Fact Check

Is Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte Full of Toxins?

Among the claims made in a viral graphic are that Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes do not contain any pumpkin, that the flavoring contains high fructose corn syrup, and that a specific ingredient is dangerous.

Published Aug. 25, 2014

 (saemilee/Getty Images, stock)
Image courtesy of saemilee/Getty Images, stock
Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte contains numerous toxins, and the coffee giant is hiding the drink's ingredient list.

In August 2014, an image alleging the popular Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte was full of dangerous chemicals was widely circulated on social media sites.


Is this a baseless attack on Starbucks? Or is there any truth in this? I love pumpkin spice lattes, and i used to work for sbux, but I know that many American companies use toxic ingredients in their food recipes, of which food colorings are a big one. (I know that many artificial food colorings are banned throughout Europe.)

pumpkin spice toxic

Alongside it was a claim that the coffee giant had been less than forthcoming in response to requests for ingredient lists and was deliberately keeping Starbucks drinkers in the dark.

However, an available list of ingredients for the Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup can be found here on the Starbucks web site. The timing of the Pumpkin Spice Latte panic was almost certainly not coincidental, as the popular drink appears in Starbucks only in the autumn. At this time of the year interest in both the store-made and homemade versions of the beverage kick into gear — particularly on social media sites.

Among the claims made in the viral graphic are that Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes do not contain any pumpkin at all, that the flavoring contains high fructose corn syrup, and that a specific ingredient — "caramel color IV" or "IV caramel color" — is a dangerous additive and potentially carcinogenic. The claims are framed in such a way as to suggest the company has deliberately deceived its customers, and that attempts to learn more about the drink's ingredients have been met with resistance by Starbucks.

The lack of real pumpkin in the drink comes as no surprise given the consistency of the beverage. Many consumer products utilize flavorings instead of base ingredients, as in this case: it would be rather difficult to include the actual flesh of the squash in a latte-style beverage and still yield a drinkable result.

Also at issue is whether Pumpkin Spice Lattes contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener present in many sodas and commercial baked goods. Starbucks has indicated that HFCS may be present in some drinks due to manufacturing variations. According to a Starbucks spokesperson, Pumpkin Spice Latte drinks purchased at Starbucks outlets are sweetened with sugar, not HFCS. The flavoring syrup available for purchase in homemade beverages may contain HFCS, but that formula differs from the one used in Starbucks retail outlets.

Another aspect of the rumor that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are toxic stems from the inclusion of Caramel Color (class IV), another common food additive. FDA data states that Caramel Color (class IV) is generally considered safe:

Based on the available information, FDA has no reason to believe that there is any immediate or short-term danger presented by 4-MEI at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel coloring.

Due to the variety of sizes, milk options, and other customizations offered at Starbucks, a standard nutritional profile for the Pumpkin Spice Latte is not available. However, the Starbucks site allows consumers to select their preferred options to see complete nutritional information for that and all other menu offerings.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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