Home Articles What Is Red Velvet Cake? (+ Why It’s Red)

What Is Red Velvet Cake? (+ Why It’s Red)

Red velvet cake is one of those desserts that always seems to stand out from the crowd.

But what is red velvet cake, and how did it become so popular?

Red Velvet Cake Slice on a Saucer

Red velvet cake is, as the name suggests, a rich, velvety red color.

The flavor is unique, sitting between chocolate and vanilla with a distinct buttermilk tang.

Often served with stark white cream cheese frosting, the color of this cake is what hits you first.

It’s a stunning contrast that looks incredible in any form. I’m talking cakes, brownies, and any other red velvet desserts you can think of.

If you’ve never tried it (or even heard of it), don’t worry. This post will walk you through all the key questions.

What Is Red Velvet Cake?

Red velvet cake is a popular dessert known for its signature bright red hue.

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s the deal with the red color?” 

Well, back in the day, the secret ingredient that gave this cake its signature hue was cocoa powder.

Not only did it add a unique flavor, but it also made the cake look stunning.

But fast forward to today, and the most common way to achieve that vibrant red color is by using red food dye.

It’s still just as tasty, but maybe a little less natural.

Red velvet cake isn’t just any old cake. Nope, it’s a buttermilk cake with a hint of cocoa, topped with a dreamy cream cheese frosting. 

The combo of tangy buttermilk, rich chocolate, and creamy frosting is a match made in dessert heaven.

So, why has red velvet cake stood the test of time? It’s a classic dessert that continues to be loved by many.

And for good reason, as it’s unique and absolutely scrumptious.

A Sliced of Red Velvet Cake on a Saucer

What Does Red Velvet Cake Taste Like?

Red velvet cake has a subtle cocoa flavor that’s not too overpowering.

Think of it as a happy medium between vanilla and chocolate cake. 

But what really sets it apart is the tangy flavor of the buttermilk. It takes this cake to the next level. 

And let’s not forget about the sweetness. Red velvet cake has a hint of vanilla that balances out the tanginess perfectly.

And the buttery goodness? Don’t even get me started. It’s like biting into a slice of heaven.

Plus, the texture of red velvet cake is something special.

It’s dense, yet soft, with a velvety crumb that’s moist and oh-so-satisfying.

History of Red Velvet Cake

Legend has it that this cake originated in the South during the 1800s. It became a hit at special occasions like weddings and Christmas.

But what about that signature red color?

Back then, bakers used a chemical reaction between cocoa powder, vinegar, and buttermilk to achieve a reddish hue. Pretty cool, right?

But it wasn’t until the 1930s that things got really exciting.

That’s when Adams Extract started selling red food coloring.

This made it way easier to achieve the vibrant red color we all know and love today.

slice of red velvet cake

But the story of this cake goes back even more.

Cooks in the 1800s added cocoa powder to cake batter to create a lighter, fluffier texture. This gave birth to “velvet cake.” 

Meanwhile, devil’s food cake was on the rise.

And it inspired the use of cocoa powder in velvet cake recipes, resulting in the birth of red velvet cake.

Nowadays, red velvet cake has become a staple in bakeries and kitchens worldwide. 

And it’s not just cakes anymore, you can find red velvet cupcakes, brownies, cookies, and even pancakes!

What Makes Red Velvet Cake Red?

Let’s dive a little deeper into what makes red velvet cake red.

It turns out that the original recipe used cocoa powder to achieve the reddish hue. 

But not just any cocoa powder. It calls for raw cocoa powder with a special antioxidant called anthocyanin.

Now, anthocyanin is a little finicky. It’s pH-sensitive, which means it reacts to acids and bases. 

When raw cocoa powder is mixed with acidic ingredients like buttermilk and vinegar, it turns a beautiful dark red color. 

But here’s the catch. The resulting cake is more of a ruddy brown color and not that vibrant red we all know and love.

Unfortunately, most cocoa powder today is processed.

An alkalizing agent in it neutralizes the acidity, which means it won’t have the same effect. 

But fear not, my fellow cake lovers!

If you want to make red velvet cake without food coloring, you can still achieve that gorgeous red color by using raw cacao powder.

A Sliced of Red Velvet Cake with Frosting on Top

Substitutes for the Red Food Coloring In Red Velvet Cake

Who says you need to rely on artificial red dye to make a classic red velvet cake? Not me! 

If you can’t get your hands on raw cacao powder, there are plenty of natural substitutes you can use.

They’ll still create a delicious and stunning red cake.

Think beet juice, beet powder, pomegranate powder, or cranberry powder.

But be prepared, as these natural alternatives can affect the flavor of your cake.

If you’re feeling daring and want to try something new, go ahead and give it a go!

Who knows, you might just discover a new favorite recipe. 

What Is Red Velvet Cake?

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author avatar
Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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