The Untold Truth Of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte
Given the pumpkin spice hysteria we witness
every fall, it’s not surprising the pumpkin
spice latte is Starbucks’ most popular seasonal
There are some surprising things you may not
know about the drink, though, some of which
you might wish you never heard.
Let’s pull the lid off this fall-flavored
When the world fell head over heels in love
with Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte over a
decade ago, there was not a single teaspoon
of real pumpkin to be found in the concoction.
But in 2014, thanks in part to controversial
blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, who
brought this piece of “scandalous” information
front and center, consumers took issue.
This revelation shouldn’t have been too surprising
considering that what we acknowledge as “pumpkin-flavored”
is typically just a mixture of spices.
But still, the pressure was on to get some
actual pumpkin into the pumpkin spice latte.
But does real pumpkin puree mixed with coffee
In 2015, Starbucks proved that it does when
they revamped the latte’s recipe, and added
Since its inception in 2003, the coffee drink
had never undergone a formula change, but
today their pumpkin spice sauce includes pumpkin
Granted, it comes after sugar and condensed
skim milk on the ingredient list, but hey,
it’s real pumpkin nonetheless.
“We are all looking at this and thinking ‘I
don’t know why, but I simply have to drink
Along with the fact that it contained no real
pumpkin, blogger Vani Hari also took issue
with other ingredients used to make the PSL,
most notably “caramel color four”.
The Food Babe made the claim that this additive
was, quote, “made with ammonia and considered
a carcinogen,” with two doses of the stuff
going into every cup.
With the news of this “toxic” ingredient being
used in their PSLs, the “Food Babe Army” was
up in arms, but was this claim baseless?
According to Snopes, the popular rumor-debunking
site, caramel color IV is a common food additive,
and the FDA considers it safe.
However, safe as it may be, when Starbucks
added real pumpkin to the PSL in 2015, they
also removed the caramel coloring from the
Now that we’re slurping up PSLs containing
real live pumpkin and zero caramel coloring,
it’s basically like drinking raw kale juice,
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but nope.
Registered dietitian Jessica Cording told
“Adding pumpkin puree to these products does
not elevate them to ‘health food’ status.”
She notes that the inclusion of the ingredient
may provide a small amount of vitamins A and
C, along with some fiber, but also stresses
that the benefits are negligible.
Thanks to the sugar content of these types
of coffee drinks, it’s hard to consider them
anything but dessert.
Consider this: A Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte
made with 2 percent milk and topped with whipped
cream contains a whopping 39 grams of sugar,
11 grams of fat, and 300 calories.
Need some context?
The American Heart Association recommends
limiting your daily added sugar intake to
25 grams for women and 36 grams for men, so
with one 12-ounce drink, you’ve consumed more
than your share for the day.
Maybe it’s a good thing the PSL is only available
for a few months of the year.
What is it about the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice
Latte that makes us weak in the knees?
For that answer, we need to look to the brain.
According to NBC News Health and Nutrition
Editor Madelyn Fernstrom, there are three
reasons we can’t quit the PSL.
First of all, fat plus sugar scientifically
Fernstrom says that the combination of fat
and sugar basically do a dance on our taste
buds and cause flavors to be more intense,
particularly the nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon.
Add in a hefty dose of salt, or as Fernstrom
calls it, “nature’s most powerful food enhancer,”
and those flavors are amped up even more.
The bottom line is simple:
“People love tasty drinks.
And taste is number one on why people choose
“I’m going downstairs to get a coffee.
You want anything?”
“Pumpkin spice, please.”
Another reason is because most people just
love fall, plain and simple.
We associate the season with holiday traditions
and flavors, and when we smell or taste those
telltale autumnal spices contained in a PSL,
our brains connect it to happy memories.
Other people, though, are just connected to
We know that caffeine addiction is a real
thing, and our brains tell our bodies to revolt
if we don’t get our fix.
The energy boost we get from a PSL is just
one of the things that keeps us coming back
“I need coffee.
Forget the caf, throw in the whole cow and
serve it to this man right here.”
It’s hard to imagine that ardent fans could
ever choose another pumpkin-flavored coffee
over their beloved Starbucks PSL, but it happens
more often than you might think when put to
the test against competitor’s lattes.
Cosmopolitan conducted a blind taste test
using pumpkin spice lattes from Dunkin’ Donuts,
Starbucks, and McDonald’s, and the results
will come as a shock.
Overwhelmingly, Starbucks ranked dead last,
with tasters noting its similarities to a
According to one taster,
“Imagine taking a pumpkin spice candle, melting
the wax into a liquid, and then mixing said
liquid with warm milk, that is what drinking
the Starbs PSL tasted like to me.
Not here for it.”
McDonald’s, by a landslide.
In a similar test conducted by the Las Vegas
Review-Journal, tasters routinely chose lattes
that weren’t Starbucks, with even 7-Eleven
besting the apparent front-runner in one case.
One taster remarked upon the reveal,
“I think I’m surprised by the Starbucks, because
I just…I don’t know…I thought it would
If we were to believe the countless #PSL mentions
on Twitter and Instagram, it would not be
unreasonable to assume that people are draining
their savings accounts to support their habits.
But does the social media hype really line
up with the statistics?
Yes and no.
Yes, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is Starbucks’
most popular seasonal drink, and a huge number
of them have been sold.
And yes, according to The NDB Group, a global
information company, a consumer purchasing
a Pumpkin Spice Latte does tend to spend more
money per transaction, thanks to food add-ons.
However, when it comes to frequency of purchase,
only a small percentage of consumers actually
buy multiple PSLs in one season.
They say 72 percent bought just one, about
20 percent bought two, and, surprisingly,
only eight percent bought three or more.
Basically, we all like to talk about our love
for the PSL more than we like to actually
You’re not imagining it: The PSL does consistently
launch in the summer, specifically late August
and early September.
Sure, fall starts on September 22, but since
2011, the official launch of the Starbucks
Pumpkin Spice Latte has happened no later
than September 8, still summer.
But is it happening earlier and earlier each
year, as media outlets tend to proclaim every
No, it’s not.
Business Insider tracked the PSL launch date
over the years and since 2015 it has actually
been released later than years prior.
Sorry, newscasters, you’re going to have to
find something new to complain about.
Even if this rumor were true, there is no
shortage of those willing to drink a fall-flavored
coffee no matter what the temperature or season.
NBC News talked to PSL lovers in sunny Los
Angeles, one of whom proclaimed,
“There is something so inherently fall about
Even when it’s 100 degrees outside, it can
make you think of cool weather, the leaves
changing colors and [wearing] boots.”
So enough griping about the PSL being available
during the summer.
Who votes for putting it on the menu year-round?
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