Food Myths Nutrition

The Dirty Truth About Red Velvet Cake

red velvet cake

Red Velvet is one of America’s favorite cake flavors, but even a glance at this brightly colored treat should get you wondering: how exactly do they make it so red?

Simple:  GOBS of red food dye.  Most recipes call for 1/4 to 1/2 cup of red food coloring, which is a HUGE amount given that just a few drops of red food coloring is enough to turn white icing or batter a bright pink color.

So what is red food coloring, anyway?  In the U.S. it’s an artificial petroleum-based dye that goes by the following names:

  • Allura Red AC
  • Food Red 17
  • C.I. 16035
  • FD&C Red #40

Supposedly, Red #40 is edible and safe, but research has shown that it does increase hyperactivity in some children, and at concentrations as high as those found in Red Velvet cake, I would question how safe it really is.

My recommendation would be to opt for chocolate or vanilla flavors when you need a cake fix.  There’s just no point to eating red velvet, especially when most people agree that the taste is indescribable beyond “somewhere between chocolate and vanilla.”

Here’s a little more on the history and make-up of Red Velvet Cake if you’re still curious, and if you passionately disagree or have other thoughts, please do share!

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  • Julie Wheeler
    October 3, 2012 at 6:04 am

    I just make my own and leave out the food coloring, it has nothing to do with the flavor anyway.

  • Amelia
    October 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Good call, Julie. Is it still red?

  • Michelle
    October 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I’ve seen red velvet cake recipes that use beets to give the cake its color instead of food dye.

  • Amelia
    October 28, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Such a great idea!

  • Tammy Jones
    April 20, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I am currently displeased with my mother in law whose favorite cake is red velvet. For our 20th wedding anniversary my husband brought home a red velvet cake from the bakery. I couldn’t be more displeased as I have always been a health nut and avoid all food colorings when possible. I don’t think people who LOVE this cake know that it is not flavored unless you like the bitter taste of red food coloring. I hope more people read your blog. (the cream cheese frosting on it was super good though)

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