The Mystery of the Red Velvet Cupcake


Red velvet cake. If the name doesn’t seduce you then the rich, red cake in contrast to the luminescent white frosting will. Add to that one little heart sprinkle and suddenly you can’t stop your mouth from salivating or your mind from replaying a slow motion clip of yourself as you enjoy every last microscopic velvety crumb.

Now wait a minute. Wipe the drool from your face. You know the red velvet looks good but… Does it taste good? Heck, I like it however people have varying opinions and palates. A better question then might be, what is red velvet made out of? Never mind does it taste good, what does it even taste like? Many people ask, few people really know. Now I’m going to help welcome you to the inner circle of lucrative cupcake knowledge.

A few of the main ingredients commonly found in red velvet include buttermilk, cocoa powder, vanilla, and red food coloring. Some recipe variations call for vinegar, baking soda, and/or beet juice. Before you yuck someone’s yum, boiled or grated beets were supposedly used during WWII to enhance the red in red velvet. There is a chemical reaction that occurs between acidic vinegar or acidic buttermilk and anthocyanins, which is the natural pigment found in cocoa, that tints the cake red. Today you won’t find too many recipes that still incorporate beets into the mix. Instead the bright, unrealistically red hue that we’ve come to associate with red velvet is a product of red food coloring. Shocking, especially since people tend to have a negative reaction towards red velvet cupcakes that are naturally brown from the cocoa instead of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” red from food coloring.


As you can now begin to see from the list of common ingredients, red velvet is so much more than just a vanilla or chocolate cake. It is its own special species with a variety of breeds, and no two breeds taste exactly the same. But if it isn’t chocolate and it isn’t vanilla, then what does red velvet taste like? At Treat Cupcake Bar you will find that our red velvet cake tastes more like vanilla than it does chocolate, but still not quite the same. It’s not as sweet as a vanilla cake which, I think, makes for a fantastic pairing with my favorite ultra sugary cream cheese frosting. On the other hand some recipes call for more cocoa than ours does and that will cause the cake to taste more like chocolate than vanilla, but still not as sweet. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that red velvet (the cake, not the frosting) has a mild, just-sweet-enough taste. Where the intense cake color will jump out at you, the subtle taste will not.

Red velvet cakes fall under the genus of velvet cakes. That’s right, there is also white, blue, green and, I’m sure, a whole rainbow of velvet cakes. What distinguishes velvet cakes from other cakes is not actually the color, but the texture. My sister tells me she loves pink deserts. Pink is eye-catching and apparently delicious. Therefore, she automatically went for the red velvet cupcake. Maybe if it was pink velvet she would have enjoyed it more. Regardless, she complained that the cake was over-baked and perhaps it was, but I also wonder if she may be confusing the palpable 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.

Now that you know there is more than just love that goes into making red velvet red you may resume drooling. While you sit there salivating it is important to remind yourself that people are unique individuals with varying preferences and tastes. Not everyone is going to enjoy devouring a red velvet cupcake, and that is perfectly fine. More for me. But you certainly won’t know until you try.

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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