How To Make Vibrant Red Velvet Cake Without Dye

Red velvet cake is a classic for a reason — it's just chocolatey enough, moist as can be, delightfully tangy, and a perfect vehicle for lots (and lots) of creamy frosting. And it takes on that signature deep crimson color that gives an undeniable cue for what is in store. But, as showstopping and festive as the color can be, what if you don't want to load your cake up with red dye?

Food Republic got some advice from sweet treat lover and baking aficionado Sarah Fennel, a baker and content creator behind the blog Broma Bakery. It offers tons of her recipes accompanied by crave-worthy photos that make you feel like you are peeking into a real live bakery case. Needless to say, Fennel knows a thing or two about tried-and-true red velvet cakes. For a dye-free version, she suggests substituting a tablespoon or two of beetroot powder for the typical red food coloring without artificial additives.

More about beetroot powder and using it in cake

Pink or red beetroot powder is made by finely grinding up dried beets. Though fresh or cooked beets can have a very strong taste, the powder is actually quite mild. Plus, you are only using a little bit so any overt earthiness will be offset by other flavors in the cake. When used in baking, the color will be a little more muted, but still totally lovely.

Many classic recipes for red velvet cake with cream cheese icing already incorporate acid in a couple of different forms by way of buttermilk and vinegar to get that characteristic tang. This is key when substituting beetroot powder for red dye because, without enough acid, the powder will oxidize, leaving you with a cake that is more earthy brown than classic red. 

To minimize this risk, seek out a recipe that is specifically built around beetroot powder. It may call for baking powder as well — which has an acidic component already mixed in — instead of just baking soda to be doubly sure there is enough acid in the batter for the desired results.

Other ways to switch up a red velvet cake

If you can't get your hands on beetroot powder, a natural, food-safe dye made with vegetable juices is another good option. Other brightly colored ingredients could be fun takes on a not-so-red velvet cake, too. Dragon fruit or hibiscus powders could take things in a rosy direction, and if you skip the chocolate, you can use these additions to make a pink velvet cake. Vibrant, azure-colored butterfly pea powder would even make a Bobby Vinton-approved blue velvet version.

Using a natural coloring isn't the only way to put your own touch on a red velvet cake, however. Baker Sarah Fennel says that a white chocolate frosting is another wonderful variation on the usual cream cheese topper. Whether someone in your house doesn't like the taste of cream cheese or you just want to try something new, white chocolate "is smooth and doesn't overpower the softer flavor notes in the cake, but also adds a little hint of unexpectedness!"