Adieu, pumpkin spice! Cook with these unexpected fall flavors instead

We asked a flavor expert about some of this season's more surprising ingredients.

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pumpkin pie on plates
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

The first day of fall has come and gone, the leaves on my street are starting to change, and I’m feeling the itch to begin my annual autumn baking marathon. But this year, the idea of whipping out the canned pumpkin and engaging in a months-long gourd fest feels... uninspired. The usual suspects—pumpkin spice, apple, maple, the list goes on—all feel a little ho-hum.

If you, like me, are ready to expand your seasonal flavor horizons, I’ve got great news: I chatted with ADM chief global flavorist Marie Wright, a bona fide flavor scientist, to get some answers. My question for Wright was simple: What are some of this year’s unexpected fall flavors to break me out of my pumpkin spice-induced fog? She didn’t disappoint.


Get creative with vanilla

“As we’ve navigated COVID over the last two years, people have gravitated toward more indulgent flavors and tastes,” Wright says. “What’s fascinating is the interaction with memory and emotion that you get from taste and smell.”

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Wright explains that smelling and tasting food sends signals to our olfactory lobe, which she describes as “the primitive part of the brain where we store memories.” She cites vanilla as a particularly powerful flavor that ignites nostalgic memories in a lot of her customers.

“People have such an interest in vanilla bean and smoky vanilla tastes,” she says. And that’s not limited to desserts, either: She recommends sprinkling some vanilla extract before roasting root vegetables like sweet potatoes.

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Warm up your side dishes with wasabi

As temperatures plummet, Wright recommends adding warming elements like wasabi to liven up side dishes. Try our soy-wasabi butter mushroom recipe for a rich, buttery side dish you’ll want to whip up all season long.

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Embrace earthy flavors

There’s a good chance you already associate fall with root vegetables like potatoes and beets. This year, Wright recommends digging a little deeper and exploring the wonders of the mighty truffle.

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“We start seeing some really lovely truffles coming in from Italy and France in November,” she says, noting that while truffle-inspired flavors are certainly accessible in the form of condiments like truffle mayonnaise, truffle is best enjoyed at its freshest.

“We love meaty, dirty, earthy flavors in the fall, and truffles have a particular component called truffle sulfide that delivers that unique taste,” she says. “But it has to be consumed quickly before that dissipates.” For an earthy twist on your favorite fall desserts, try incorporating truffle into ice creams and chocolatey confections.

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Explore the savory side of coffee

Coffee cheesecake, espresso martinis—the 1990s are back in full force, at least in our neck of the woods. But Wright recommends transcending traditional expectations for a cuppa joe, instead using it to whip up Red Eye Gravy, which is traditionally made from a mixture of ham drippings and black coffee. It’s a great way to spice up your fall roasts.

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Have fun with floral accents

For unexpected fall desserts, Wright suggests embracing florals. “Rose goes really nicely with some of the fall fruits; cranberries, dates, things like that,” she says. “We’re also seeing a lot of rosewater used in desserts like apple pie.”

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She also recommends hibiscus as a dessert or cocktail additive. While it may seem summery, hibiscus is a popular choice for seasonal red wines thanks to its smooth, unassuming tartness. It’s also a key ingredient in Ponche Navideño, a tasty Mexican holiday cocktail.

When in doubt, add some fat

Hibernation season is upon us—what better excuse to indulge in all sorts of rich, fatty, buttery, meaty goodness? For meat eaters, Wright recommends leaning into comforting fats like bone marrow and meat drippings, both of which do a lot to liven up a serving of vegetables. If you’re not into meat, rich dairy products like ricotta can work wonders when served with a little poached pear or spicy beet.