HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


I don't "get" Red Velvet Cake

Maybe it started with Oprah ( but I won't EVEN go there). Or, did it start with Sprinkles? But, it seems that very recently everyone's in love with Red Velvet Cake. I don't get it.

I had never had this cake and thought it was something speical. I happened to mention this to a friend and yesterday, she brought me a slice of it. It tasted like cake, and not an especially good one, and had cream chees frosting. But, what I absolutley DETESTED was the red food coloring. Is there a reason for this? After having two bites, I noticed my tongue and gums were RED. I rinsed my mouth twice and when I got home brushed my teeth and it was still red. This morning my mouth was back to normal, but the red still showed itself upon exiting - if you know what I mean.

I looked up various recipes and while proportions vary, most had 2 ounces, 1/4 cup!!!! of red food coloring. YUCK

What am I missing here? I'll take plain pound cake over this anyday!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yeah, I really don't get it, either. Isn't it just regular cake with food coloring? That's what it always tastes like to me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: anakalia

      The recipe also calls for a small amount of chocolate. Anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. I didn't taste chocolate, though

    2. The recipes Ive used have called for a decent amount of cocoa powder, which gives a really nice chocolate "idea" almost without being CHOCOLATE if that makes any sense.

      Ive found that buying red velvet cake though is really a dissapointment- and exactly what you describe- seems like red cake that is just ultimately annoying when it colors your teeth red. But a well done red velvet is a really delicious treat-if you are really curious-the best I can say is try making it-I bet its 100% better than bought.

      In terms of the origins of the red coloring-Im not sure but Im sure someone can help out...

      1. I don't think the store bought cakes of today are the same as the ones our grandmothers used to make. I've never eaten a homemade Red Velvet cake but I was told that it takes a very long time to make.

        1. I, too, don't appreciate the red food colouring, but I have eaten and enjoyed red velvet cake.

          Bobby Flay did a "Throwdown" recently against "Cake Man Raven", who apparently is famous for his red velvet cakes...

          Here are CMR and BF's recipes (Bobby Flay's has much less food colouring):


          I like the idea of Bobby Flay's cake recipe, but I'm not sure which frosting I'd prefer: Raven's has cream cheese, but not Flay's.

          1. I believe beets are also used to make that deep, dark red. I ABSOLUTELY love red velvet cake, but for me, the cake part could be anything-it's the frosting I'm after. Since cream cheese is possibly my #1 favorite food, red velvet cake is a no-brainer. I personally like the frosting to be a bit more on the savory side, maybe even with little chucks of cream cheese bits in it, as if it hasn't been creamed long enough. I really hate it when people put so much sugar in it that it just tastes like buttercream. But like I said, if the cream cheese frosting is made right (for my tastes, at least), then I don't care if it's spread on a throw pillow.

            1 Reply
            1. re: schrutefarms

              It's not beets. I tried to make a red cake with beets and the high temp cooked the color right out. The red color in beets breaks down somewhere below the boiling point of water.

            2. there are literally thousands of postings about red velvet cake in chowhound. some on regional boards, some in home cooking, some here in general chowhounding, and some in chains.

              There are dozens of dozens of variations on the recipe, and hundreds of people who claim to know what the "original" recipe was. Among the controversies are whether cream cheese frosting is the correct topping or not, whether it originated in the south, and if it should be colored with red food coloring or beets/beet juice.

              I have never had the "real" thing. Just cake mixes that someone stirred a bottle or two of red food coloring in along with a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Nothing special, but not a horrible experience either.

              Apparently the red color originally came from a mix of the cocoa and the vinegar. As it became harder to find other than dutch process cocoa, the red/red-brown color was much reduced so people started to supplement it with food coloring. Adding beets or other vegetable/fruit based products does affect the flavor.

              The most popular contender for the "correct' frosting seems to be a boiled or seven-minute frosting. Allegedly a southern dish, a butter cream frosting became too soft so a morre stable boiled frosting was used. Cream cheese frostings are a lot less work and easier for most people, and the cream cheese serves to "stabilize" the softness of buttercream.

              The amount of chocolate also seems to vary greatly, but in general the idea seems to be to give a hint of chocolate, enough to pique your curiosity, but not scream CHOCOLATE at you.

              Someday im gonna have to try to make one.

              1 Reply
              1. re: KaimukiMan

                I promise -it isnt that hard to make :-) I made up a batch for a friends birthday and they were delicious-and honestly it was pretty easy. There are just a fair amount of ingredients that all need measuring :-)

              2. For me, it's three things.

                First is texture. There's something about a good red velvet cake that is different than other cakes. To me, it's like a cross between the light airy-ness of a Chinese sponge cake and the buttery fine crumb of a standard butter cake.

                Second is the cocoa. I tend not to like chocolate cake because the flavor is overwhelming to me. Most I've had are far too sweet. Good red velvet has a hint of cocoa without it overpowering the flavor of the cake and being just slightly bitter.

                Third is the frosting. I prefer cream cheese frosting. The smooth, stable cream is both sweet and tangy and a good foil to the light, slightly bitter cake underneath it.

                As to why it's so gosh darn red, it certainly grabs your attention doesn't it? Whether that's good or bad, to each their own.

                1. There is good cake and then there is bad cake. Bad cake is bad. Bad red velvet cake is horrible.

                  But good red velvet cake is quite yummy. The bakery that made our wedding cake doesn't usually carry chocolate cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting (which is what we had for our wedding), but when I'm town I usually pick up one of their red velvet cakes with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting. It is almost the color of a chocolate cake, and is almost as delicious!

                  Avoid unnaturally red specimins, but don't give up on red velvet cake!

                  1. Adding on to schrutefarms...back in the day when the cake was first developed, the quality of the cocoa powder was so poor that when mixed with the vinegar caused the oxidation (like rusting) that made the cake reddish in color. Southerners like their traditions, so even though the quality of cocoa has improved, the red has remained. Sadly, too many commercial bakeries take it too far in appearance and not in taste and texture!

                    A velvet cake should be like velvet, hence the name. It should have a good crumb, be moist and soft, and almost melt on the palate. The cocoa flavor should be subtle and by God, it shouldn't stain your mouth red! I never use that much red and I've been known to make my velvet cakes different colors other than red to suit the occasion. You shouldn't have to use that much food coloring if you are using super concentrated colors (like Americolor); a few drops'll do the trick and you won't be seeing and um...you know...RED.

                    Tradition says red velvet should always have cream cheese frosting. It's that extra luxurious touch on the cake that is meant to be a special treat (because cocoa wasn't exactly widely available all those years ago). Find a recipe and give it a try. If you hate the red so much, leave it out. This cake is ultimately about taste and texture! I hope you'll give it a try and change your mind!

                    PS For y'all that said you'd like to try making it from scratch, feel free to ping me and I'll send you my recipe. It's not difficult at all and it comes out very yummy!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: billacakes

                      It's not a quality issue. Natural cocoa powder is reddish and quite acidic, which affects both the flavor and texture of the final product. It has become very hard to find in the US since the advent of alkalinized, or "Dutched", cocoa, which is much darker brown, tastes more "chocolatey" and is neutral in pH (which affects rise and texture). However, Dutched cocoa doesn't give the red color, so traditionalists started adding red food color.

                      1. re: DrGaellon

                        Actually Dutch-process cocoa tastes LESS chocolatey, not more. The alkaline process (potassium carbonate) makes the flavour of the cocoa milder and less distinct. It does reduce bitterness, but that's only necessary if the original quality of the cocoa is poor - a fine cocoa won't be bitter.

                        Dutch-process cocoa is also more soluble in water, which makes it popular for high-liquid recipes, but for the best cocoa flavour you usually want a "natural-process" cocoa.

                        In some countries (e.g. Italy and of course the Netherlands), however, the indigenous expectation is that cocoa will be Dutched so that almost all cocoas in these countries is of that form.

                        There are plenty of high-quality, natural-process cocoas available - you will want a "high-fat" cocoa in this application. Perhaps the best is the Michel Cluizel, available in the US through Chocosphere (http://www.chocosphere.com). If you don't want to be that obsessive, Ghirardelli cocoa (NOT the ground chocolate and cocoa, the tin of pure cocoa) is also natural. Hershey's if you want to go that low (in the brown tin, not the silver one) is also natural-process. However for best colour the Cluizel one is by far the best, a very nice red.

                        1. re: AlexRast

                          Spot on. I don't like Dutch-process cocoa for that very reason. The color is nice but having grown up on Hershey in the '50s and '60s, it tastes anemic to me and I only use it if a recipe is leavened with baking powder. And for those who have a Trader Joe's nearby, their cocoa is natural and of very decent quality.

                          Cocoa brings up another "Red Velvet" issue. I like to cut the stated amount of fat a bit because cocoa carries its own fat and I loathe a greasy crumb. I've tried to find a natural, de-fatted cocoa that could substitute for some of the flour (to boost the cocoa flavor) but no luck. And I'm firmly in the "boiled frosting" camp. I don't think cream cheese frosting does anything for Red Velvet cake.

                      2. re: billacakes

                        May I please have your recipe for red velvet cake? My co-worker's bithday is coming up, and I would love to make it for her!


                        Thank you in advance!!! :)

                        1. re: melrio9785

                          As Uncle Bob posted below, Mom Mom's Red Velvet Cake is the one to make.


                          With the original traditional flour frosting. Cream cheese is for carrot cake, and was a later addition.

                      3. If I could ever taste REAL red velvet cake, maybe it would be special or something. All I know is that the first I ever had it was at a guy's birthday party and the color kind of grossed me out. I didn't (and still don't) understand the need to dye cake that color...


                          1. I think the real question here is: why red? Does the red food coloring add ANYTHING to the taste or texture of the cake? Would it be equally good made with blue coloring---or even an eqivalent amount of plain water?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Anne

                              as pointed out above in a couple of posts, when you use a cocoa powder that is not dutch process, the combination of the chocolate and the vinegar produces a reddish brown color. As almost all the commonly availiable coco powders are now dutch process, the chemical reaction is greatly diminished, leaving a rather unatractive grey-brown cake. Presumably in order to get the 'original' color back, people put in red food coloring, and lots of it.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                It's not going to rise properly either. Red Velvet cake invariably calls for baking soda and some vinegar (red wine vinegar's nice in RVC, BTW). And the taste won't be what it should be because a specific amount of acid counteracts that icky "soda" flavor and DP cocoa doesn't contribute its share.

                              2. re: Anne

                                Milk in Mid-City Los Angeles offers a blue velvet cake.

                                1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                  I love the idea but man, was Milk's version tooth-achingly sweet...

                                  1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                    I understood that Milk's blue velvet was a blueberry cake, not cocoa.

                                2. It's never my first choice, I will have a taste of someone else's but I won't commit to a full slice. First time I ate it was at a restaurant where they cut huge, mile high slabs of it for the table to share. I saw 'red' for a day after that... blech.

                                  1. I have never met a Red Velvet Cake that I liked, and it is the only cake that I’ll pass on at office b-day parties. It’s the flavor and texture I dislike, and aside from that...what’s left?

                                    Plain pound cake it is for me too.

                                    1. I like red velvet cake. I guess I don't see what is not to like about it, if it is made from a good recipe. It is a nice cake with a light cocoa flavor and I've never made it with so much food coloring that it colored my teeth. Just a tablespoon of it.

                                      As for the red, well, normally I'm not big on artificial coloring. BUT I just made this red velvet cake recipe for my son's two year old birthday party: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
                                      It was just so cute and festive, and the red looked nice with the blueberries and raspberries (which happen to be my son's favorite fruits!) It wasn't a fluorescent red either, but a rich brown red. Very festive and summery. And that bit of red food coloring was nothing to what I see on most children's birthday cakes!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Jitterbug

                                        old post, I know, but since it's been revived....

                                        All I taste is food coloring. Even the "no-taste" paste food colorings.

                                        Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

                                        You're all welcome to it, and I won't fault you for liking it, but it's probably the only baked good out there that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

                                        1. re: Jitterbug

                                          I love red velvet cake and like Duncan Hines RV cake mix, which was recommended on a CH thread. Whatever powdered dye they use does not create the aftertaste that liquid food coloring from the supermarket does.

                                          For a friend who loves purple, I tried to turn the DH RV mix into a Violet Velvet cake by adding liquid blue food coloring but it would have taken a lot more than the one bottle I had. It only turned the batter a more cranberry red. I had planned cream cheese frosting decorated with candied violets, I think a purple cake would have been pretty.

                                        2. I've never quite gotten the "red velvet cake" thing either. It seemed to come up out of nowhere a couple of years ago (was it Oprah who popularized it initially?), and has seemingly become the "hottest" item around, but the appeal of it is lost on me, and I love my cakes, pies, and sweets. A lady friend at work used to bring me one every Saturday morning (a small, commercially produced version that was sold at the 7-11 or Quick Check where she stopped before coming in), when we worked together. I appreciated the gesture, and ate the cake with alacrity, but I've never been motivated to go out and purchase this cake on my own. It's not that I hate it, but it's nothing to get very excited about, in my opinion. If I never eat it again in life, I won't miss it, and that's not something I can say about Strawberry Short Cake, Pecan Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Boston Cream Pie, etc., etc., etc.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: legsdiamond12

                                            If you have only had Strawberry Shortcake, Pecan Pie, Coconut Cream pie, etc from the Quick Check, I doubt that you'd have tasted the real thing of any of those, either.
                                            This is one of those desserts that is best homemade, with the traditional old recipe. I've never had a commercially made RV cake, even from a good bakery, that tastes like the real RV buttermilk cake.

                                            1. re: kitchengardengal

                                              Well, in the interests of clarity, I've had "real" Red Velvet Cake (and those other cakes/pies/sweets I've mentioned have been genuine as well), but your point is well taken...I should have been clearer about it. Red Velvet Cake from a good bakery is assuredly better than the 7-11 version, but I could do without either one. Maybe it's just a matter of personal taste, when you come right down to it. But the fact remains--- I don't know where Red Velvet Cake suddenly emerged from, and I don't understand why it's as popular as it is. Then again, I don't get Justin Beiber or the Kardashians either.

                                              1. re: legsdiamond12

                                                Really, it has hardly 'suddenly emerged' in the South. RV cake has been a home baker's tradition for years and years.
                                                As I mentioned below, I got my recipe in 1971 (in Columbus, Ohio) from a girlfriend's mother who grew up in the South, and I've been making it ever since.
                                                Not being an Oprah watcher, I didn't know that she was a fan of RV, but I suppose her influence could have brought it to the coasts more recently.

                                                The problem with 'getting' RV cake, as the OP mentions, is that so many iterations of it are simply chocolate cake with red dye - I don't get that, either. It actually is a buttermilk cake with a bit of cocoa added for texture and depth of flavor.

                                                I don't know if there is another cake whose name is so misused, and reviled because of that misuse. The history of the cake is pretty interesting, and there are references to it in some of the other conversations here on CH.

                                              2. re: kitchengardengal

                                                "If you have only had Strawberry Shortcake, Pecan Pie, Coconut Cream pie, etc from the Quick Check, I doubt that you'd have tasted the real thing of any of those, either."

                                                A little OT here but the only thing I miss about my parents' selling their winter home in the Las Vegas area is the availability of Marie Callender pies. I'm a sucker for Coconut Cream and they offered a choice of meringue or (REAL!) whipped cream toppings. Her pies were just wonderful.

                                            2. I agree!! To me, it's flavorless! I'd rather have plain Ol' chocolate cake!

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                  Oh:) I always thought it was a red chocolate flavored cake:)) ha

                                              1. I never understood its appeal, either. It seems to have appeared out of nowhere a few years ago. I always assumed it must be from Oprah or somebody else on TV.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: emu48

                                                  Here is the best discussion of Red Velvet Cake, including history and the best recipes.


                                                  1. re: emu48

                                                    It's been around for decades. I got my recipe from the mother of a friend of mine in the early 70s when I was in high school, and it's delicious.

                                                  2. Up in my part of canada anyway I had never heard or seen about red velvet cake until about 8 yrs ago. I heard about it, probably on fn. I had never seen it until a local grocery chain was bought out by an american company last year and they now stock rv cake,muffins, even cookies. Red food colouring is known to be the worst of the food colours to eat. Seems to unnatural. maybe ill try making a velvet cake minus the colouring to see what the hype is about.

                                                    They have also bought texas toast with them another thing I had never seen up here. Its so thick I'm not even sure what you use it for maybe making stuffing?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: daislander

                                                      nope -- sandwiches, or as garlic toast.

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        sandwichs! wow. garlic toast I could see but haven't made garlic toast with bread since I was 12. gotta have the baguette. croutons tho..

                                                        1. re: daislander

                                                          It is buttered and griddled on both sides and most often served with bbq. Also it makes excellent French toast.

                                                    2. Red Velvet cake is the biggest scam ever pulled on Americans, probably by the food coloring industry. The cake itself is disgusting as is the frosting. It looks horrible too, brown with a weird red tint. Only stupid Americans could think such a waste of calories is good....

                                                      11 Replies
                                                      1. re: Fanchon

                                                        Hey, don't hold back. Just tell us what you think.

                                                        1. re: Fanchon

                                                          you do know that the original version was, depending on which version you believe, either from beet juice or from Dutch-process cocoa, right?

                                                          I don't like the stuff, but not sure it warrants quite that much bile.

                                                            1. re: Fanchon

                                                              "Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited for bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the time of the Great Depression by being one of the first to sell red food coloring and other flavor extracts with the use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards.[4][5] " I KNEW IT!!!!! I'm Sorry if you all are offended and maybe I DO HAVE A CASE OF THE MONDAYS (Probably my favorite movie) but come on!!!! This is not the NRA its a cake, and not a good one. I took the above quote from Wikipedia. We Americans need to start cooking better! FD&C red food dye is poison, it causes cancer and sugar feeds cancer. All of my comments are directed at the versions that use fake food dye, not the recipes that use beet juice, which is better but its still cake and this is why we are so fat and unhealthy.

                                                              1. re: Fanchon

                                                                perhaps you should wander over to FoodTimeline.org:


                                                                First mention of red cakes is 1929 -- and had nothing to do with red food coloring. (it's a chemical reaction between acid and the leavening agents


                                                                There are also recipes on that page for chocolate beet cake, all without shouting about poison.

                                                                None of the recipes call for food coloring.

                                                                The human race has been eating cake for centuries as part of a balanced diet.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  "Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited for bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the time of the Great Depression by being one of the first to sell red food coloring and other flavor extracts with the use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards.[4][5] " I KNEW IT!!!!! I copied and pasted this for you again because October 29, 1929 was when the Great Depression commenced and so you are right to state that but why don't you think it was invented by a chemical company? It fits all of the criteria: flavorless cake with a ridiculous red hue, I'm sorry but I've been to several parties where people are shouting "THE RED VELVET CAKE, THE RED VELVET CAKE!!!!" and almost having orgasms...When I saw it I knew right away it was wrong, the color is so...... And when I tasted it, it was soooo.....not good. Anyway, to each his own, but don't come crying to me when you get cancer....I also note most of the comments are in my favor, perhaps those persons were more congenial?

                                                                  1. re: Fanchon

                                                                    I think it's a safe bet that no one here will come crying to you.

                                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                      Haha good one....I know they won't but exactly what purpose does the red dye do for the cake? That's not real cooking!

                                                                    2. re: Fanchon

                                                                      is there some reason you're clinging to Wikipedia as an academic source?

                                                                      Did you see red food coloring in any of the recipes on the site I linked?

                                                                      So much anger.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        Its not only on Wikipedia, information for RVC is on numerous sites. There is one article that states the red cannot be produced by a chemical reaction between the cocoa and vinegar or any other ingredient, therefore the cake requires a very large amount of red food coloring-YUM!!!! Next time I promise I'll go to the library for my info!

                                                                  2. re: Fanchon

                                                                    Yes, the story about Adams Extract has been cited on quite a few of the RV cake discussions here on CH. I am one of those who likes RV cake very much. I don't eat anyone's but my own homemade, with a recipe I got from a friend's mom in 1972 when I was in high school. It's a delicious buttermilk cake with boiled frosting. I don't know if that's the kind you hate - there are so many fake versions out there.
                                                                    I eat healthy every day, and if I make an RV cake once every 4 or 5 years, I'm certainly not going to feel guilty eating it.

                                                                2. A couple of years ago, after reading so much about it, I made it from scratch. I used a recipe from the website with high rating reviews. The cake was good but have to say, I didn't get it either. I have never made it or tasted again, but then again, I don't get the tres leches cake either.

                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                  1. re: hueyishere

                                                                    I make 'em both from scratch and like 'em both. They both get raves when I bring them to parties.

                                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                      Are the people at the parties also members of Chowhound? I'm sorry, didn't know this cake was close to your heart. It must be that your mother or someone else dear to you used to make it? That's how I feel about my mother's corned beef hash made with Libby's canned corned beef and those tiny canned potatoes....its really good but I wouldn't let kids eat it (i'm serious-I'm NOT insulting you, there are some recipes that are always dear even though they are disgusting).

                                                                      1. re: Fanchon

                                                                        Why does it matter if they're on Chowhound? Is membership on this site a prerequisite for taste?

                                                                        1. re: jmckee

                                                                          Of course not, obviously they let me on!!! I'm surprised about the reaction, its cake, not Jesus or abortion!

                                                                      2. re: MacGuffin

                                                                        I guess I should try baking them both again, I do like baking and eating them.

                                                                        1. re: hueyishere

                                                                          Hahahaha don't make the RVC, make a pineapple upside down cake in a cast iron pan, use half butter and half bacon grease in the pan on the stove, (everything organic, save the bacon fat in a jar in your fridge) with fresh cut rings of pineapple. Melt the butter in the pan, and add the rings of pineapple to the fat and sprinkle with grated peyloncia (not sure of the spelling-Mexican sugar similar to molassas). Skip the Maraschino cherries-substitute real berries or cherries- Add your white cake made with butter, eggs, vanilla, organic flour etc to the pan and shove it into the oven @ 350.....when done carefully flip upside down, top with home made whipped cream and you will never go back to RVC, I promise!

                                                                          1. re: Fanchon

                                                                            I do like pineapple upside down cake, I will give this one a try. thanks

                                                                            1. re: hueyishere

                                                                              You are awesome!!!!! Thanks for being open minded. Please post to let me know how it was!!!!

                                                                              1. re: hueyishere

                                                                                OMG!!!! I forgot to mention that Pineapple Upside Down Cake was invented in 1930 by either Gold Medal Flour or James Dole!!!!!!

                                                                            2. re: hueyishere

                                                                              Y'need good recipes. And like kitchengardengal, I use boiled frosting (I cook the base in my Vitamix!) for RVC. I cut the sugar somewhat in the tres leches cake and don't sweeten the whipped cream frosting.

                                                                              1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                I bet it would be a damn good cake if you leave out the number 40, just deny its the wrong color to anyone who actually notices......say they need their eyes checked......I haven't had very good luck with using beet juice for coloring. It does not get bright enough. I don't need it to be bright but for kid's cakes everyone thinks its not bright enough. It makes a very sensual pink color.........but not bright.

                                                                        2. I asked the same thing awhile ago. I now like Red Velvet Cake even with the red dye. It is much better if made at home as opposed to a commercial store bought cake. Just some food for the fodder!


                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                            Yes, I read your older posts and saw you were able to start liking it! I've had both versions and neither was appealing to me. Some of the older comments state the color makes people love the cake while others think its nauseating and unnatural. To each his own!!!