Here's What's Really in Your Pumpkin Spice Latte

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
Pumpkin spice latte
What's inside your Starbucks pumpkin spice latte? Do you really want to know? STARBUCKS/HOWSTUFFWORKS

Every fall it's the same old story. Shorts, flip-flops and cherry slushies are unceremoniously ditched for jeans, hoodies and a beverage that has become equal parts revered and detested ‘round the civilized world — the pumpkin spice latte (PSL). In fact, it's so divisive a topic that it really should be considered for political debate fodder.

“What a waste of good coffee,” says Rebekah Kelleher, of Monroe, North Carolina. When asked where the concoction falls on his personal scale of one to 10, Derek Brawders of Spring Hill, Tennessee, replied, “The fact that it has become its own acronym makes it a minus 1 for me.”


Still, for every Derek-minded individual (and there are many who share his disdain), there seems to be a legion of PSL worshippers who can't fathom a fall without near-daily pumpkin-esque fixes. But do they even know what they're getting when they shimmy up to the counter to place that oh-so-beloved order? Although pumpkin is a known nutritional superstar, these beverages are a far cry from farm-fresh goodness, pretty much totally lacking the fruit's inherent benefits.

In a semi-bubble-bursting infographic, PSLs are broken down to explain how those dastardly baristas work their magic. Not surprisingly, the base ingredients for most PSL recipes are espresso and milk, with a heaping splash of pumpkin-spice syrup thrown in for good measure. The syrup is designed to mimic the taste of pumpkin pie, not to be confused with actual, honest-to-goodness pumpkin, with help from common pie spices like nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger and ground cinnamon.

Sounds tasty and oh-so-natural, right? Well, although about 10 percent of the average syrup features natural spices, the rest of it is chock-full of synthetic chemicals, like sabinene to mimic nutmeg, all of which are designed to fool us into thinking we're getting the real deal.

Lest you become too dejected, take heart in the fact that the Starbucks version does include a small amount of pumpkin puree ... so there's a teensy orange lining to cheer you up!

Is the reality of PSL ingredients being not too pumpkin-y damning enough to bring this juggernaut house of cards tumbling down? Probably not anytime soon. Folks who fall on the side of PSLs love them far too much to kick such a delicious, if not nutritious habit.

“I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I adore PSL!” says Marisa Eller of Greenville, South Carolina. “I love the sweet and spicy flavor. It always makes me feel warm and cozy inside.”