November 16, 2011

The Red Velvet Cake Dilemma

The Red velvet cake has lately been prominent. Everytime I am around my friends , the Red velvet cake should be either mentioned or devoured in their mouths.One can’t deny that its feathery texture, the striking red color, and the overwhelming vanilla taste, that contribute to its fame. It is indeed a magical cake, and just looking at it reminds me of cartoon, and all the Disney movies we all grew up watching.
Picture from the web
However, beauty is not pure. And as everything in life have their pros and cons. The red velvet cake is not an exception to this rule, sadly.

Normally nutritionists scare you off from these high caloric cakes, but as I am a food scientist I’d rather take another angle.  So, this post  is not to scare you away from the calories; rather, it’s the “red” you should worry about.

Let’s take Martha Stewart’s online recipe of the cake. Martha uses around 1/4 to 1/2 cup of a red food coloring to make one cake. She clearly states to put 2 one-ounce bottles liquid red food coloring to achieve the desired shade!Consider a normal diet; you are having one piece of the red velvet cake every month, along with other colorants in food from the halloween candies, to the Eid Mlabbas, to the Christmas colored cookies, to potato chips, fruit loop cereals, the guacamole dip, to the hotdog and the  frozen vegetables…etc The list goes one because everyone is increasingly relying on  processed foods.
 The question is whether all these colorants will cause any health implications.

Let us start why is there color in my food? 
Remarkably, sensory scientists found that color is always associated with flavor. Consumers may refuse to have a green chocolate drink or a brown strawberry juice. Therefore, industries rush in adding colorants to make their product look fresh, nutritious, and thus appealing to consumers. That’s because consumers love everything that resembles nature. ( more on how color affects the sense of tastes of food & drinks by Washington University)

How can I know if the colorant added is certified?

Some of the food colorings are abbreviated as "FCF" (For Coloring Food) followed by a number, or written as an E-Number (mostly used in European, and Arab  countries)
There are only seven certified or permitted food colorants: FCF Blue1 (E133), FCF Blue2 (E132), FCF  Green 3 (E143), FCF  Red4 (E129), FCF  Red3 (E127), FCF Yellow5 (E102), and FCF Yellow6 (E110).

Whereas, certifiable color additives are derived primarily from petroleum and coal sources, they can be used in limited amounts and have to be preapproved before each addition; example Orange B (red shade), that is used only in hot dog and sausage casings.
Despite this law, industries continue to use uncertified colorants in their products due to their cheap price, alluring color and long-lasting effect in food.

What are the health implications of ingesting colorants?

Ironically, the food and drug administration (FDA) in USA claims that the acceptable yearly intake of all colors per person is about 0.8 kg. This is indeed a huge number when compared to the intake of vitamin C intake, which is 1 g per year. Colorants are chemicals and a large intake such as this amount can be poisonous.

Research proved that uncertified colorants can exacerbate behavioral disorders in children, causing attention deficiency disorder, genotoxicity and hyperactivity.Some contribute to allergies among both adults and children such as asthma,runny nose, nasal congestion, and hivesor itching. They also cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and indigestion. Notable effects can sometimes be thyroid,kidney, adrenal and testicular tumorsand lymphomas. ( more via Natural News)


Health practitioners advise people to limit their intake of processed products, frozen or canned, as well as sugar confectionaries. They also advise to seek out products that have “naturel” names for colorants in the ingredient lists, such as beet, carotenes, annatto, and paprika.

Pearl's Powder: The next time you get your red velvet cake; don’t worry about the calories that can be eventually burnt, but think about the red that will seep in your blood.

Bon Appetite!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love red velvet!
    Yes i know the coloring is bad, but have you HAD Gustav's red velvet balls? OMG <3

  3. Hahahah Bana & Aline! Gustav has the best red velvet cake in Lebanon! :D I , personally, cant stop my temptations not to eat it!

    But it is all about Moderation! :):)

  4. So what if Gustav's are really good, the point is not if gustav is good or not, im sure it is, the point is that the red colorings are carcinogenic. There's no moderation in that!

  5. Thanks James for your comment! :)
    Scientifically, colorings have been proved to cause tumors , not cancers.
    But if FDA banned those colorants, whatever the reasons or causes are, chefs and food industries should stop putting them in our food.
    But there is noone to stop them. That is the shameful fact.

  6. Its really a shame to hide the good chocolate flavor that this cake might have by adding colorant. I have baked this cake once and I will not bake it very often. I would rather eat a good chocolate cake! When I feel like it I go to the Cupcakery. They do the best red velvet cupcake with thecream cheese frosting. Try it

  7. Why don't you just make red velvet cake the old fashion way with beets! That's why it was red in the first place! Red coloring poisons you ... beets heal you ... not a hard choice. I just made it with beets and it was so delicious! Just blend raw (or cooked) beets in the blender with some of the liquid ingredients and stir in. Ta da - red magic!

  8. I found this very helpful about the colorants. Every time I have had a Red Velvet cakes I have had really bad abdominal pains and felt like vomiting. I had always felt like it was a just a one-off situation, but last night I felt absolutely awful, as if I had cramps, but worse. I had a headache too, caused by the cake, and that didn't help. I'll look out for colorants in the future next time I'm offered a Red Velvet cake. Thank You!!

  9. Thanks for another wonderful post. Where else could anybody get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing? bakeries in fayetteville ar

  10. Hi there. I was asked if I wanted a slice of red velvet cake at a gathering. I didnt have the chance to decline. So i ate just a bit..1-2 & a few bites.
    .But I gave it a test first and it tasted ok. Somehow I am worried about all kinds of foods including red velvet as I worry about any reactions thay may occur. Should I worry?