.

    Optional Topping: Coconut Whipped Cream

    If you want to make your latte a bit creamier, here’s a super-easy way to make coconut whipped cream. 

    • Place a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge, and let it sit overnight. 
    • When you’re ready, open the can, and scoop out just the thick layer on top into a bowl. 
    • Whip until fluffy. Add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar if you want it to be sweeter.

    Show us your healthy vegan pumpkin spice lattes: 

     

     

    Let us know if you try our vegan pumpkin spice latte recipe and how you personalized your pumpkin spice to satisfy your taste buds. Share a photo on Instagram and tag us @cookandculture.

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