Can Somebody Explain "Red Velvet" to Me?

Updated on July 12, 2012
B.D. asks from Pittsburgh, PA
11 answers

So my daughter saw a commercial for IHOP's new red velvet pancakes and has been talking about them. I don't understand "red velvet". Isn't it just chocolate with A LOT of red food dye added? So what is the attraction?

Then I wonder...isn't there a country that bans added food dyes and coloring? So is there no such thing as "red velvet" there?

Just curious...

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answers from Tampa on

I love red velvet! It's my fave all time desert! And I've NEVER used food coloring to give it that wonderful red hue. I use beet juice which helps give it more of a authentic taste in my opinion :) but yes it is a more bitter chocolate cake.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Yeah....never "got" the appeal....
IMO, just not what *food* should look like!
It used to involve buttermilk and beetroot, but I suspect now, most "red velvets" use good old fashioned DYE! haha
So probably few of us have ever tasted what it DID taste like, so hard to judge whether it's a good thing or not, right?

Here's some history:
James Beard's 1972 reference American Cookery describes three red velvet cakes varying in the amounts of shortening and butter. All use red food coloring, but the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin in the cocoa. Before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and similar names for chocolate cakes. Care should be taken when having Red Velvet cake with tea. Recent studies have shown that the active ingredient in the red food coloring commonly used by bakeries to make Red Velvet cakes can react with tea in the presence of stomach acids and cause extreme stomach cramps and severe diarrhea.

While foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture. Adams Extract, a Texas based company, is credited for bringing the Red Velvet Cake to kitchens across America during the time of the Great Depression by being O. of the first to sell red food color and other flavor extracts with the use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards. The cake and its original recipe, however, are most well-known in the United States from New York City's famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The cake's original recipe is also made with buttercream icing, while a Southern variation of the cake is made with cream cheese frosting. Beetroot or beets are not used in the Southern version of the Red Velvet recipe.

In Canada the cake was a well-known dessert in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton's department store chain in the 1940s and 1950s. Promoted as an exclusive Eaton's recipe, with employees who knew the recipe sworn to silence, many mistakenly believed the cake to be the invention of the department store matriarch, Lady Eaton.

A resurgence in the popularity of this cake is partly attributed to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias in which the groom's cake (a southern tradition) is a red velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo. In recent years, red velvet cake has become increasingly popular and can usually be found in most cupcake bakeries.

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answers from Seattle on

Most non commercial food colorings are natural, not artificial. In fact, the name stems from being made FROM food... Not that it's used for food (food coloring used to be used for all sorts of no food applications).

Yellow from saffron and a certain flower (I forget which), red from beets and berries, blue from a fungus or indigo, and green from a certain edible lichen. My great grandmother had the recipes for them, and they're also found in colonial and ancient cook books (including roman empire). Most of the 4 color food coloring boxes are still naturally sourced, at least the last two boxes I bought were. They used the Latin names, but they were the Latin names for beets and raspberries, etc... It's the crazy colors that are Red40, Yellow #5, etc.

Red velvet can be made a LOT of different ways. White cake, chocolate cake, spice cake, almond, etc. the only 'standard' is the deep red hue, and it usually has a cream cheese frosting (because it's an old thing).

One consistant with red velvet is that the TEXTURE is different... Velvety when made right/the old way... Because of the sheer volume of food coloring used changed the batter consistency. It's a denser cake without being heavy.

Velvet cakes can be made in any color... It's a chemical process. Just like angelfood, coffee cake, devils food, tortes, mousse cake, crumb cake, etc.

Yeesh. My brain is really full of a lot of useless info.

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answers from Grand Forks on

There are many natural food dyes that are used as well. Some natural red food dyes come from beet root, paprika and a type of beetle. I don't like it because I don't really like chocolate. The food colouring doesn't bother me.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

The majority of red velvet cakes have a huge amount of red dye, not natural at all. How nice that some of the moms on here still do it the old fashioned way with natural dyes but that is highly unusual. Personally, I don't get why people love it so much. I like cream cheese frosting, that is a nice thing about it but the cake itself is such a non taste. I mean, it has a little chocolate flavor but not enough to say it's chocolatey. It's not vanilla either. The texture is nothing to write home about either. Many countries ban food dyes. They are petroleum derived and you can almost always find alternative. I would avoid it.

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answers from Augusta on

The velvet refers to the texture. IF it's made right.
Many people have never had one made with an actual red velvet cake recipe. Many times it's just a basic chocolate cake with red dye in it , not with the vinegar ,etc in it that gives it the velvet texture.

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answers from Austin on

I personally have never cared for it. I do not like that bitter flavor.. It is making a comeback...

It is a very old fashioned recipe. Yes, food color can be used but Beet root will also work..

Here is the history

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answers from Dallas on

This is a a great question!

I've never cared for the red velvet I've had, but apparently I've never had the real thing. Red chocolate just seemed wierd. Now I'll have to seek the real thing out or try to make it myself. I love the education ya'll have given me today. Thanks!

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answers from Dallas on

Yep! You are SPOT on! We avoid all artificial colors b/c they are just so not natural and are made from such disgusting things.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Red velvet is an old style of cake. Typically it's a mild-to-dark flavored chocolate, but it's a certain flavor of chocolate, using milk that's been clabbered. The red color comes from beet juice, which of course is safe, but also stains. It's delicious, but not a simple recipe. You can put a cream cheese icing on it or a simple buttercream. Some people top it with cherries.

If you buy it in a box or want to make it with short cuts, then there's a LOT of Red 40 involved and HFCS. Enough to make people who are even slightly sensitive to artificial food colorings vomit it right back up even if all they eat is a cupcake worth. I've made it homemade using "only" one ounce of Red 40, and it was dark red... just too much. The chocolate wasn't very chocolatey.

The BEST recipe was a real recipe, old fashioned, with beet juice and lots of cocoa.

I would NOT try IHOP red velvet pancakes unless I could verify that they're made with beet juice and real sugar. For what it's worth, they have 1,370 calories per serving.

*Red 40 and HFCS are a major concern in our house because I have two children that are very sensitive to these disgusting chemicals health-wise and behavior-wise. One has ADHD and the other has Autism and ADD.

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answers from Boise on

When made properly, red velvet cake has a "velvety" texture and a (natural) deep red hue, it is also a chocolate cake, more bittersweet than usual chocolate cake, but it is sweetened by the cream chees frosting on top! It is delicious!

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