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Starbucks introduced the seasonal treat — now known simply as the PSL — in 2003. It has since spawned a widespread cult following and countless copycats.

What exactly makes the PSL so enticing? Well, for starters, there’s about 49 grams of sugar (12 teaspoons) in a typical 16-ouncer, which contains espresso, steamed milk, pumpkin-flavored syrup, and whipped-cream topping. What’s not clear is whether the concoction contains any actual pumpkin or squash. Starbucks lists most ingredients on its site but declined to specify all the contents in its so-called pumpkin syrup.

Read on to learn more about the anatomy of a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Ingredients

Sweetened Whipped-Cream Topping: Heavy whipping cream and vanilla syrup, containing sugar, water, natural flavors, potassium sorbate preservative, citric acid, and carmel coloring.

Espresso: Coffee gets a bad rap, and in excess it can be trouble. But enjoyed in moderation, it has a bright side, too.

Health benefits notwithstanding, it’s important to remember that coffee can be addictive. Most coffee drinkers ingest an average of 300 to 400 mg. of caffeine a day.

One ounce of espresso contains 40 milligrams of caffeine.

Steamed Milk (dairy or soy):

Dairy — The health benefits of low-fat dairy may be overrated and full-fat dairy could have more going for it than you’d think — assuming you can tolerate dairy in the first place.

If you’re aiming to improve the overall quality of your dairy choices, look for the following labels:

  • “Pasture-Fed” or “Grass-Fed”
  • “USDA Organic”
  • “Non-Homogenized”

Soymilk — A processed beverage made of ground soybeans mixed with water and boiled, which removes some antinutrients. Sugar is added to improve flavor. An 8-ounce serving contains up to 35 milligrams of isoflavones, which may change estrogen levels and hormonal function.

Pumpkin Flavored Syrup Ingredients:

Sweetened condensed nonfat milk: Because the milk is already included in the pumpkin syrup, even if you choose soy milk as a base for your PSL, there’s no way to make it entirely dairy-free or vegan.

Sugar: Along with the sweetened condensed milk, the pumpkin syrup contains additional sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup: A cheaper, processed version of sugar, HFCS rounds out the trifecta of sweeteners here.

Annatto: A natural orange food dye derived from a tree seed.

Natural and artificial flavorings (unspecified)

Caramel color: This widely used coloring has been shown to cause cancer in mice and hypertension in humans.

Salt: A PSL contains 220 mg of sodium.

Potassium sorbate: A flavorless synthetic preservative used to prolong shelf life, it has been linked to skin irritation on contact, as well as gastrointestinal distress.

Wholesome Pumpkin Spice Latte

By Maggie Fazeli Fard

This comforting cool-weather drink is a vegan, dairy-free, homemade alternative to the pumpkin spice lattes that crop up at coffee shops each autumn. As a bonus — and unlike its commercial, chemical-laden counterparts — this PSL contains actual pumpkin.

Makes 1 to 2 servings.

  • 2 cups strongly brewed coffee
  • 1 cup almond or coconut milk (or other dairy-free milk alternative)
  • 1/4 cup pure pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • Dash of cloves
  • Optional: honey or maple syrup (2 to 3 tbs., or to taste)
  1. Brew your coffee of choice.
  2. In a saucepan, combine milk, pumpkin purée, and spices (and sweetener, if using). Stir over medium heat until the mixture is gently bubbling.
  3. Combine the coffee and pumpkin-milk mixture in a mug. Enjoy!

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