Are there any tell tell signs to choosing a red food colouring for red velvet cakes. Having just whipped one up, mine is sadly brown despite a bottle and half (45ml) of red food colouring.

Also can too much colouring affect the final colour the same as too little colouring?

  • Some red coloring has an aftertaste to it -- adding a ton of it might make some people sick. (it makes me violently ill; I have to avoid all cakes w/ red icing)
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 23:03
  • If you are going the colouring route, have you tried powdered food colours? They keep their colour better than liquid colours.
    – Megasaur
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 12:10
  • Traditional red velvet cake does not use food coloring. Edit: Derp. Jolene beat me to it.
    – Preston
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 4:01

1 Answer 1


Originally, red chocolate cake did not have artificial coloring. The red (not nearly as red as we're used to now) came from natural (not Dutch processed) cocoa (acidic), plus another acidic ingredient (buttermilk or vinegar). The double-dose of acid reacts with the anthocyanins (antioxidants that are red, even more so in the presence of acid) in the cocoa and the alkali baking soda to create a subtle reddish tone.

Try an old-style recipe, with natural cocoa and additional acid. Then if you must make your cake redder, it shouldn't take a bottle and a half of #40 red. Dutch processed cocoa will not give you the red effect, and it will cause your cake to be much darker. The flavor will be fine, but it won't be red and it will be difficult to dye red. Using dye to color a very dark brown (think Devil's Food) cake is going to require (as you have apparently seen), A LOT of dye. There comes a point that you're just going to cause anyone who eats the cake with their hands to have red fingers.

As far as your cake with a bottle and a half of food coloring? I'd quit trying to achieve a redder tone. You may or may not be able to taste the color in the cake, but you're going to see bright red tongues and possibly other weirdness.

This is an article about the chemistry of red chocolate and red velvet cakes: Chenected

Oh, and there is no such thing as too little artificial coloring for the sake of flavor, you can even skip it entirely. Your cake won't be as red, but it will taste just fine.

The unrelated addition of “red” to a chocolate cake’s name initially arose due to the chemical reaction of acid in unsweetened bar chocolate and natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder in conjunction with an acidic liquid (generally buttermilk or sour milk) with an alkali (baking soda), which reveals the red anthocyanin, a water-soluble vacuolar pigment. (In contrast, chocolate cakes made with baking powder and a non-acidic liquid turn out blackish in color.) Near the beginning of the 20th century, these chocolate cakes became known as “red cake,” “red regal cake,” “red feather [as in light-as-a-feather] cake,” “feather devil’s food cake,” and “red devil’s food cake.” However, their slightly reddish-dark brown hue was quite different from and much duller than food coloring-enhanced red velvet. - Tory Avey History of American cakes

  • Hmm, I always thought it was beetroot that did the colouring originally?
    – Ming
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 0:25
  • @setek Beetroot added to it. Beets were the precursor to Red #40. The subtle redness caused by the acids reacting to the anthocyanins was neat, so the cakes became redder and redder. They added beetroot before artificial dyes were invented. See edit to answer.
    – Jolenealaska
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 0:32

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