[NOTE: For more information on the inflammatory properties of the food ingredient carrageenan, visit https://www.cornucopia.org/carrageenan-2013]
by Kevin Geary
In an attempt to appeal to the non-dairy crowd, Starbucks is bringing “coconut milk” to the masses. After a successful trial run in select cities at the behest of their customers, Starbucks has decided to push forward with their dairy alternative.
Providing a non-dairy alternative to dairy and soy is the second most requested customer idea of all time from MyStarbucksIdea.com, generating more than 84,000 votes. Starbucks will deliver this additional customization with the introduction of Starbucks Single Origin Sumatra Coconut Milk, a creamy, delicious alternative to dairy and soy for handcrafted beverages, available beginning February 17, in Starbucks US company-operated and licensed locations.
Those who are committed to real food are no stranger to coconut milk. It’s deliciously thick and creamy, full of healthy saturated fats, and low in sugar.
That’s real coconut milk, though.
When Starbucks said they were debuting coconut milk as an option, my bullshit radar started scanning. And it found what I thought it would find: Starbucks is debuting coconut milk that isn’t coconut milk.
It’s not just that Starbucks coconut milk is a watered down version (which would be perfectly fine if it was otherwise unadulterated), it’s that it’s basically sugar water with emulsifiers and a little bit of coconut product.
Ingredients: Water, coconut cream, cane sugar, tricalcium phosphate, coconut water concentrate, natural flavors, sea salt, carrageenan, gellan gum, corn dextrin, xanthan gum, guar gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin d2.
Ingredients in most legit coconut milk:Coconut milk, water.
Now, in all fairness, Starbucks has to make sure the coconut milk consistency is very, well…consistent. Domesticated humans don’t like chunks of coconut fat floating in their lattes, so you have to do some doctoring—I get it.
But corn? Multiple gums? Carrageenan?
“Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding,” explains veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago.
That’s not to say that everyone is going to start getting ulcers, but carrageenan is known to cause gut inflammation and digestive distress in many people. I’d rather do without it.
What’s also annoying is that they sweetened it. Thanks Starbucks—now, people who enjoy the taste of coconut milk in their drink can’t enjoy Starbucks coconut milk without also drinking sugar.
That’s not where the annoyances end though. The fat content is severely reduced. This isn’t surprising considering the base of Starbucks coconut milk is water.
Real coconut milk would have four to five times the fat content. This is important because low fat, high sugar beverages are notorious for driving cravings later. A higher fat, lower sugar beverage would help balance hormones and sustain satiety.
This kind of thing is pretty typical of Starbucks though. They’ve done a masterful job marketing themselves as being health-conscious and high quality, both of which they’re really not.
Starbucks, you had a chance to debut a real non-dairy alternative here and you blew it.
Update: I apparently didn’t make my point well enough in the original. What really annoyed me about this announcement was the misrepresentation of the product by Starbucks, citing “single origin Sumatra coconut milk…from the tropical Indonesian island of Sumatra.” And they sell the “rich creaminess” line over and over again, along with a story about all the testing they did (which is nonsense because their product is no better than the cheapest coconut milk *product* on the market).