While ordering a drink from The Coffee Club (Princeton’s student-run coffee shop), I noticed a blackboard advertising their holiday specials. Ranging from the classic “pumpkin spice latte” and “peppermint mocha” to more unusual flavors like the “caramel apple butter latte” and “s'mores latte,” all of these drinks evoke a warm and cozy hug. Around this time of year, we see such flavors pop up in ambient candles, desserts, and seasonal products. Here we’ve collected the five most iconic flavors of the holiday season, along with their backstories and how you can incorporate them into your festivities before the cold season comes to a close.


The hype for cinnamon around this time of year can be attributed to the connection of spices with wealth, trade, and special occasions—What better time to bust out your stash of luxury cinnamon sticks? Spices have warming qualities as well, and were used to flavor meals when fresh fruits were not available in the winter. Although today we are able to ship fresh fruit to barren places year-round, the association remains. We can’t help dashing it into our French toast, oatmeal, and chai.

Pumpkin Spice

Popularized by Starbucks’ notorious pumpkin spice latte and considered an emblem of the “basic white girl,” pumpkin spice has been a meme for much longer than we’d think. Abundant in New England, the British would often say that colonists had “pumpkin-blasted brains.” (Quite the height of insults!) Pumpkin spice was used to flavor pumpkin pie, but eventually came to stand alone for the pumpkin flavor. From squashes and gourds in Thanksgiving side dishes to Halloween jack-o-lanterns, pumpkins with their fleshy texture have come to symbolize nostalgia, comfort, and the harvest.


Candy canes supposedly originated in 1600’s Germany, when a choirmaster bent them into hooks to resemble shepherd’s crooks and quiet children during Christmas mass. Their popularity was only enhanced by the fact that they could be hung on Christmas trees. If you’re tired of peppermint mocha, try a cup of Trader Joe’s seasonal Candy Cane Green Tea to warm up your evenings.


In the story of Hansel and Gretel, two children are lured by a witch’s gingerbread house decked out in gumdrops, candy canes, and icing. A reminder of fairy tale coziness, people young and old reimagine the gingerbread house. A confection made with a blend of spices including cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, gingerbread had ceremonial purposes for the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Its sanctity carried over to western Europe, where only members of a gingerbread guild could prepare it (except on Christmas and Easter). In fact, women even ate cookies shaped like their future husbands in attempts to manifest them. Among the flavors on our list, gingerbread is the one enjoyed most exclusively during the holidays. And decorating gingerbread isn’t just for kids—Queen Elizabeth I is actually credited with the idea of gingerbread men! Don’t be afraid to go all out on your own creations or try these adorable gingerbread cupcakes.

Apple                                                                                         Apples might appear too mundane to make it to this list, but think cider, apple-picking, apple crumble, and dunking them in caramel. Due to their ability to last through winter, apples have an intriguing history as fruits for the colder months. During Prohibition, many temperance advocates destroyed apple orchards which were used to make hard apple cider, prompting the drink to be reserved for special occasions once the alcohol ban was lifted. As its popularity recovered, phrases like “as American as apple pie” cemented this classic fruit in American tradition and celebration. To make the most of them this holiday season, maybe make some mulled cider or an apple pie to celebrate the New Year.

Given the link between smell and memory, and the social nature of food and celebration, holiday traditions remain in our gustatory and olfactory memory. Not only are these flavors tied to autumn and winter, but also to comfort, family and friends, and our resolve through the harsher months. Take time to notice these aromas around you, wafting into the start of a new year.