How to make the best pumpkin spice blend

DIY pumpkin spice blend
© Melissa Breyer

Learn how to elevate a basic DIY pumpkin pie spice blend with these simple tweaks.

The temperature is finally slinking downwards and the leaves are beginning to pack it up for the year, which means that the inevitable pumpkin-spice-everything-everywhere thing is running full riot. While I refuse to shame anyone for their pumpkin spice lattes, it is kind of a bummer that the Autumn Industrial Complex has co-opted pumpkin pie's mix of spices and applied them to everything from Peeps and Pringles to "spray-on spice" and Spam. It is a magical combination of flavors that runs the risk of becoming tired and trivialized by indiscriminate use.

And because of that, I say it's time to reclaim pumpkin spice. Skip the strange pumpkin-spice-themed products and make your own blend to use at home. Of course, you can buy pre-made pumpkin pie spice from the spice aisle, but there are good reasons to go the DIY route.

Why make your own spice blend?

  • Since spices fade in flavor as they age, if you already have the required spices on hand, it's better to use them up instead of buying more of the same in a blend. This way, you avoid doubling up on spices you may already have.
  • You can make smaller batches than the standard three or four ounces of a commercial jar of spices, which might last for years and become a wan version of its former vibrant self.
  • You can customize the blend to your liking and/or the use you intend it for.
  • It's one less jar in the trash.

The basic pumpkin pie blend

I consulted my trusty 1997 edition of The Joy Of Cooking for the ingredients in their basic Pumpkin Pie recipe. It calls for this:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice

While this is to actually add to the pie mix, you can simply mix the spices together – making as big or little a batch as you like – and use it in a variety of other applications: Stir into vanilla ice cream or coconut yogurt, add to a basic muffin recipe, sprinkle into oatmeal, mix into sugar cookie dough, use it for cinnamon toast with a twist, blend into cream cheese or buttercream, add to a smoothie, use with winter squash ... you can even add it to pumpkin pie, brilliant, right?

How to make the best pumpkin pie spice

The classic mix above is delicious, but there are tricks to make it even better.

Play with the ratio
Since taste isn't one size fits all, feel free to play around with the ratio. Since I am a certified nutmeg freak, I use more nutmeg than cinnamon. It still has the pumpkin spice vibe, I just prefer it that way. Jiggle the ratios to make it perfect for your palate.

Mix it up
Don't be afraid to add other flavors in there as well. While it's possible to overpower the pumpkin-pie-ness of the blend with strong flavors, adding little twists can really make it sing. Try cardamom or a bit of vanilla bean; give it a kick by adding pink pepper or cayenne; for color and and an earthy taste, try adding turmeric, which is especially good for sweet-savory uses like butternut squash soup. In general, the basic blend plays nicely with other flavors.

Use whole spices
When possible, use whole spices that you grind or grate at home. Whole spices hold on to their flavor longer and are more potent when freshly ground. If you have a dedicated electric spice grinder, you are in luck, but many of the spices called for can be ground by hand in a mortar and pestle. Since I am a nutmeg fiend, we keep a $5 ceramic ginger grater (as you can in the photo above) with a nutmeg seed always ready to go in the spice drawer. If you love a spice, finding a way to grind it at home is a game-changer.

For more tips and tricks, see related stories below.

How to make the best pumpkin spice blend
Learn how to elevate a basic DIY pumpkin pie spice blend with these simple tweaks.

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