Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is Red Velvet Problematic?

Red Velvet
The sign in Robicellis shop in Dekalb Market

Six months ago, I organized an event called,"The Red Velvet Cake Debate".  It  was not really a debate but more of a discussion about what makes a classic red velvet cupcake/cake and about baking in general. Allison Robicelli was the lone panelist who was against "red velvet", but since then I have met many other people who don't like red velvet because of the unnatural color, the cream cheese frosting and whole host of reasons. Taste is one's personal opinion, so it's OK to like, love or hate red velvet. . I have asked several bakery owners about red velvet cupcakes, and  for those who bake them, the red velvet is one of their top three selling cupcakes.

How is Red Velvet problematic?  It's either the beetles or the beets! The red in red velvet is often created by using food coloring.  This red dye is often made from cochineal extract derived from beetles. The old school way to create the red is to make a red food coloring using beets. You can do that, but that is kinda labor intensive. Honestly,  I have had red cupcakes made with beets, and they can be good, but that intense red color doesn't appear like it does with red dye food coloring.

I personally love a red velvet when the cupcake is moist, the presence of cocoa is more than a hint, the  buttermilk and vinegar are in balance so that the cake doesn't taste metallic and the cream cheese frosting has a bit of mascarpone in it. Recently,  I have created a "Google Alert" on  red velvet, as I have become fascinated with the emergence of red velvet brownies, cheesecake, ice cream, waffles and whoopie pies.  Now I am curating red velvet board on Pinterest to catalog the infiltration of red velvet across both desserts and breakfast items.  Red velvet is very popular and with many things that are popular, there may be a backlash, but for now, it is  so cool  how far red velvet will go.  A friend of mine wants to make red velvet fried chicken.  I can't wait to try!


Lisa Joffe said...

I'm against them because it seems so silly to me to like or dislike a food just because of its color (it should taste exactly the same if you didn't dump a whole bottle of red food coloring into it, after all). However, be aware that since there are kosher laws that prohibit the eating of bugs, like the beetles often used to make the red dye, if you want to make your own, all you have to do is make sure you get food coloring that is certified kosher. It will definitely be beetle-free.

Kathe Whitnell said...

Red Velvet fried chicken is Delicious! American Cupcake in San Francisco has it on the menu. Yummy!

KD said...

I've started a red velvet page also.

Le Chat Noir said...

I LOATHE cupcakes that call themselves Red Velvet merely because they are red. I've had some that were just plain vanilla cake with lots of red dye with absolutely no cocoa at all. Those are not red velvet. I guess I'm a purist. Red velvet cake was invented prior to Red number 4 or Red 40 and was made with beets, so that's the way I go.