Why You Should Never Drink the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Why You Should Never Drink the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
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In August 2014, a food blogger generated a lot of public discussion when she uncovered the ingredients of Starbucks’ popular seasonal drink Pumpkin Spice Latte. Her post warned about some of the drink’s ingredients and their health risks. It also shed light on the fact that consumers are often being deceived, and that transparency is not a done thing when it comes to the food industry.

The first point the author raised was how difficult it was to obtain the list of ingredients for the Pumpkin Spice Latte. It seemed Starbucks was dogging to answer a simple question: What’s in the drink you serve to thousands of people? Different excuses were tossed around until the list was finally produced. And this is when the whole disappointment only begins.


It might not come as a surprise that Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte contains no pumpkin at all. We have already become aware of the fact that these sorts of strategies (and worse) are being used in today’s food marketing. A product is often considered healthier because of the name it carries. However, the labeling is sometimes misleading and even fraudulent, and it seems there is no authority that would protect you from that. For example, I recently wrote about the honey that is not considered to be a real honey.

Next, when the ingredients of the trendy Spice Latte were dissected, it emerged that some of them were very questionable. The most objectionable were the following:

  • The beverage contains Caramel Color Level IV,
  • It is full of sugars, possibly high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),
  • It uses non-organic milk associated with GMO farming and Monsanto,
  • It contains artificial flavors, preservatives and pesticides,
  • The vegan version (with soy milk) is not really dairy free.

The caramel coloring that Starbucks uses can be found in a few of their drinks. It’s used for a very non-essential task of coloring the coffee. It is made from ammonium and its byproduct is 4-methylimidazole or 4-MEl, which is a controversial substance. It’s approved by the FDA, but many claim it’s dangerous and potentially carcinogenic. It can increase the risk of cancer in mice, and has been branded as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Nonetheless, the FDA says that there is no immediate or short-term danger presented by 4-MEI at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel coloring.


Another issue is the excessive use of sugar. Different sources at Starbucks provided different information on what is used to sweeten the beverage, so it’s not clear whether the sweetener is HFCS or not. Again, The FDA considers HFCS to be safe, while other sources connect it with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Whatever the sweetener, ‘Grande’ has over 50 grams of sugar, so will definitely supply you with a questionably high dose (you can read more about the top 10 worst ingredients in food in my previous article).


Milk has also been a bone of contention. Starbucks refuses to offer organic milk, and this is something that is not likely to change in the near future. They instead use suppliers which feed their cows on GMO crops and inject them with antibiotics. What’s more, if you ask for a vegan option, you will most likely be offered soy milk as a replacement for milk. However, the pumpkin sauce contains condensed nonfat milk, so using soy milk doesn’t make the brew vegan. Also, the soy milk Starbucks uses contains carrageenan. This is a natural ingredient, but it has been linked to gut inflammation and irritation, and even cancer. Not everything that is natural is necessarily good for you.

But why do artificial ingredients have to be added in such astronomical amounts in the first place? After all, if you want to make a natural pumpkin flavored drink at home, all you need is milk, coffee, honey or maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice. And if you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you can prepare these easy homemade milk substitutes. No need for a zillion of additives and flavorings that can damage your health.

By Jenny Hills

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32 Responses to Why You Should Never Drink the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

  1. Roland says:

    Sounds a lot like “everything” you already eat in the super market… Until there’s reform on a GLOBAL scale, I wouldn’t really worry about this being anything fantastic enough to stop drinking it… it’s a once in a while treat, not a daily beverage.

    I like hotdogs, but found out they have shreds of shoes added to them (no joke, they actually throw in shoe suede fabric) and other garbage, but I’m still eatin it because it’s yummy and I’m 65 years and still going. Enjoy your starbucks folks.. everyone is trying to kill everyone, there’s no regard for life, but until the young folks actually do something about it, it’s no use complaining. All bark and no bite makes jack hungry for pancakes!

    • Adria says:

      “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

      I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

      When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

      Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

  2. Leah says:

    What did you do about it when you were young Roland?

  3. Louisa says:

    “Old” people can do something too… by voting with their feet! Doesn’t need to be anything as dramatic on a GLOBAL scale, simple inform people and let them choose. As more people feel good about themselves, so they’ll feel inspired to make their own.. and places like this will close. slowly, but surely. Like seaworld! it takes articles like these to spread the word.. well done healthy and natural world.

  4. Jane Laberee says:

    Has Starbucks ever claimed to be to be a source for all-natural products? Not that I recall. So why do you go there expecting that and react with shock when disappointed?

    • G-Goats says:

      Starbucks, along with all conventional places that serve food and drinks, is made for the majority who have taken the blue pill and are blissfully ignorant of what they consume.

  5. Steve says:

    We’re being poisoned for profit !!

  6. Rex says:

    what do you expect to find? Nose in the air yuppies who can afford 5 to 20 dollars a day on mucky coffee. Let them eat all the GMO foods they want. They can afford it.

    • Ashley says:

      Like the food that less well-off, working folk eat are any better. The fact is, the more publicity these types of things get – the higher chance that change will occur in the future. And for my son’s sake, I truly hope to see change soon in the food industry. The FDA has been shirking their responsibility and choosing profit over honor for long enough. It’s time to do their jobs right and ensure that Americans not only know what they are consuming (without fancy names nobody recognizes) but that food with questionable ingredients are removed from our shelves or are tacked with warning labels.

    • halez says:

      So just because we appreciate quality fair trade coffee that makes us yuppies? I’m a college student but I still prefer a coffee where I know where it comes from and yes I used to work there but now I know how to appreciate a half decent coffee not watered down dishwater.

  7. minnie says:

    The amounts of any of this are probably not enough to get worked up about unless you are drinking multiple ones of these daily. As with everything the dose makes the poison. The same person that pushed this from the start drinks alcohol regularly which is also a known carcinogen, but that doesn’t stop her from drinking alcohol in moderation.

    • Ashley says:

      I hardly find this as a valid justification. A little cyanide may not kill you either, but I would still prefer it’s not in my coffee. And if it is, I would like to know so that I can make that decision for myself. Just because you don’t drink enough in one dose to cause instant harm, does not mean that it doesn’t accumulate over time in the body and cause long-term effects. Keep eating poison in small doses, and eventually you get cancer or auto-immune diseases. It might not kill you now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you later.

  8. Richa says:

    The problem I believe is more with FDA and other equivalent agencies that approve and mark these harmful chemicals as “safe”… I have read thousands or research works and articles about several so called “safe” chemicals used in different products ranging from food to cosmetics to baby products… Its the regulatory agencies that will need to take tough stance on such things and stop treating humans like commodity!

    • Krista says:

      Just because a chemical is used in other applications does not make it unsafe. Quantity is extremely important to look at, of course a ton of preservative is bad for you – but small amounts here and there are perfectly fine. A ton of anything is bad for you. Even water too much water can harm you.

      Reading that a substance is used in other applications says nothing about its safety for human consumption. Chemicals react differently when you put them with different chemicals. (And I say chemicals here because everything is a chemical, even water). So the reactions that occur when a chemical is in acid (think stomach acid) is going to be different from how it reacts in a highly specialized, controlled environment to make a product. It is when the chemicals are studied in the frame of consumption that you can draw conclusions about safety for consumption.

    • Ashley says:

      I agree. The FDA is a joke. They are not doing their duty. They’re accepting paybacks and all sorts of hogwash, but their duty is to protect consumers and offer transparency. I strongly believe we need more stringent guidelines and more transparency in the food industry.

  9. hiro says:

    Actually I had a reaction when I drunk this . since then I didn’t go yo there anymore

  10. Suhaila says:

    Jenny. Love you must stop eating because organic foods sometimes are not organic. In today living hardly nothing is full of additives or hormones.

  11. chris says:

    So don’t drink it…problem solved. Bunch of whiners.

  12. Ashley says:

    I, for one, appreciate the transparency of knowing what I’m putting in my body. I don’t understand the negative posts. If you don’t care, then why are you even on this website?

  13. Beth says:

    i can’t believe anyone actually pays attention to this looneytoon. She pulls her pseudoinformation out of the air and people believe this drivel. As P. T. Barnum used to say, there’s a fool born every minute.

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Beth, the food blogger who raised this issue back in August 2014 didn’t invent her information and it is backed by facts. If people choose not to believe it – it their choice.

  14. Usha says:

    ‘Starbucks ‘is a prestigious name all Indians in US are almost addicted to.why not the govt.which is very much concerned about its people ban lt? (i wish and hope Modi govt.does not bring it to india as they did with kfc, baskin&robins, lays and the like) .

  15. Denise says:

    News flash: these aren’t meant to be healthy. Anyone thinking “pumpkin” in this makes it healthy is silly. Never do I go to ANY coffee joint expecting ANY of their goods to be healthy. Brother!

  16. halez says:

    If you ask a Barista if the PSL is dairy free they will say no coming from someone who used to be a Barista honestly it tastes good so we drink it and honestly everything can give you cancer now days heck if you wear deoderant instead of antiperspirant it can cause cancer so don’t blame the company if the soy milk was that bad they wouldn’t sell it in stores either.

  17. Darren says:

    Of course there’s no pumpkin in it. It’s “pumpkin spice” not “pumpkin”.

    And you’ve got to love the people who get sick and blame the last thing they ate.

  18. Corinna says:

    I’m not sure how it works in most cities but the Starbucks I’ve been to in Canada use the exact same milk I buy in the store. I’ve seen them.

  19. Tim says:

    This is a pumpkin SPICE latte. Why in the world would I expect tasteless pumpkin be in the drink? Pumpkin has no taste until you add “pumpkin spice”. If I hear this silly argument again I’m going to freak.

    • Jenny says:

      Pumpkin has no taste? than if so why doing PUMPKIN spice latte? maybe they can just do SPICE latte? Who is the silly here?

      • Brenda says:

        Jenny, I believe that “pumpkin” is used as an adjective describing the particular spices traditionally used in pumpkin dishes such as pies.It is not meant to imply or infer that the concoction contains pumpkin.

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