What’s Really In a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte?

What’s Really In a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte?

The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte rivals college football and Halloween ads as a commercial sign of the season, even if the weather is still saying summer. The lattes rank among the most popular seasonal beverages, in fact, Starbucks says it’s their most popular seasonal beverage of all time. But what’s really in this famous fall treat?

Vani Hari, a.k.a. the Food Babe, used her investigative magic to find out what’s really in Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and according to her, it’s not pretty. While she couldn’t get a clear answer from Starbucks as to whether the latte actually contained high fructose corn syrup, it is clear the beverage does contain 49 grams of sugar (for the Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte). That’s more than in a slice of actual pumpkin pie.

Thanks to Hari and others, Starbucks removed the caramel coloring from its vanilla syrup in 2015. Previously in many of the chain’s drinks, caramel coloring is commonly known as the brown color in soda that’s produced by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high temperatures. These high temperatures produce 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, which were found in a recent National Toxicology Program study to be human carcinogens.

Read more about coffee and your health

Here are some other questionable ingredients:

  • Mono-and Diglycerides

    Mono-and diglycerides are a type of fat added to processed foods to increase shelf life and keep fat and oil from separating. They can be made from animal or vegetable sources like canola and soybean oil, but manufacturers don’t always disclose whether the source is vegetarian or vegan-friendly. 

  • Carrageenan

    Derived from red seaweed and used to improve food texture, studies have linked carrageenan to gastrointestinal problems and cancer.

  • Artificial Flavors

    Artificial flavors contain various chemicals made to cheaply mimic the flavor of things like pumpkin. It’s a blanket term that means a product could include one or 100 unnatural additives.

  • Potassium Sorbate

    Potassium sorbate is a preservative linked to allergic reactions like nausea, diarrhea, and DNA damage.

  • Sulfites

    Sulfites are a group of preservatives commonly used in beverages that may cause headaches, behavioral problems, bowel irritability, skin rashes, and other symptoms.

Read more about the worst ingredients in food

Bottom line-there’s a lot more to your seasonal beverage than pumpkin spice, expresso, and milk. Not sure it’s the best way to celebrate the season. If you’re looking for a healthier option try this recipe for a natural pumpkin spice latte (that actually contains pumpkin!).

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Sara Novak specializes in health and food policy writing for Discovery Health. Her work has also been featured on TreeHugger, HowStuffWorks.com, TLC Cooking, and Animal Planet. After graduating from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, Sara headed up the communication efforts for a national scholarship program in Washington, D.C. Sara has also handled copy writing and public relations for a global environmental consulting firm. She loves fiddling with healthful recipes, traveling, and exploring life atop her yoga mat. Today, Sara lives in Charleston with her husband and two lovable cocker spaniels, Madison and Bella.