Originally, red velvet cakes weren’t dyed red. According to a Business Insider report, their color—which used to be more deep maroon than bright red—came naturally as a result of the chemical reaction achieved by combining the buttermilk, vinegar and cocoa powder that typically go in them. It was not until a food coloring company called Adams Extract ran a marketing campaign pushing the use of more artificial coloring in food that the popular Red 40 became part of the official ingredients list for the cake. Unfortunately, artificial food dyes, in general, are not the healthiest things. The good news, however, is that you don’t really have to use them. Instead, you can achieve the same results using natural food dyes.
The dangers of artificial food coloring
The main problem with using Red 40 in your red velvet recipe is that it’s been linked to health issues like hives, hypersensitivity, hyperactivity and even cancer according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). To make matters worse, in some tests conducted on mice, the dye actually caused DNA damage. But if artificial food dyes are so dangerous, why are they still being used? Well, for the longest time, it was because they were the most convenient and cost-effective option for most people. Fortunately, things have started to change.
Enter: natural food coloring
The thing is, the colors artificial dyes come in can actually be found in nature. Instead of Red 40, for instance, you can use hibiscus flowers, red beets, pomegranates or cranberries to add more color to your red velvet cake. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time to convert these ingredients into actual usable dyes. You can easily get ready-made versions like the ones by ColorKitchen. The great thing about them is that they’re not only 100% natural, but also non-GMO and gluten-free.
But why should you care whether the products that you are consuming are non-GMO and gluten-free? Well, studies have shown that the former typically contains more antioxidants while the latter helps people who are particularly sensitive to gluten avoid health conditions like bloating, fatigue, diarrhea and all sorts of allergic reactions. So, if you’re looking for an eating plan that doesn’t cause more problems than it solves, then non-GMO and gluten-free may be a good place to start.
More than dyes
But why stop at just food dyes? If you wish to get more creative with your red velvet cake, then you can also add things like colored sprinkles to the mix. Adding pops of color is a great way to add your own unique spin on this classic favorite and make it even more special. Don’t worry because stores like ColorKitchen also makes 100% natural ones that you can use. They also have seasonal shapes like hearts and Christmas trees, so you can make your cake as festive as you want.
Have your cake and eat healthy too
Everybody loves a good red velvet cake. But do you really have to sacrifice your health to enjoy a slice? Well, by substituting natural dyes for the harmful Red 40, you no longer have to. Throw in more nutrient-rich ingredients like soy flour and maybe even some all-natural zero-calorie sweeteners into the mix and you have the perfect guilt-free dessert.
-by Jackie Gardener, freelance writer