I bet you could tell that a post of this kind was coming, right?
It’s September, so it’s basically fall. Everyone’s talking about the weather changing, the beginning of a new season, and pumpkin spice lattes (still).
Here’s the thing… I love a good pumpkin spice latte. I really do. I’m not sitting here trying to “boo” pumpkin spice lattes. I actually really like them! But what I don’t love are the routine PSLs that you can get from the big chain coffee shops.
Why not? Because those Pumpkin Spice Lattes are sugar-bombs.
Here are the ingredients of a Starbucks PSL, with 2% milk and whipped cream topping (what you’d get if you ordered it straight off the menu):
Milk, Pumpkin Spice Sauce [Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% Or Less Of Fruit And Vegetable Juice For Color, Natural Flavors, Annatto, Salt, Potassium Sorbate], Brewed Espresso, Whipped Cream [Cream (Cream, Milk, Mono And Diglycerides, Carrageenan), Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid)], Pumpkin Spice Topping [Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove, Sulfiting Agents].
The first ingredient is milk. The second is the pumpkin spice sauce, which is largely made up of sugar. The actual espresso (coffee) part of your latte is the third ingredient, coming just before the whipped cream. So how much “coffee” is actually in your latte? Basically it’s a sweet, sweet paradise of milk and sugar, accompanied by a guaranteed sugar crash.
Let’s take a closer look at the sugar.
Did you know, if you order a tall PSL with regular milk and whipped cream, you’re drinking 39g of sugar? Want to drop the whipped cream because you think it’s healthier? Still, 37g of sugar. The American Heart Association tells us that women should consume no more than 24g of added sugar per day, and men 36 grams. Whoever you are, the Starbucks PSL is more sugar than your daily intake. Did I mention I was talking about the tall, which is the smallest size you can get? What kind of sugar-high would you get off a grande or a venti?
Aside from the sugar content, PSLs are often flavoured and coloured.
Just because it’s flavoured with “natural flavours”, doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Natural flavour a catch-all term for anything that occurs in the world naturally. PSLs are also coloured with “fruit and vegetable juice” which could mean anything. Chances are this isn’t the raw kind of juice either – I’m sure it’s also sugar-filled.
Just in case “fruit and vegetable juice” wasn’t enough, Starbucks includes something called “annatto” in their latte. This ingredient is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree and typically used as red food colouring. It’s a very popular choice for food colouring because it’s a “natural” product, and as a result it is not scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration. In a few cases, annatto has been shown to provoke various reactions when used as a food colourant.
Why does Starbucks need to “colour” it’s pumpkin spice latte again? Most of the time we drink them from an opaque white cup, so we can’t see what colour it is anyway! Artificial colours seem like pointless ingredients to me.
An important note for vegans and those avoiding dairy!
If you have a dairy sensitivity/intolerance/allergy, if you try to reduce your dairy intake, or if you are vegan, the Starbucks PSL is likely not for you. Their special “Pumpkin Spice Sauce” contains condensed skim milk as the second ingredient. If you order soy milk or coconut milk with your latte AND you ask for no whip, you’re still drinking cow’s milk in the special “pumpkin” sauce added to your drink.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living under a rock, but HOW did I not know this? As someone who has been avoiding most milk products for a few years now, I do my best to order dairy-alternatives when I buy coffee from my local coffee shop. Although I haven’t had a PSL for a few years, I used to get them somewhat regularly during the fall season. I never knew I was still consuming dairy and often I paid extra to get a dairy-substitute.
Are you a tea drinker? Watch out for hidden ingredients in your next cup of Pumpkin Chai tea.
Think you can escape the junky pumpkin spice latte and replace it with a tasty, seasonal pumpkin chai tea?
One of my favourite loose leaf tea joints, David’s Tea, has a seasonal Pumpkin Chai Tea that I used to drink religiously a couple of years ago. This year I thought it’d be nice to pick up some more, but I’ve gotten better at reading ingredients lists and this is what I found:
Black tea, cinnamon, cloves, caramel (milk, sugar, glucose syrup, butter, sorbitol, mono and diglycerides), carrot, lemon peel, pumpkin candies (sugar, rice flour, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, corn starch, gum arabic, cellulose gum, yellow 6, confectioner)
Here’s a serious question though: why does David’s Tea add the pumpkin candies?! There is no purpose for these candies and all they do is put unnecessary sugars, artificial colours and more junk into your tea, including soybean oil and yellow #6. Seriously, yellow #6. It doesn’t get much worse than artificial colouring categorized by a number. Similarly, if you’re vegan or have dairy allergies/sensitivities, you won’t be able to drink this tea because of the “caramel” which has milk and butter.
Next time you’re looking for a great and tasty festive tea like a pumpkin spice chai, just take a quick look at the ingredients. They should be whole ingredients like spices and tea, instead of artificially added flavours, colours and sugars.
Now what are your options?
Surprise! The best thing you can do for yourself is read the ingredients list. This is the only way you can be fully aware of what you’re putting in your body. I know a lot of us prefer not to know, but sometimes knowledge is power. Now you have the power to make the right, healthy decision.
Of course, not all options are bad! There are many companies and coffee shops out there that can offer a cleaner version of these drinks. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what choices you want to make for your health. While the odd Pumpkin Spice Latte isn’t going to kill you (except give you crazy amounts of sugar + a sugar crash), to me it’s worth spending a little extra time making my own pumpkin spice latte when I want one instead.
Want to learn how to make your own too? Check out my recipe below!
- 3/4 cup strong coffee (or 1-2 espresso shots)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cashew milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp pumpkin puree
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ginger
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- pinch of cloves
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- Prepare the coffee (or espresso).
- Heat the pumpkin puree and cashew milk on the stove for a couple of minutes until it's hot, but not boiling. Stir continuously.
- Remove from the stovetop and add vanilla, spices and maple syrup.
- Pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 20-30 seconds (to ensure the pumpkin puree is fully pureed).
- Pour coffee into a large mug. Add your pumpkin spice milk mixture.
- Top with extra cinnamon or even whipped coconut cream to make it a decadent dessert.