There are tons of recipes on the internet for red velvet cake. Unfortunately almost all of them call for an insane amount of red dye, anywhere from 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup or even a blank statement calling for “2 bottles” of dye. I painstakingly experimented with many recipes – some calling for grated raw beets while others called for cooked mashed beets. Many many experiments later, I created my perfect dye-free red velvet cake! Instead of artificial dyes, I use organic beetroot powder to obtain some of that redness in this iconic cake. I had to balance the redness and the density of the cake by manipulating the pH and CO2 amounts. My ever-so-loving scientist husband was ecstatic to give me a lesson in dilution factors to help quantify my baking experiments. Check out this fancy chart he created for me.
The left y-axis shows the “redness” of the cake as we go from no baking soda to a full dose (1/2 teaspoon) of baking soda as per my recipe. The right y-axis shows the rising height of the cake. I read that baking soda decreases the redness of beets in recipes which is quite evident in my experiment here. Although we found this to be generally true, we also noticed that you needed some baking powder to enhance the redness. The peak in the redline shows that a 3:2 and 2:3 ratio maximizes the redness, however, it greatly affected the height and density of the final product. Putting in a full dose of baking soda gave us a nice and fluffy but brown cake. The 1:4 ratio gave us the best outcome in fluffiness and redness. I was surprised to find out that just a tiny bit of baking soda made a huge difference. I will never be able to obtain that ruby red cake that artificial coloring gives to red velvet cake but I can provide a much healthier and equally, if not better, yummy final product.
Artificial Coloring and Food Allergies. There’s a ton of published literature on the effects of artificial coloring on people. The Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Journal, the official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has a large collection of articles that address the effects of artificial coloring and its relationship to food allergies in children and other groups of individuals. In most instances, its hard to pinpoint an actual artificial coloring allergy. The effects of artificial coloring may be more evident in children who already have an existing food allergy (FA). The intolerance may adversely affect a child’s behavior or express itself in the form of eczema. There are even instances when an FA person may suffer anaphylaxis shock from ingesting commercially processed food containing artificial dyes. In 1977, the FDA stepped in and mandated that artificial coloring must be disclosed unless the unit is “so small that a statement of… artificial coloring… cannot be placed on such units with such conspicuousness as to render it likely to be read by the ordinary individual under customary conditions of purchase and use.” I conclude that it’s best to maintain as much as an artificial dye-free diet as possible and eating my dye-free red velvet cake made with organic beet powder is a great way to start!