Big news! Yesterday, Wednesday, February 4 2015, Starbucks announced that they would start offering coconut milk as a non-dairy option. It's scheduled to appear at a Starbucks near you beginning on February 17, 2105. Normally that would be a great option, especially for someone like me who is currently dealing with food sensitivities and needs to avoid dairy. It's also potentially better than their current non-dairy option, soymilk, which is quite possibly genetically modified.
While I don't drink coffee I do like an occasional green tea latte. However, on closer inspection it turns out this isn't going to be an option for me either. The ingredients panel shows several items that I can't consume and a couple more that I choose not to.
Let's start with carrageenan. It's a red seaweed which has been shown to be problematic for those with digestive issues. Not just those who have serious bowel health issues such as crohn's or ulcerative colitis, carrageenan can also affect those who struggle with bloating or gas issue. Many of them find that they do much better when they avoid carrageenan. For more information check out this report by the Cornucopia Institute. In fact many people who struggle with carrageenan also have issues with excessive amounts of gums in food products. This coconut milk also contains gellan gum, xanthan gum, and guar gum.
For ingredients I choose not to consume, and which I advocate others avoid as well, we see “natural” flavors [quotes are mine] which could mean anything and sometimes is a code for monosodium glutamate. There's also corn dextrin which, because it doesn't specifically say organic, could be genetically modified. While coconut milk itself isn't genetically modified, corn is one of the most highly GMO crops we have and conventional corn products should be avoided as much as possible. The vitamin A palmitate is most likely a synthetic form of palmitic acid; it's used to fortify dairy products.
There are coconut milks that do not contain these products however some of them contain a gum, usually guar gum, to help with thickening the coconut milk. Be sure to read the label to avoid ingredients you don't want to eat.
Update: A reader wrote in and told me that Starbucks was aligned with Monsanto and supported opposition to GMO labeling. Research shows that Starbucks is not directly affiliated with Monsanto other than that they both belong to the Grocery Manufacturers Association which is vigorously opposed to GMO labeling. Starbucks claims to be an “affiliate” member and in a direct quote from Starbuck's website:
“Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont State law.
The petition claiming that Starbucks is part of this litigation is completely false and we have asked the petitioners to correct their description of our position.
Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.”