It looks like an ordinary cheesecake on the outside but has a unique red color for the sponge. Is it vanilla and cherry? What flavor is red velvet cake?
Red velvet flavor has found its way to cheesecakes, cupcakes, donuts, and many other confectioneries. The dainty color, which makes the cake unique, coupled with the delicious taste, is loved by many.
Red velvet is a unique flavor that combines vanilla, chocolate, and other acidic and tart flavors. Its acidic taste comes from buttermilk and vinegar. The chocolate flavor results from a hint of cocoa powder, but due to small quantities, people hardly notice it.
Many people wonder what gives the cake its unique color. Nowadays, it is mostly food coloring. But this has not always been the secret to the ruby red in red velvet cakes.
Experienced bakers believe that red velvet is a unique flavor on its own. It cannot be directly matched to other flavors, even those that are present in the cake mix. It feels sweet, sour, and somewhat chocolaty. The original red velvet cake resulted from a reaction between natural cocoa powder and other alkaline substances present in the cake mix.
What Flavor Is Red Velvet?
The first thing that appeals about the red velvet cake is its color. Anyone who tries the cake for the first time can have difficulty identifying the flavor of the red velvet cake. It does not taste fruity, or maybe it does. But there is one strong taste that is hard to specify; it is sort of vanilla-ish. The cake is sweet but not too sweet.
If you go through the descriptions of red velvet, you will find that many people give it an excessive number of adjectives, but only a few are able to or even attempt to define its flavor. Some call it moist, reddish-brown, or reddish. We have not heard of anything of reddish flavor, have you? Others like to extract the flavor from the name and call it "velvety" – whatever that means.
Those who discuss the cake's flavor often stay limited to the frosting or the cream cheese layers on the cake and hardly discuss the red sponge. There have been many eloquent articles about red velvet cake, but most of them just say that they have no idea about the flavor of the cake.
To define the flavor, we have to rely on the ingredients used to make the cake.
What is Red Velvet Made Of?
Like with all cakes, the recipes differ. But the common ingredients in all recipes are:
- Cocoa powder
- Real butter
- Vegetable oil
- Vanilla extract
- Baking soda
- Cream cheese
These ingredients are mixed and undergo heavy processing to develop a unique flavor. Food coloring is then added to the mixture to get the unique shade of red or maroon.
Defining the Flavor
Now that we know that one of the ingredients is cocoa powder, we begin to detect a hint of chocolaty taste. Most people do not think it tastes anything like chocolate because our minds do not associate the color red with chocolate. They often think of it as something fruity or simply "made with love." Another reason why the cake is not considered chocolate is because the amount of cocoa powder used is very little. It gives a hint of chocolaty taste rather than making the entire base chocolate.
The tart or acidic touch in the flavor comes from the buttermilk, vinegar, and the cream cheese used in the icing. The icing plays a significant role in the taste and overshadows the taste of the sponge.
One flavor that is easier to detect than others is vanilla. It is added to enhance the impact of other flavors in the cake, but it does not fail to show its presence in the concoction.
After all is said and done, we are also unable to specify the exact flavor of the red velvet cake. It seems that it is a unique flavor on its own, which results from a blend of different flavors. It is a combination of chocolate, vanilla, and some tart and acidic flavors.
How Did The Red Color Come About?
The history of the cake can be traced back to the 13th century. Back then, cakes were just sweetbreads, and people would add nuts and dried fruits to the stiff pieces of sweet bread to make them more nutritious and edible.
Over the years, developments in sweetbread made it softer, and it started to be used as a dessert. Velvet cakes did not appear until the 1800s.
The term velvet was used to make the luxury cakes stand out from the rest. What made them so luxurious, you ask? It was cocoa powder, a delicacy that only the rich could afford during the nineteenth century.
The velvet cakes were served at high-end parties, which were often hosted by the super-rich. Many people believe that the term velvet was used to describe the unique and smooth texture of the cake.
The flour used to make cakes was coarse, and some people even call it abrasive. To break down the rough texture of the flour, bakers would add cocoa powder. The cocoa powder would react with the flour, causing the flour to become smooth and soft.
But cocoa powder, being acidic in nature, would also react with other ingredients such as vinegar and buttermilk. The chemical reaction between all these ingredients would turn the cake red.
During the early 1900s, people began to discover new recipes, and many cakes such as cocoa velvet and red cocoa began to surface. However, it was in 1943 that the name Red Velvet was first coined by Irma S. Rombauer.
How the Red Color Is Made Today
One of the prominent reasons why red velvet cake is loved by several is its attractive hue. It is used for festivals and celebrations throughout the year. It is a cake that is loved by many because it adds color to the table.
It will be slightly difficult to replicate the original red cake recipe since most of the ingredients you find now have gone through heavy processing. As discussed above, cocoa powder was the key ingredient responsible for the red color. During those times, cocoa powder was used in its natural form, which had a certain level of acidity. The cocoa powder we find now is heavily processed and alkalized to lower its acidity level. Without the same level of acidity, you will not be able to get the natural red hue.
But all is not lost here. There are two other options that you can use to make your favorite cake. The simplest one is to use red food dye. A few drops of food dye mixed into the batter can give you the same results as the natural cocoa powder.
However, many people are concerned about the adverse health effects of food dyes. For them, there is a natural solution: red beet juice. The color of the cake exhibits a certain hue of purple or violet if you choose to use red beet juice in place of food dye.
Use of Red Velvet Flavor
Red velvet flavor is now available in several different products. You can find:
- Red velvet protein powder is a supplement used by people looking to build muscle or lose weight
- Red velvet tea uses a base made of tea, milk, and red velvet flavoring
- Red velvet pop tarts are crispy pastries comprising of a sweet filling sandwiched between two layers of pastry crust
- Red velvet waffles use the same ingredients as the cake and are often red in color
- Red velvet flavored beverages, which include alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages
In addition to these edible items, there are also red velvet fragrances available in the form of air fresheners and scented candles.
Variations to Red Velvet Cakes
With the food colorings being so prevalent, bakers decided to go a little creative with the color. You can easily find blue velvet and green velvet cakes on the market. These cakes are not much different than red velvet cakes in terms of taste and consistency because only the red food dye has been replaced with blue or green. It all comes down to the preference of color.
However, red velvet fans believe that using food dye to make other colored cakes is not doing justice to the original red velvet cake, which has been around for over a hundred years.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore