Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte: Why you can’t give it up

Pumpkin Spice Latte Pumpkin Spice Latte (Image: Giphy, @trace2017)

Living in India, we are denied the thrill of the fall season. But we do get to experience it vicariously and live out the autumn lore, at least in part, thanks to Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. The calorie-laden pumpkin-flavoured beverage or PSL, as it’s lovingly called, made its landfall in India in the September of 2018.

Lord knows how many litres of the nutmeg-scented beverage my friends and I have guzzled down since then. And we are hooked.

My friends who share my love for pumpkin spice latte, patiently wait for PSL to hit Starbucks every August-September. “It’s the cinnamon,” says Shalu, a day-one PSL fan.

My friend Sneha even has a term of endearment for it: “kaddoo coffee.” (Kaddoo is pumpkin in Hindi). “I think it is just the thought of drinking pumpkin that’s fascinating,” she observes.

I hated being the bearer of bad news, but Sneha didn’t seem too pleased to know that the Starbucks version of Pumpkin Spice Latte didn’t have the eponymous ingredient — pumpkin — when it first launched. The present version has a nominal amount of pumpkin puree (less than 2%) added to placate the indignant army of PSL lovers.

The deception doesn’t end there. Our favourite drink may not even have the natural spices in it! Sacrilege!

And, more worryingly, chemical, fat and carb composition of store-bought pumpkin spice latte could be colluding with the brain to create a drug-like addiction to the drink.

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Will these facts turn us away from our favourite pumpkin drink/dessert for good? Let’s find out.

The history of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

The PSL first came out in 2003. When it was first introduced, Starbucks tested many spice-and-pumpkin combinations and settled for a flavour without pumpkin in it.

The drink outpaced the company’s expectations with customers driven to a frenzy by the flavourful holiday drink. With over 200 million cups sold, Starbucks’ PSL had achieved legendary proportions.

But in 2014, a blogger Vani Hari raised concerns about its ingredient list, especially on its use of harmful food colouring, absence of pumpkin and the obscene amount of sugar. Coupled with the fact that the drink is really addictive, these facts don’t bode well for our PLS addiction.

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Food scientist Kantha Shelke broke down how Starbucks replicated the taste and smell of the pumpkin spice: “Pumpkin spice mix contains at least 340 flavour compounds and these are not found in the kitchen cupboard. But the human brain can fill in the blanks, so commercial operators use about 5-10 percent of the natural blend of spices.”

She said chemicals like cinnamic aldehydes for cinnamon, eugenol in place of clove or allspice, terpenes such as sabinene for nutmeg, and zingiberene for ginger were substituted to create a signature scent reminiscent of the pumpkin pie. “They may also contain vanillin and cyclotene for the burnt butter or maple notes to round off the flavour,” she added.

In February 2015,  a cross-sectional study published in PLoS broke down exactly how certain foods can create an addiction.

Foods, which are high in fat, refined carbohydrates, like PSL can behave like “drugs of abuse”, especially if the carbs are rapidly absorbed into the body indicated by its glycemic load. Bear in mind, PSL is also loaded with the highly-addictive caffeine.

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What you can do about it

Trust me, PSL tastes just fine without the truckloads of sugar, cream and flavourings. In fact, it could be healthy too.

Pumpkin is a nutritious fruit that has liver-protecting, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant qualities. It can lower blood pressure and even regulate blood sugar. It is also a good source of beta carotene. The triad of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg also packs a nutritious punch.

With pumpkins flooding the markets this season, the time is ripe to experiment with a homemade version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte for a fraction of the cost.


  • A small piece of pumpkin
  • A teaspoon of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove powder
  • A drop of vanilla essence (or saffron)
  • 1/2 a cup of black coffee
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • Milk as required


  • Clean the pumpkin and get rid of its peel.
  • Cut it into 3-4 pieces and steam it.
  • When it gets mushy, transfer it into a bowl and puree it.
  • In a saucepan, add half a cup of water, transfer the puree and add sugar.
  • Add your spice mix to it and cook it on a slow flame till the water evaporates and you are left with a smooth mix.
  • In a cup, add the strong black coffee, a splash of milk and a few drops of the vanilla essence.
  • Now spoon in 2-3 teaspoons of your pumpkin mixture and stir.
  • Enjoy!

The pumpkin puree mixture will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

So, I am having my friends over this week for my version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Watch this space to find out whether the homemade version is enough to convert a bunch of PSL fanatics.