Only in America can a drink achieve pop-culture star status. And yes, of all the drinks in the world, the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has gone there and owned it. With its own hip moniker (AKA the PSL), a Tumblr page all its own, and a Twitter account with close to 84,000 followers, it's basically become the Britney Spears of the beverage world: simultaneously loved, hated, and gossiped about.
And -- like anything extremely popular, delicious, and all-American -- the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has also become the target of yet another Food Babe investigation by sensationalist food blogger Vani Hari.
Through her writing, the self-proclaimed health activist has worked to inspire change when it comes to replacing potentially harmful ingredients with more healthy alternatives for many of the country's fast-food restaurants. Hari's writing has prompted petitions that forced Subway to remove azodicarbonamide from its bread, criticized pizza chains for using MSG, and even convinced Chick-fil-A to phase out chicken given antibiotics.
Hari's latest investigation is aimed at Starbucks, specifically its pumpkin spice latte, with an August 25 blog post titled "You'll never guess what's in a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. (Hint: You won't be happy)."
As with many of her investigations, the Food Babe's most pressing concern begins with Starbucks' failure to disclose ingredients for all of its beverages online. Hari writes:
While they list some ingredients on their website, they still do not list the ingredients in their most popular items: their drinks! This includes all of their lattes, frappuccinos, macchiatos, smoothies, etc.
"With more than 170,000 ways to customize your Starbucks beverage, listing ingredients can be very complex. We've been working on listing our core beverage recipes online via Starbucks.com, same as we do with our food, and hope to have an update in the near future," a media spokesperson said Wednesday via email.
In her post, Hari goes on to list several "harmful" ingredients found in Starbucks' most popular beverage, the PSL, including IV caramel coloring, Monsanto milk, pesticide residue, artificial flavors, preservatives, and sulfites.
While Starbucks did not respond to questions about the Food Babe's pumpkin spice latte blog post -- including whether it has affected the company's decision to make any changes to the drink -- the media representative confirmed that the company is actively working to remove the caramel coloring from its beverage syrup.
"We are actively looking at phasing out caramel coloring, though we don't have timing to share," the media spokesperson said. "In any instances where it is used in our beverages, the level is well below the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) and safe to consume."
In the meantime, if you're looking for more information, the company is happy to provide full beverage ingredients upon request, the media representative added. Customers with inquiring minds can visit the Starbucks customer service website and specify which beverage they would like to know more about.
Last, while Hari's final claim that the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte contains absolutely no real pumpkin is also true, it appears Starbucks is going with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" stance. According to the spokesperson, the coffee giant won't be giving in on that one anytime soon.
"The idea behind the Pumpkin Spice Latte has always been to have an espresso-forward beverage, which is core to what Starbucks is known for, infused with pumpkin-inspired flavors and spices of the fall season," she said. "The PSL has become the company's most popular seasonal beverage of all time, and we have no plans to change the recipe."
Guess that means America's PSL lovers will be giving in to guilty pleasure. Now where's that Britney Spears CD?
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.