The internet is blowing up with a controversy over what's inside of your favorite seasonal beverage at Starbucks: The Pumpkin Spice Latte. By reading some of the articles out there, you might be lead to believe that Starbucks invented the Pumpkin Spice Latte on another planet: (I just randomly found that picture on the internet - I don't hold the copyright! Sorry to whomever that pic belongs to!)
The truth is that you can enjoy your Pumpkin Spice Latte:
I contacted an official Starbucks spokesperson to learn more about the controversy over the Pumpkin Spice Latte:
Linda Mills (an official Starbucks spokesperson) gave me the following statement:
"The standard recipe for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte at company-operated and licensed stores does not contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and is sweetened with sugar. We are actively looking at phasing out caramel coloring. In any instances where it is used in our beverages, the level is well below the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) and safe to consume. Our milk is still hormone free, as we committed to in 2008. Regarding coffee, let me be clear: our coffee is safe. We purchase the highest quality arabica coffee in the world from farmers we know and trust. In the event pesticides were used on the outside of the coffee cherry, there would be virtually no trace of in a customer’s cup because of the roasting process. For customers who wish to purchase organic coffee from us, we have options available for them – nationally - such as Organic Yukon Blend.
As a company, we take pride in providing full ingredient transparency to our customers so they can make whatever choice is right for them on their beverage selection. The high level of personalization of Starbucks beverages available allows customers to enjoy a unique Starbucks Experience and tailor their drink to match their own personal taste preferences – including the selection from a variety of fresh dairy selections and soy milk, a combination of syrups, and coffee/espresso options and toppings. If customers have questions about any of the items offered in our stores, they can ask their barista for a list of ingredients or call us directly. We’re also working on listing core beverage recipes online via Starbucks.com and hope to have an update in the near future."
The milk at Starbucks does not come from cows given growth hormones. In January 2008, Starbucks made a promise to customers that all milk served inside their company-operated Starbucks stores would not come from cows given growth hormones. The Seattle Times mentioned this change here. It was in 2008 that Starbucks removed organic milk from their menu because sales of it were "very low." Still to this day, Starbucks hasn't changed their milk purchasing practices.
THE PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE SAUCE:
As mentioned above, the Starbucks brand Pumpkin Spice Latte sauce used in stores does not contain high fructose corn syrup. I know I've read place where people are concerned that there are no actual pumpkins in the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Actually, it makes sense to me that it is flavored as Pumpkin Spice.
THE ACTUAL COFFEE IN THE PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE (Or any other Starbucks beverage, for that matter).
When you buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you're most likely getting Starbucks Espresso Roast blend pulled as an espresso shot (or multiple shots). (My side comment here is that Espresso Roast also makes a lovely cup of drip coffee! Try it some time!) Coffee is very different than a product like spinach or apples which often have a high level of pesticide residue. The now-infamous Foodbabe.com article states that there might be "possible pesticide" residue in your coffee. Of all the things you have to worry about, this might be the least of your worries. Customers do not eat the outside cherry of the coffee. That soft cherry is removed and only the very inner dense coffee bean is roasted. Compare if you will, the coffee bean with the bananas you find at your local grocery store. (Stay with me here!). Some people say that bananas are the most pesticide-laden group of fruits yet the peeled banana fruit is tainted with very few pesticide residues. And bananas don't even get thrown into a hot coffee roaster! ;)
More importantly, Starbucks actively discourages farmers from using pesticides. Starbucks asks farmers to participate in a scoring process called "CAFE practices," which is essentially a way that Starbucks grades farms on how well they uphold environmental sustainability, transparency, and ethical practices and values. In 2012, 90% of Starbucks coffee was CAFE practices certified. Starbucks has certain "zero tolerance" items on the CAFE practices score card. If a farmer violates an area of "zero tolerance" his farm fails and will not be CAFE practices certified. One of the many "zero tolerance" areas is that no farmer may use any pesticides with active ingredients that would be considered "extremely hazardous" or "highly hazardous" under World Health Organization standards.
The bottom line is that you can enjoy your double shot of espresso and smile at the same time. Probably buying organic apples or spinach for home will do you a lot more good.
FINAL COMMENT: ISN'T THAT A LOT OF SUGAR?
I almost laugh each time a person singles out a Starbucks beverage as a high sugar beverage. I guess part of what surprises me (and this is just my opinion here) is that I look around me and see that Americans, as a whole, have a sweet tooth and love sugary food and beverage items. It's what we Americans seem to like. Everything in moderation. While we're at it, don't drink, don't smoke cigarettes, and be sure to brush and floss regularly. One news article suggests that the average American consumes 76 grams of sugar daily. One thing to consider about Starbucks beverages more generally, it seems (just by my anecdotal observation) that the "Grande" size (16 ounces) is one of the most popular sizes at Starbucks. If you are worried about how much sugar your beverage has, you could consider ordering just a "short" or a "tall" Pumpkin Spice Latte. It's one wonderful way to enjoy a treat, while scaling back on the sugars you're consuming - control portion size.
While I'm not totally convinced that a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte daily would be the best thing ever for your body, I also think that most people enjoy Starbucks as treat. In fact, the numbers back it up. Only about one in five Starbucks customers goes to Starbucks more than 16 times in a month. The average customer visits Starbucks six times a month. And if you're anything like me, you like a little variety and don't order the same thing over and over again.
This is my response to Foodbabe.com. I felt their article on the Pumpkin Spice Latte was highly sensationalized and designed just to get a rise out of readers, without really providing any quality information.
As always, this is just my opinion, but I too will be enjoying a Pumpkin Spice Latte now and then this fall. How do I know when it's fall in Seattle? When Starbucks starts offering Pumpkin Spice Lattes on their menus.