I recently got an e-mail from Alberta saying, “Years ago there was a warning about using too much of a red food dye (#4 if I remember correctly). I never made red velvet cake for my family because of this warning. Since red velvet cake has made a comeback, I would like to know if makers of the cake mixes are using something deemed safer?”
The history of Red Velvet Cake is filled with myths as it goes in and out of fashion. It is thought that it originally got its name from the reddish hue of the cake’s interior caused by the interaction of cocoa, baking soda, and an acid such as buttermilk. Then early in the 20th century a flavorings company decided to add a bottle of their red food coloring to the mix. Its current popularity is the latest mystery in its story. Why has a generation who embraced natural, organic, healthy eating suddenly decided to add a bottle of food coloring to their children’s birthday cakes?
Although they have been looking into the relationship between food additives and hyperactivity, FDA currently permits some food colors including Red numbers 3 and 40, Citrus Red number 2, and cochineal extract or carmine which is considered to be from natural sources. You can go to FDA for more information. I am certain that the makers of cake mixes are using an FDA approved color, but if you are making a homemade cake, you have the option of making any red velvet cake recipe without the food coloring and it will be a delicious, traditional, cocoa cake just not bright red.