There's something special about red velvet cake -- its rich red color, the creamy texture, the cream cheese frosting. But for years rumors have circulated that red velvet is nothing more than chocolate with red food coloring. But is this true?

Think again -- red velvet cake and chocolate cake have fundamental differences in ingredients, which makes the two flavors differ.

The Origins Of Red Velvet

Though the early days of red velvet are a bit hazy, the consensus is the cake began appearing in the 1800s. Back then, cooks would use almond flour, cocoa or cornstarch to soften the proteins in the flour. Other ingredients vital to making the red velvet were coffee, buttermilk, vinegar and cocoa powder.

The buttermilk and vinegar would have a chemical reaction that would bring out the red colors of the cocoa and create a texture much smoother and finer than traditional cakes and produce a mahogany batter.

red velvet cake with piece missing

So There Was Never Red Dye In Red Velvet?

Although the original 19th century recipes produced their color naturally, that all changed during World War II. When Congress passed theFood, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, regulations for food colorings were put in place. This gave John A. Adams, the chief marketing officer for the Adams Extract Company in Texas, an idea -- use cakes to sell his food dyes.

The red velvet recipe was altered. Adams created his cakes by filling them with the vanilla, red dye and artificial butter flavoring that his company sold. The red dye changed the color from a deep mahogany to the bright red that is common in red velvet today. Today, red velvet recipes rely on the food coloring Adams introduced for his marketing ploy.

red velvet cake slice with wooden background

Red Velvet vs Chocolate Cake

So yes, red food coloring is used in red velvet cake. But the recipe is still much finer and smoother than chocolate cake thanks to the ingredients -- buttermilk and vinegar -- that soften the flour and provide richness.

Though both types of cake contain cocoa, chocolate cake is lacking that buttermilk and vinegar combination that is so important to red velvet. The two cakes have a similar cocoa taste, but red velvet is much more fine and rich than chocolate. Therefore, no, red velvet is not just chocolate masked with brightly colored dye.

Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Red Velvet Today

Though red velvet started out as a humble dessert in the Victorian era, today it is a commercial boom. There are red velvet candles, red velvet vodka, you can make red velvet pancakes, cupcakes, donuts, and cookies. Red velvet is one of the most popular flavors, and it's all because a Texan wanted to sell more food dye.

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