The Ugly Truth About Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

Before you grab that ever-so-tempting Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte on your way to work, you might be alarmed to know what’s in it…and, well, what’s not.

Since it is packed with artificial ingredients, I’ll start with what’s not found in the beverage. There’s no pumpkin in a “Pumpkin Spice Latte.” Isn’t it misleading to name a beverage after a nutritious and delicious food that doesn’t even make an appearance? It’s possible that there is pumpkin flavor, but no actual pumpkin. That’s like adding apple flavor instead of apples to apple pie.

And that’s just the beginning. A grande-sized Pumpkin Spice Latte contains a whopping 49 grams of sugar! That’s a lot for a single day, never mind a single beverage. It also contains a massive 380 calories and 13 grams of fat, 8 of which are saturated fat.  While all of that is less than impressive it’s the artificial ingredients and preservatives that really concern me.

According to Starbucks’ customer service department, here’s a list of ingredients found in a Pumpkin Spice Latte:

Sugar—No real surprise there except that it contains more sugar than a can of Coke (39 grams vs. 49 for the latte).

Condensed non-fat milk and Sweetened condensed non-fat milk—Allergy alert:  even if you order a milk substitute like soy milk for your Pumpkin Spice Latte you’ll be drinking some dairy products. So be aware if you have an allergy.

Annatto E160B color—While derived from natural sources, annatto can cause some adverse reactions, including skin, gastrointestinal, airway, and central nervous system reactions. The journal Annals of Allergy reports on a case of a severe anaphylactic allergic reaction to annatto. It is also reported to severely lower blood pressure. Added for color to an otherwise dark brown coffee, it really serves no purpose.

Natural and artificial flavors– This is a whole category of possible ingredients, none of which are specified and are usually classified as trade secrets.  However both natural and artificial flavors typically contain the toxin monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is frequently used in laboratories to create obese animals for testing.  Here’s an example of this practice. And another.

Caramel color E150D—According to Consumer Reports, “Some types of this artificial coloring contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI).” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center adds, “There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown.” Besides that, what’s a potentially health-damaging ingredient that serves no purpose other than to dye a food brown doing in a coffee beverage that’s … already brown?

Salt—A grande contains 240 mg of sodium, which is a lot for a single beverage.

Potassium Sorbate E202– Potassium sorbate has been shown in human studies to be both genotoxic and mutagenic. That means it damages genetic material and can cause mutations linked to disease, including cancer.

Milk–Starbucks uses 2% milk unless you request a different option.  The milk is from cows fed with antibiotics and likely fed genetically-modified corn, soy, and cottonseed as well.

Espresso—A grande Pumpkin Spice Latte contains two shots of espresso.

Whipped cream (contains vanilla syrup which further contains sugar, water, natural flavors, potassium sorbate, citric acid, and caramel color).

Pumpkin Spice Topping—contains cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and sulfites.  Sulfites have been known asthma triggers for many years and have even been banned from foods like salads. According to Consumer Reports, “Sulfites can trigger severe asthmatic symptoms in sufferers of sulfite-sensitive asthma. People deficient in sulfite oxidase, an enzyme needed to metabolize and detoxify sulfite, are also at risk. Without that enzyme, sulfites can be fatal. Because of the danger, labeling is required when sulfites are present in foods at levels at or above 10 parts per million (ppm) or whenever they’re used as a preservative.”  Yet, I couldn’t find any mention of the Pumpkin Spice Latte containing sulfites on the website and only discovered its inclusion when I called the company’s head office and asked for information. Considering that 18.7 million American adults have asthma, and there are over 3000 deaths caused by asthma annually in the US, use of sulfites shouldn’t be allowed and certainly not included in a spice blend on a popular coffee beverage.

After finding out about all these ingredients, I decided to start a Care2 petition and ask Starbucks to ditch the toxic ingredients. Please consider signing my petition here.

If you still want to indulge in a fall-flavored drink without the harmful additives, try this Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe.

By the way, if you want to ask another restaurant chain to change their ingredients or make a difference in another way, consider starting a Care2 petition and get some help from the online community.

Image credit: Josh Madison via Flickr

Check out my new books Weekend Wonder Detox and 60 Seconds to Slim. Subscribe to my free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow my blog on my sites and, and Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.  Take the FREE WEEKEND WONDER DETOX QUIZ to determine which detox is best for you.


Christine S
Christine S6 months ago


Christine M.
Christine M2 years ago

How about a real ingredient drink instead? DIY Hot Winter Drink: Pumpkin Spiced Latte Recipe #coffee #indulgence

Daphne H.
Daphne H2 years ago

No surprise .... buying coffee at Starbucks is = in my opinion to smoking. What a waste of money!

M Quann
M Q2 years ago

Thank you .

Roberta Z.
Roberta Z2 years ago

Too expensive for my budget. I'll stick to making my own.

Jessica S.
Jessica S.2 years ago

Not surprising. I wrote Starbucks to find out why their hearty kale brown rice salad wasn't labeled vegan and they would not answer the question. There must be something like the condensed milk in the salad dressing. Why can't they just serve real food?

Jessica S.
Jessica S.2 years ago

Not surprising. I wrote Starbucks to find out why their hearty kale brown rice salad wasn't labeled vegan and they would not answer the question. There must be something like the condensed milk in the salad dressing. Why can't they just serve real food?

Catherine H.
Catherine H2 years ago

Holy C_ap! I'd no clue this awful stuff was in the fraps and lattes at Starbucks! Just because this expose is on the Pumpkin Spice Latte, I'm guessing it's in the others too. Bummer to the MAX!

Thanks so much, Michelle Schoffro Cook, for exposing these drinks for the truth of what they are .. though I'm terribly disappointed. :-(


Ann M.
Ann M2 years ago

I stopped visiting Starbucks long ago, none of this surprises me.

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

We avoid Starbucks like the Plague. All their products taste like chemicals and are weak in terms of coffee, more like drinking instant stuff rather than real, fresh coffee.