Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Sauce And Syrup Are Not The Same Thing

Every year, that season called fall rolls around and to many coffee lovers out there, that means one thing: pumpkin spice. Whether your fall favorite is the classic Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) or you like to craft your own orders like Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate, you know you can find pumpkin spice creations at Starbucks — all made possible by their seasonal pumpkin spice syrup. Or is it sauce? The whole pumpkin spice thing can get confusing, because historically there has been both pumpkin spice syrup and pumpkin spice sauce used in Starbucks's seasonal concoctions, and they're not the same thing.

The difference is that Starbucks' pumpkin spice syrup is a water-based liquid sweetener made with sugar and artificial flavors; this syrup has changed recipes over time but it no longer exists on Starbucks' menu. Pumpkin spice sauce, on the other hand, is a thicker sauce that contains dairy, which Starbucks uses in all of its pumpkin spice-flavored items.

What's in Starbucks' pumpkin spice sauce?

The pumpkin spice sauce at Starbucks is what flavors its signature fall creations and gives the drinks not just an added sweetness and flavor, but also an added creaminess and texture. So if it's not syrup, then what is it exactly?

Starbucks' pumpkin spice sauce is made with a base of sugar, condensed skim milk, and pumpkin puree — this gives the sauce its sweet flavor and thick consistency. Other ingredients include natural flavors (presumably pumpkin pie spice flavoring), salt, and coloring such as fruit and vegetable juice and annatto (which is an orange-red plant-based food coloring). Lastly, the sauce contains potassium sorbate, which is a chemical additive often used as a preservative.

You'll find the pumpkin spice sauce in both hot and cold seasonal drinks, like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino, and the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. These drinks often include Starbucks' pumpkin spice topping as well, which is a blend of fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

The evolution of Starbucks' pumpkin flavoring

Although it is no longer available and has essentially been replaced with pumpkin spice sauce, Starbucks' pumpkin spice syrup has quite a history. It first came into existence back in 2003 when Starbucks employee Peter Dukes and his beverage team were tasked with creating the first-ever seasonal fall beverage.

While the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte was a smash hit and has continued to be a customer favorite for 20 years, the syrup itself has changed over time. The first version was made mostly of sugar; it didn't include any real pumpkin, and instead contained artificial flavors and questionable ingredients. When customers found out what was in the syrup, complaints began to pour in.

It wasn't until 2015 that the recipe was changed to include real pumpkin and remove some of the controversial additives like caramel color, which is thought to be harmful and can potentially cause cancer. After that recipe update, a new and improved PSL emerged that gained even more popularity — and eventually, the pumpkin spice syrup became the pumpkin spice sauce that so many love today.