Now, with real pumpkin. (Photo: Starbucks)
Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte has been a fall favorite for years, inspiring memes, GIFs, and social media declarations of love.
But the latte took a hit last year after food blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, posted an article about her difficult quest to learn what’s actually in the pumpkin spice latte. What she discovered: There’s no pumpkin in it. However, the latte included two doses of caramel color level IV, a coloring made with ammonia that contains the substance 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), and artificial flavors reportedly made from substances like petroleum.
While the substances are considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA said last year that it will review its safety and “generally recognized as safe status” for 4-MEI after a Consumer Reports study found that a dozen soft drinks have higher-than-recommended dosages of the substance. The International Agency for Research on Cancer also defines 4-MEI as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Fans were not thrilled. And now, Starbucks has responded.
The company announced on Monday that when pumpkin spice lattes hit stores this fall, they will be made with real pumpkin and without caramel coloring.
Starbucks also posted the full ingredients list in a move toward greater transparency:
Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce: Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% or Less of Fruit and Vegetable Juice for Color, Natural Flavors, Annatto (Color), Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Salt
Whipped Cream: Light Whipping Cream (Cream, Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan)
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup: Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Citric Acid
Pumpkin Spice Topping: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove
But Starbucks isn’t the only coffee provider revamping its pumpkin-flavored lattes. Panera announced Tuesday that it’s unveiling a new “clean” pumpkin latte made “without artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives” (the company says it has always included real pumpkin in the drink).
While these moves sound like good ones — and admittedly reduce the number of artificial ingredients in the PSL — do they actually make the drinks healthier?
While the number of artificial ingredients will be lower, don’t be fooled — “adding pumpkin puree to these products does not elevate them to ‘health food’ status,’” New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health.
The switch to real pumpkin may add a little vitamin A and C, and a tiny amount of fiber, she says, but it’s fairly negligible.
Sugar is definitely an issue with these drinks, registered dietitian-nutritionist Karen Ansel, co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, tells Yahoo Health.
She points out that it’s the first ingredient of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice flavored sauce, and the second ingredient in the sauce is condensed milk, which usually has additional added sugar too. The vanilla syrup also contains sugar as its first ingredient.
And, Cording says, the sugar content can bumped up even more depending on the type of milk you choose to add to it.
“The bottom line is that this is probably still a very high-sugar, high-calorie drink,” says Ansel.
Sugar and calories concerns aside, however, Cording calls the move toward more natural ingredients by both companies “a step in the right direction.”
Can’t live without your pumpkin spice latte? Experts say a few little tweaks can make it healthier. Opt for the smallest size, skip the whipped cream topping, and ask for half the usual amount of syrup to save on calories and added sugar.
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