It’s that time of year again: pumpkin spice mania. Our supermarkets are stocked with pumpkin specials, our Instagram feeds are filled with drool-worthy orange treats, and the old faithful PSL returns to Starbucks stores. 

In the midst of this pumpkin frenzy, it’s easy to forget that there are other quintessential fall flavors out there for us to enjoy—namely, apple cinnamon. Who would win in a head-to-head flavor face-off: the classic apple cinnamon, who was doing fruit and spice before it was cool, or the trendy pumpkin spice, our current social media darling? There’s only one way to find out: by going round by round through our favorite spiced treats. 

1. Pie

sweet, cake, bread, pastry, cream
Erica Coulter

First up is pie, the favorite dessert of Thanksgiving tables everywhere. When done right, a slice of warm apple pie a la mode offers a warming burst of cinnamon. Unfortunately, it’s rare to find one so perfectly executed so as not to be overly sweet and syrupy.   

Pumpkin pie, on the other hand, has a balanced amount of sweetness built into its veggie filling. Plus, it boasts the sublime texture combination of smooth pumpkin puree and flaky crust, making it a more well-rounded dessert for your Thanksgiving feast.

Winner: Pumpkin Spice

2. Muffins

pumpkin, sweet
Katherine Carroll

Let’s be honest: everyone knows that muffins are really just cake, politely disguised as breakfast food. This is perfectly fine by me. However, when it comes to cake, I do have one stipulation: it had better be light and fluffy, not full of heavy chunks. This pretty much knocks apple cinnamon muffins out of contention here, as they almost always seem to have overly-large pieces of apple baked into them.

Pumpkin muffins, on the other hand, avoid this issue by having their sweet orange squash blended smoothly into the batter. That means that there are no surprise pieces of pumpkin hiding inside your muffin. If anything’s in there, it’s just the cream cheese frosting (yesss).

Winner: Pumpkin Spice

3. Hot Drinks

coffee, cappuccino, espresso, milk, mocha, chocolate, cream, hot chocolate
Michelle Ra

Things get real real in this round, where the classic PSL goes head-to-head with a nostalgic favorite, spiced apple cider. The real deciding factor here is the feeling that each invokes. While a PSL may remind you of the first fall leaves and the crisp October air, it also likely reminds you of stressing about first semester midterms and trying to pump yourself up for an all-nighter (hello, caffeine).

Hot apple cider, on the other hand, has none of these negative associations. It brings to mind cheery weekend trips to the apple orchard, sipping its warm and spicy nectar while eating donuts and watching the sunset. When it comes to fall scenes, it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Winner: Apple Cinnamon

4. Cereal

cereal, nut, granola, almond
Lauren Kaplan

This really isn’t a contest, because pumpkin spice cereal just generally tends to miss the point. One of the best things about pumpkin as a baking ingredient is the wonderful moisture that it adds to a batter or filling. That moisture is completely lost on these cereals, whose only respite from absolute dryness is the milk in which they float.

Apple cinnamon cereals, on the other hand, have a sweet and spicy crunch that misses nothing by being dried into little shapes and packed in cardboard boxes. If anything, that crispiness reminds us of biting into a fresh fall apple, and who doesn't love that? Plus, like any great thing in life, apple cinnamon cereal saves the best (i.e. that cinnamon-infused milk at the bottom of the bowl) for last.

Winner: Apple Cinnamon

5. Ice Cream

chocolate, cream, sweet, cake, coffee, candy
Sarah Yanofsky

This tiebreaker is a bit of a wildcard, since neither pumpkin spice nor apple cinnamon are classic flavors for ice cream. That being said, it seems fair to say that we don’t typically associate apple cinnamon desserts with an intense cold. We seek out that flaky apple pie or crumbly apple crisp because they have such warmth. Apple cinnamon makes us want to cozy up, not chill out, which is certainly not conducive to a great ice cream flavor.

Pumpkin spice desserts, on the other hand, are usually served around room temperature, meaning that they are a lot closer to “frozen” on the hot-cold scale. Plus, the creaminess of ice cream tends to resemble the velvety smoothness of a finely pureed pumpkin pie filling. Hints of allspice and clove cut the richness, making pumpkin spice ice cream a surprisingly super scoop.

Winner: Pumpkin Spice

So there you have it. In a close-fought battle, pumpkin spice comes out as the winner in this fall flavors faceoff. Those who have been filling their ‘Gram with pumpkin spice everything can sleep easy knowing that they’re still on trend. 

That being said, those who are a little over the mania need not fret. There are still plenty of delicious fall tastes to enjoy, with apple cinnamon chief among them. Grab a pumpkin spice muffin for energy and an apple cider to warm your hands. Then go happily into fall, knowing that your favorite flavors can’t be beat.