The Controversial Ingredients In Starbucks' Original Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Those of us who look forward to the annual autumnal return of the pumpkin spice latte have Starbucks' own Peter Dukes, now the company's Director of Urban Markets, to thank for the iconic beverage. In 2003, Dukes and his team developed a pumpkin-flavored sauce said to be enhanced with spices that included cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. The original drink was a hit from the get go, yet the PSL became the center of controversy when Starbucks refused to come clean about everything that went into the drink . And when fans eventually found out, they saw red instead of pumpkin orange.

Turns out, the beloved beverage in its initial form was made with a cocktail of chemicals that included caramel color class IV, which bears no relation to actual caramel, but which has been linked to lung cancer and leukemia in mice; it has even been identified as a potential cancer-causing agent for humans, according to a study conducted by PLOS One. The original pumpkin syrup also contained carrageenan, which has been linked to gut problems, and preservatives linked to allergies. While a grande PSL comes packed with what looks like a manageable 390 calories, The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that the drink packs 50 grams of sugar; 32 grams (about 7 ½ teaspoons) of which are added to the drink. To add insult to injury, the original pumpkin spice syrup didn't even have any real pumpkin.

It took years for Starbucks to make a change to its pumpkin spice lattes

It would take more than a decade for Starbucks to finally go back to the drawing board to redesign the drink. In 2015, faced by complaints over the chemicals and the sugar content, the company rolled out what it said was a new and improved syrup, claiming the changes gave the drink's popularity an even bigger boost. Among the changes: the gradual removal of the controversial caramel coloring in favor of vanilla syrup, as well as the addition of "some" pumpkin puree. In announcing the change, the company's vice president of Brand and Product Marketing, Thomas Prather, told CBS that the controversy was good because it "woke up the industry a bit to look inside and say, 'How can we have cleaner ingredients?'"

While there is now at least some pumpkin puree in a Starbucks PSL, critics say it isn't any better for you than the original syrup was. Of course, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a Starbucks PSL from time to time, but nutrition advocates say you're probably better off making the drink at home. Starbucks itself offers up a homemade recipe for its pumpkin spice syrup made of sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and pumpkin puree, with none of the controversial ingredients. Even though it might not taste exactly the same, chances are it will be better for you.