The Mystery of the Red Velvet Cupcake


Red Velvet cake. Everyone loves it, few understand what it is.

A few of the main ingredients commonly found in red velvet include buttermilk, cocoa powder, vanilla, and red food coloring. But even then, not all red velvet is created the same. Some recipe variations call for vinegar, baking soda, and/or beet juice. 

There is a chemical reaction that occurs between acidic vinegar or acidic buttermilk and anthocyanins (the natural pigment found in cocoa) that tints the cake red. However, because of the addition of cocoa to the batter, red velvet naturally appears more brown than red. Depending on the amount of cocoa, the cake can range from a dark chocolaty brown to a faded, almost burnt red. But it’s hard to call it a RED velvet cupcake and then have it not be red. Therefore, many recipes call for the addition of red food coloring. Purportedly, boiled or grated beets were used during WWII to help enhance the color, but you won’t find many red velvet recipes these days that still call for the addition of vegetables.

So, I’ve explained the look but the texture of a Red Velvet cake is just as important. Red Velvet is its own species that falls under the genus of velvet cakes. I’ve seen white, blue, and green velvet cakes. I’m sure there is a whole rainbow of them, but what distinguishes velvet cakes from other cakes is not the color. It’s the texture. You can take a vanilla cake and color it red, but that doesn’t make it a red velvet cake. 

My sister tells me she loves pink deserts; she loves the way “pink” tastes. Therefore, she went for the next best thing: a red velvet cupcake. Maybe if it was pink velvet she would have enjoyed it more, but she confided to me that the cake was over-baked. Perhaps it was, but I also wonder if she may be confusing the palpable, signature velvety texture for supposed dryness. Red velvet cake is kind of like a silky sponge that absorbs the moisture from your mouth while tantalizing your taste buds.

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One Response to The Mystery of the Red Velvet Cupcake

  1. Pingback: What Makes a Velvet Cake “Velvet”? | Mr. Food's Blog