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What's in your Pumpkin Spice Latte? ( + A Recipe!)

Autumn is easing its way in and the leaves are turning orange and brown hues and the pumpkin spice latte is making a major comeback. So surely everyone is starting to feel it's autumn now.  The PSL is now the official symbol of autumn - forget the weather or the leaves changing colour.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Image
Anybody who has tried the PSL and tasted it knows that it doesn’t even taste of pumpkin, nor does it have any of its nutritional benefits.  A cooked, mashed cup of it has most, if not all of your daily vitamin A and a significant percentage of both your daily potassium and fibre. Recently, the autumnal drink has been in the news for its recipe, which doesn't include real pumpkin or real, natural flavours. All flavours are replaced with chemicals which make up the flavouring. The caffeinated drink now has pumpkin included in it as of this year, part of the recipe.  

Did the word “chemicals” scare you? Well, it shouldn’t. But thanks to a certain group of people, chemicals have been turned from something normal into something scary and could potentially harm our health, when in actual fact some chemicals are pretty harmless. Now let’s get back to our original topic: the chemicals in the pumpkin spice latte.

The new commercial recipe for this year is:
  • Espresso
  • Milk
  • Pumpkin Spice Flavoured Sauce (Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% or Less of Fruit and Vegetable Juice for Colour, Natural Flavours, Annatto [Colour], Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Salt)
  • Whipped Cream (Light Whipping Cream [Cream, Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan])
  • Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavours, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Citric Acid)
  • Pumpkin Spice Topping (Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove).

After finding out the new recipe for the infamous PSL – we can find out what chemicals go into the famous pumpkin spice sauce that makes up the taste of autumn...
Chemicals in the Pumpkin Spice Flavoured Sauce:

  • This chemical is widely found in sports drinks and ready-to-drink protein shakes
  • It’s used as a thickener and is used to improve the texture of products
  • Carrageenan has been proven to be safe for use in food (and even in baby formula).
  • Carrageenan was incorrectly mistaken for the carcinogen: Polygeenan. Although their names are similar they are two completely different compounds with different purposes.  

Natural flavours

"Natural flavors in the United States are defined in 21CFR 101.22, as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”  “Natural Flavors Hit the Label” 

  • Is an orange-red food colouring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.
  • Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavour as "slightly nutty, sweet and peppery".[1]

Potassium sorbate
  • Potassium sorbate is a food preservative which has been used for many years.
  • Its E number is 202
  • Loads of tests have been conducted on this compound and have confirmed its safety for use in food.
  • However, there have been reports that some people may be allergic to potassium sorbate.

Citric acid
  • Is a natural preservative which can be found widely in citrus fruits.
  • Citric acid is also be added an acidic / sour taste to foods.

Vanillin and vanillin flavour
  • Artificial and natural vanilla flavours are used widely in food, derived from the pheonolic family.
  • Natural powdered vanillin is expensive compared to artificial vanillin plus artificial flavours last longer.
  • The purpose of artificial flavours is to deliver the sensory impression of a food or beverage product; note the official definition for NATURAL FLAVOUR.

Why do we need all these chemicals?
The coffee sauce flavouring is designed to taste just like cooked pumpkin spice: a blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The aim isn’t to taste like pumpkin but more of the spice(s).  The coffee company have used the minimum number of compounds they need to reach their signature flavour.  These chemicals are essential because it’s not sustainable to harvest the vast amounts of ginger, cinnamon, or cloves needed to match our (the consumers) appetite for pumpkin spice lattes.
If there’s one thing to be worried about, it’s the copious amounts of sugar (in total 49 grams!!) in this drink. Everyone has to take care of what goes into their body. And always remember that everything in MODERATION is good. 


Since I’ve said the word pumpkin spice latte a million times in this post, you’re probably craving one right now so here’s a recipe which makes 2 mugs of PSL...

  • 1/2 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean
  • 2 cups full cream milk
  • 1/4 cup or espresso or strong coffee
  • 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin or homemade pumpkin puree (Here’s a simple recipe )
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or use a whipped cream packet (Optional)

Here’s how to make homemade PSL:

If you would like whipped heavy cream until stiff peaks form or prepare your whipped cream packet according to package instructions and set aside (Optional)
  • Begin by making your espresso and split it between two mugs
  • Next, cook your pumpkin puree along with your ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a small saucepan over medium heat then add the sugar, stirring until the mixture turns into a syrupy consistency.
  • Add the milk to the mixture and warm over medium-low heat, then stir in your vanilla. Put your warmed milk mixture in the blender and blend until frothy.
  • Finally, add the milk mixture to your coffee and top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

IMAGES [1] [2] REFERENCES: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]