Seeing Red

Remember when I ranted briefly about my distaste for red velvet cake? And the terrible outcry that came from fanatics, along with a good number of sympathetic voices that can commiserate with my tastes? It would certainly be hard for me to forget, that’s for sure, especially with the way that these things tend to come back to bite me much further down the road.

Not being thrilled with the results of my experiments and with no ideas of how to make them more pleasing to my own palate, I became desperate and broke my cardinal rule; I gave out these baked goods that I was not proud of, and would in no way stand behind. Even worse, the timing worked so “perfectly” that they could simply be included in a bake sale, no questions asked, and make up the cost of ingredients as a bonus. Well, wouldn’t you know, not only did they sell just fine, but ended up being the most popular offering I had that day, selling out long before the mint chocolate cupcakes- The usual favorite.

But it wasn’t enough to challenge my perception of this flavor, no, that’s not the end of the story. Planning to do a little demo for a vegan and vegetarian organization back at my ex-school, it seems that my contact got one of those red velvet cupcakes, and would love that recipe to be part of the show. Many emails have rattled back and forth, many attempts at changing the subject have failed, and now 1 1/2 weeks from now a group of very kind people are expecting to learn about red velvet cupcakes. Well… crap. Didn’t that work out well?

So into the kitchen I went, determined to make natural but brilliantly colored cupcakes that didn’t offend my palate.

[From left to right, first, second, and third attempt. Pay no attention to the size, I was just inconsistent when dosing out the batter.]

How Can You Make Naturally Colored Red Velvet Cake?

Going back to the age-old suggestion of beets, the first attempt went… Adequately. The flavor was just fine, happily, but the cupcakes were red like my dog is “red“; Not really.

Now, color and baked goods have a lot to do with PH, which I know only very basic info about so I’ll keep this brief. Thinking back to traditional recipes, the natural cocoa powder and baking soda is key, as the natural cocoa is much more acidic, and apparently the reaction between these two ingredients may have been powerful enough to create such a deep crimson color once upon a time. Taking this approach, my next batch utilized only baking soda, but nothing else in the recipe was changed. To my dismay, this second batch came out even darker and less red than the first.

Why Does PH Matter?

Hitting the books, it was then that I realized the problem. Baking soda is in fact alkaline, and an alkaline environment promotes browning. Sliding the PH back the other way down the scale, my third attempt omitted the baking soda completely and added a good dose of lemon juice into the mix, while nothing else was changed.

And when those final cupcakes came out of the oven, it was the most gratifying sight to behold. Undeniably red, and definitely tasty, it felt as though all that hard work had finally paid off. Proof that red velvet doesn’t need artificial coloring, and needn’t taste bitter and twisted!

With all that said and done, admittedly, I’d still prefer the frosting to the cupcake if offered. It may not be my favorite thing, and I might not ever fully understand the appeal, but I’m just happy to find a solution, and hopefully save this upcoming demo.

Yield: Makes 12 Cupcakes

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ditch the red dye in favor of natural coloring from beets! You won't taste them, but you'll definitely see their rich crimson hue.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • 1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Natural Cocoa Powder*
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 8.25-Ounce Can Water-Packed Sliced Beets
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt so that all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout the mixture.   Set aside.
  3. Get out your food processor or blender, and toss the entire contents of the can of beets, water included, into the machine.  Process the beets for a solid 2 – 4 minutes, depending on how powerful your machine is, until completely smooth. 
  4. Add in the oil, lemon juice, and vanilla, and pulse briefly to incorporate.
  5. Pour the beet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and mix just enough to combine. 
  6. Equally distribute the batter between your prepared tins, and bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  7. Let cool completely before applying the mandatory cream cheese frosting.


*VERY important, do not use dutch processed for this recipe.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 171Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 90mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 1gSugar: 17gProtein: 2g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.


143 thoughts on “Seeing Red

  1. Good for you for being persistent – these look both gorgeous and delicious! I can’t wait to try them :) Have a blast at the demo Hannah!

  2. i’m really excited to find out how to make the red velvet cupcakes naturally colored! i attempted red velvet cupcakes (also vegan) for my friend’s birthday and i used blackberry syrup, but they turned out brown and tasted like blackberries. that’s really interesting about the pH stuff. good to know. thanks for sharing!

  3. I knew there had to be a way to avoid all that red dye! I’ve got to try this sometime — thanks for figuring it out for all of us!

  4. Great to know you can make things red without dye, which is often made with crushed beetles- yech! I was surprised that you actually used the beets as well as the juice- do they taste of beets at all? Thanks for the chem lesson!

  5. Thanks for re-vamping this recipe, can’t wait to try it without using artificial color. And good you gave it another shot, you can not be defeated!

  6. The red colour is perfect. The thought of adding so much colour has kept me from making these so far.
    Just one little problem, we don’t like beets! :) This is one vegetable I never buy.
    Do the beets just lend colour or does the taste come through?

  7. Congratulations. I do like red velvet because I think the color is so interesting! Yours look deliciously cute with that swirl of frosting.

  8. Proving once again that you’re pure genius! I so admire your dedication to the art and science of fine baking!! I’ll be making a batch of these for my Southern fare-loving friend soon!

  9. Great job! I agree with you that I’ve never seen the appeal of adding 1/2 a bottle of food coloring to a cake to make them. I like yours much better :)

  10. Let me just say… you are the master!

    I have never tried the red beast cake myself. I’ve never felt the need in the slightest. Am I missing out on something?

  11. Nice experimenting! I’m so bad at taking the time to really explore an idea like that, and also, my knowledge of chemistry is tangential at best. Good thing you share your findings!

    I was thinking, what if you did this with that vegan baking soda and vinegar chocolate cake recipe from JOY? I know I’ve made a cake that way, but it was awhile ago I can’t remember how red it turned out (but I may have been using dutch processed cocoa). I think the vinegar would replace your lemon juice in this way . . .

  12. My husband LOVES red velvet cake… I’ve never understood the appeal myself. I’m going to give these a whirl!

    BTW, I made the Sweet French Toast out of My Sweet Vegan this morning, because my 6 year-old complained that “oatmeal is BORING” and it was a HUGE hit. I added a touch of vanilla and lemon extract because that’s how I roll ;-)

    Your book is the one I turn to most often… thanks so much!

    1. To those who haven’t tasted, or don’t get the appeal of red velvet,
      Taste is subjective, of course, but as I’m a big fan of red velvet cake I’ll try to explain its draw.
      It’s not about the color. In fact, as the author mentions some accounts of how it came to be say that it was just the reaction with the cocoa that produced the reddish hue. Another story is that the recipe came from a wartime sugar shortage. The cake was sweetened with beet juice instead and changed only after the advent of artificial dyes.
      Red velvet cake at its best is a very, rich, moist confection. It contains a liberal use of fats and acids. This feature plus a cream cheese type icing creates an interplay of sweet, savory and tart unique to this cake. Vinegar, buttermilk (or ‘buttermilk?’), more baking soda than usual for a cake, and a slight amount of cocoa create layers of richness and complexity. The interaction of vinegar and baking soda produces a perfect thick yet bubbly texture. I’m not saying you have to like it, just that red velvet it is not simply a white cake with red dye.
      – A Southerner

  13. I’m definitely with you – I have a violent dislike for red velvet cake. What is the point of eating something that has an ENTIRE bottle of food coloring in it??? You can taste it – and it’s not a good flavor. So it’s good to know that if I ever need to make it, I’ll have a recipe to look to. Good work!!

  14. Thanks for this recipe! I made a red velvet cake roll a while back and I hated having to add so much red dye to it. I have stayed away from red velvet cakes since, even though I see them everywhere.
    Great job and thanks again.

  15. I have never been a fan of red velvet either. But if this one passes your taste test, I’ll have to give it a go. Thanks Hannah!

  16. wow this is awesome. i grew up eating red velvet down here in the south but when i was a teenager i inexplicably developed an allergy to red food dyes! i havent had a slice of red velvet in 7 years. now i can and it wont look any different!

  17. I am definitely going to make these as soon as Lent is over (sadly, I gave up all sweets!) My husband’s favorite cupcake is red velvet and I can’t wait to surprise him with this natural recipe. I admit, I’ve always relied on red food coloring!!

  18. they look great! it’s so cool to hear about your baking experimentation… all so logical and scientific. while at the same time churning out lovely, appealing, and tasty cupcakes. there is just not enough scientist in me to ever really come up with something on my own, i’m afraid.

    also, your situation with the red velvet is hilarious. good luck with that demo!

  19. Wonderful! You are like a chemist! It is amazing how you figured out how to make red velvet cake really…. red. Naturally, I am never surprised to find such a wounderful blog entry!
    I will be making this soon!

  20. Fantastic work! I haven’t made red velvets yet as I didn’t want to use artficial colourings, now I can try these out, thanks!

  21. Great job on figuring out how to make that cake red! There are so many things here in Holland that we have never heard of and red velvet cake is one of those… Good luck at the demo!

  22. Simple yet decadent recipe, perfect for concocting for “special” occasion- I <3 cakes/cupcakes recipes because they can be concocted in “two bowls” along with soem measuring tools- then blending the frosting is the best part! (and taste testing it) :)

  23. These look absolutely delicious! I think I will save this recipe for when I go on break and have more baking time. Thank you for always sharing such delicious recipes – your garlic bread has become a staple in my house!

  24. This is awesome! I usually load mine up with a disgusting amount of food coloring; now I don’t have to!

  25. Yay–I am so glad you found a way to do this! I’m with you on the regular red velvet cake idea–I want nothing to do with it. But I’d try yours in a heart-beet! (sorry, couldn’t resist) ;)

  26. Wow! I’m in total agreement with the anti Red food colouring sentiment. A lot of people are very allergic to red food dye too.

    I’ll be saving this recipe!!

  27. You’re right, red velvet cake itself is nothing without the cream cheese frosting! And THANK YOU for working so hard to come up with a natural way to make this cake. I really like it (with our without the dye), but let’s face, if I can have a healthier version that doesn’t look much different, an apparently tastes better, I will!

  28. i’ve been making vegan red velvet cake for a while using beets.. the issue is i still haven’t gotten rid of the lemony (in my case the vinegary taste due to the amount of acid that is used…. any ideas?

  29. Red velvet cupcakes are one of my favorites, and I’m so glad to see a version that uses a non-chemical flavoring! Plus, I liked your delving into food chemistry. Very interesting.

  30. I’ve honestly never made red velvet cake. While I’m not terrified of colours, something about the amount required was a little scary. I’ve no doubt my other half and the kids will be squealing with delight when I serve these up to them!

  31. This was very interesting to read! All of the cupcakes look great, but the red colour of the last one is really amazing.

  32. Great post! Extremely informative :) I think you can easily perceive the color as it come out of the oven but what is even more impressive (to me) is the way you took the pics. They truly show the ‘natural’ color of the cupcakes. Do you mind sharing the secret behind such wonderful pics :D ?

  33. Very well done, very interesting post…

    I never ventured to make red velvet, exactly for that reason: I thought a whole bottle of food coloring was wayyyyyy tooooo much chemicals for my taste!

    I’m glad I now have an alternative! Thanks for sharing!

  34. Wow, I tend to neglect the effects of mere chemistry, but you proved that it is worth giving it a thought or two!

  35. I don’t think I’ve ever tried red velvet before, I had no idea about the red food coloring. Excellent job on making a vegan one and with no artifical coloring! It looks great! :-)

  36. I’m glad everyone else enjoyed the red velvet cupcakes, even if you didn’t like them. I love that your recipe doesn’t use artificial food coloring.

  37. Beautiful!

    You see, this is why I really don’t like baking! I’m so glad there are people like you who care to deal with all this so people like don’t have to! I bake, but only super simple and easy things that I don’t have to measure..

  38. It’s just your curse that you put out baked goods people love! ;) I’ve never made red velvet cake but I love that you used beets instead of the astronomical amount of red food colouring that seems to be added to most recipes!

  39. Fun & interesting science baking experiment! I love that you achieved a gorgeous red color without using artificial coloring.

  40. These cupcake were so good! They were moist and slightly red. I would like to upload a picture soon!

    I was really excited while making them.
    I bought a 15oz can of beets. I love beets so I was happy for the extra. Yet, I was a little confused while I was weighting out 8oz. How much beets and how much ‘beet water’? What is a good ratio? I just guessed and moved on.

    I don’t think my cupcakes were as red as yours, BUT they were RED! I have the some problem with red velvet cake. I have watched on TV Paula Deen pour in a whole bottle of red dye. GROSS! but… sickly impressive. Food I think should be natural, because that is what food is, right.

    I really enjoyed the recipe and will make them again for a friend’s late birthday and even later for more. The only thing I didn’t like was the icing for some reason… but that is an easy fix! ;D (I like naked cupcakes with only a blanket of chocolate, maybe)

    I’ll send a picture link soooo!

  41. The cupcakes look great, but I’m wondering if you meant to write “baking soda” is naturally alkaline, instead of “baking powder” is naturally alkaline? I’m confused because if baking powder promotes browning, then why would you add an entire tablespoon to the recipe?

  42. Hi Hannah, how would I add eggs to this cake? I bake sugarless and flourless, so eggs are necessary for structure. Should I just be sure to drain 1/4 of liquid out of the beets per egg? Thanks for any help–love the natural red coloring! Absolutely brilliant.

    1. Hi Lauren,

      I actually tried adding one egg white to the mix and the mix was spongy and moist. I didn’t use the yellow for fear of changing these to orange velvet cake but the taste was delicious. You can also add a few more tablespoons of chocolate and the mix will be a little easier for our less earthy friends to stomach.

  43. OMG, THANK YOU! I’ve been looking for a decent naturally colored red velvet cupcake recipe for my wedding but all my attempts have failed miserably. I am definitely trying this one asap! One thing I have seen to bump-up the red coloring even more is substituting some pomegranate vinegar for part of the lemon juice/vinegar, though I’m not sure how much this would affect the flavor. I’m feeling a big cupcake baking party coming up…

  44. I actually baked a red velvet cake this weekend with this recipe and did a combination of beet juice from a can of sliced beets and food coloring to make the cake red which actually turned out pretty well. The cake was moist and a more of a brown red but it still looked beautiful with the white icing and tasted like heaven. I think I will make them into cupcakes the next time.

  45. They make all natural food coloring–I saw some today at Whole Foods that was made from beets and hibiscus extract. Not sure if you would still need all 2 oz. or what ever the traditional amount of food coloring would be required, but it would be vegan.

  46. I just made these Red Velvet cake last night and it had an amazing fruity taste and color. But it did not rise! I just want to find the last ingredient to make it fluffy like a cake. Do you have any suggestions? Vinegar (since there is already baking powder), ground flaxseed and water, egg replacers? These are usually the replacers I use in cake recipes. Any suggestions are welcome! Thanks :-)

  47. […] Hannah, super-talented teen prodigy, blogs at BitterSweet, taking swoon-worthy photographs of gloriously photogenic creations that are always creative and clever. She wrote a book! And she knits and crochets! I particularly love her use of natural foods for colouring Check out her fascinating experiment with beets here. […]

  48. I was super excited to try this for my 3 year old’s Birthday. Sadly the flavor is lacking in the cup cake itself. It was certainly a moist cake but the flavor was not one of any red velvet I have ever had before maybe I used the wrong kind of beets. But that canned beet flavor really took over.(yes they were packed in water not pickled) Was a great color and texture for the most part though

  49. I LOVE Red Velvet cake. My birthday is on Valentines Day and celebrating with this special dessert is one of a kind! Question? I want to use the red beets in my reciep, but should I cut back on the oil and I see you don’t use eggs! Thanks!

  50. Thank you! My business is cake, but I hate fake food. I am not a vegan but I do have sensitivity to food dyes and artificial flavors. I THANK YOU for the work you out in to bring a real Red Velvet Cake recipe into my life!

  51. I made these with my boyfriend two days ago for our vegan club’s bake sale. The first batch didn’t rise, so we added some more baking powder. They turned out very we added more cocoa powder to the next batch. When we tasted our final batch, it was still quite lemony, so we had to change the name to “Fruit Punch” cupcakes..and even that doesn’t perfectly describe them..haha. My friend could taste the beets. D: Did we do anything wrong? I really wanted this recipe to work!

  52. I made these because the thought of a food coloring free red velvet cake interested me. They are lemony if they are eaten without frosting. My family enjoyed them cut up in their “cheese” cake. The crust was also made by baking the cake in the paper liners then topping with the cheese cake mixture.

  53. You did alot of work! Good for you, it looks great! But, I only bake with butter. Do you know if I could make these using butter instead of vegetable oil??

  54. My cousins’ baby shower is coming up and I’d love to make a batch of these to bring to the festivities! Has anyone tried the recipe? If so, how would you describe the taste and texture?

    Thanx for the recipe, Hannah!

  55. So I made these tonight and have to say I wasn’t too thrilled with the texture. The middle of the cupcakes never seemed to fully cook…so I left them in longer than I should have and the bottoms burned :( I’m not sure if it was perhaps something I did wrong…here are the things I did that may have affected it:

    -Used whole wheat flour
    -Used Hershey’s cocoa (it didn’t say if it was dutch processed or not?)
    -Used a stone cupcake pan

    Either way, the batter/finished product didn’t really have a sweet enough flavor either. So I had no luck with these, maybe more sugar or chocolate is needed?

    1. I made these today. I doubled it and after dishing out the first 12 regular size cupcakes, I added another Tablespoon of Cocoa and them made mini cupcakes with the rest of the batter.

      The regular cupcakes seemed undercooked, dense and too moist after cooking them @ 24 minutes. I can taste the beets clearly.

      The minis came out with a much lighter texture, the extra cocoa maybe helping out to minimize the the earthy beet flavor. The color was fine. I added chocolate chips to the mix and that did not seem to be the problem.

      Next I will try a classic recipe using dried beet powder. Now to find that.

  56. I thought about using beet juice just to try , i love traditional red velvet cupcakes. the baking soda vinegar piece is supposed to be an important part of the process but we will see. looks good though

  57. I made these a couple of days ago and was absolutely disappointed! I swear I followed the recipe step by step, exactly how it was written and I ended up with a dozen blobs of mushy sweet beet batter! After 1 whole hour the cupcakes did not cook thoroughly and they tasted NOTHING like red velvet :(

  58. Lovely! Just in time for <3 Day! Could somebody please post a suitable vegan icing recipe for the cupcakes? Thanks!

  59. I just made 3 different red velvet cupcake recipes in my quest for the perfect one and this recipe was definitely the winner!!! I followed it exactly and they came out perfect. After they were completely cooled I frosted them with the cream cheese frosting – Delish!!! The flavor was really good, the color was a nice deep shade of red and the cupcakes had a moist dense crumb. When they’re cooled, you can’t tell that beets were used at all and the best part is that there is no food coloring!!! This recipe is a keeper! Thx!!

  60. The texture was great and the color was brilliant, but the taste! Quite frankly, they were inedible. I used canned beets and fresh lemon juice and that was pretty much all you could taste. They didn’t taste like lemon cupcakes or like any other cupcakes that I’ve ever had, just like sour dirt. I tossed the whole batch after one bite. Sorry, but this recipe was a total bust for me.

      1. I made these tonight, and here’s how it turned out: I doubled the recipe, and the only difference in ingredients was that I substituted applesauce for the oil. The color was beautiful! The texture was too moist, almost like playdough. They stuck to the cupcake papers. I have never eaten beets before, but based on smelling the canned beets as I pureed them (stinky!!) the finished cupcakes had a sweetened beet flavor. If you like beets, it will be no problem! I used delicious homemade buttercream icing, and now I’m tempted to lick all the frosting off the cupcakes.

  61. Hi, I loved this post, and I actually linked back to you on a recent post I did for a red velvet cake. Thanks to you and some other bloggers, my cake turned out red, red, red—with no artificial color.

    When I put up the picture, I wrote some text on the photo (I always do that), so I just wrote “seeing red.” Then today, almost a week later, I see that the same phrase is the title of your post. I didn’t mean to be a copycat, I swear. But maybe, since your post was so brilliant, I subconsciously remembered what you called your post, and unintentionally copied it!

    Thank you for all your help in achieving something all natural for the rest of us who may be a bit scientifically challenged . . .

  62. Wow–fascinating. I’ll have to try this. That bottle of red dye grosses me out, so it’s nice to find an alternative

  63. I was delighted to read your recipe, i am not a novice baker myself and i find that naturally red baked goods are very difficult to achieve… I am actually looking at a 13″ x 9″ cake that i baked two days ago and it was not the red i expected either…more like your #1 picture cupcake!
    I hope people don’t stop baking and trying to do it the natural way at the same time. It is a beautiful gift to have and a great one to teach as well.
    Please know that this is my first time ever leaving a reply to any of those baking blogs….

  64. i just made this (as a 9 inch cake) and i thought it was terrible. like many others, i can only taste lemon and beets…and normally i like both of those. the color was fine, not like a bottle of food color would make it, but it was reddish. i made this and my usual vegan cupcakes take over the world recipe to compare, and i will stick with the vctotw recipe. i wanted so much to like this because i think sneaking veggies (especially colorful ones) into baked goods is fun, but it was just awful. :( not recommended.

  65. I started to google for a naturally-colored red velvet cake recipe after failing at an attempt to make another naturally-colored red velvet cake from the cook book “Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook” by Martha Hall Foose. Her recipe was very good but the red color was missing. I found the recipe listed above and decided to make it. If you love the taste of beets and sour lemons, this is your recipe. This made the worst tasting cupcakes I’ve ever had. Don’t try this recipe!

  66. SO DISAPPOINTED! I wanted to pair my organic beet cookies with a naturally flavored red velvet cupcake. This was not the recipe. The texture was play-doh, the cupcakes barely rose, and the flavor – oh my! My family LOVES beets and this recipe was disgusting. The overwhelming flavor was metallic canned beets. I did not detect lemon, but then I only had two bites. My daughter had one bite and we threw the rest away. Even as I was preparing this, I thought perhaps it would work with fresh beets, roasted then pureed. If you are not used to canned veggies, that is the only flavor that comes through. Darn! The color was pretty though :)

  67. Just made these and to be honest I was hopeful especially when they came out of the oven so nice and round and definitely red. But . . . . once they cooled completely they had shrunk and were now the texture of a rubber eraser. The taste was very bland and of course pasty. I feel you really need the eggs in this recipe to give the cake some lift and a lighter texture. I realize this would defeat the purpose of being vegan, but to be honest I would rather go without all together.

  68. I just made these last night and I don’t understand what people are saying about the texture of the cake and flavor of the beets- both turned out perfect. Perhaps some used out of date baking powder or didn’t measure correctly? Mine didn’t taste of beets at all, but did have a strong lemon flavor. Don’t know if this is what red velvet is supposed to taste like (I’ve heard it does have some tartness), as I’m not an expert on the flavor, but the color was nicely red-tinged and perfectly moist without being dense. If I closed my eyes, though, I would’ve thought they were lemon cupcakes. I used the vegan cream cheese frosting recipe from vctow, and everyone gobbled them up. I too prefer chocolate cake over these and don’t understand the appeal, but certain people sure do appreciate it- especially when you tell them there are beets in there!

  69. I’m not sure what went wrong, but mine were very lemony and not red. I didn’t use dutch processed cocoa like the recipe said. And nothing was out of date on the ingredients. They also have a funny smell…. not sure what to do with this batch now, they were gonna be for my birthday party. The search continues for the perfect red velvet cake recipe I guess.

  70. These are wonderful! I used light olive oil instead of canola oil and three large beets that we had cooked and sliced a few days before, so I added some water. They turned out wonderfully dark red and have a sweet, slightly chocolate taste, and are moist, with a perfect cake texture. Next time I may use one more tablespoon of cocoa….as I used three heaping tablespoons and they are just slightly chocolatey. I also used a heaping teaspoon of baking powder. Mine are not overly lemon-flavored, but have a delightful balance of sweet, tart, and chocolate. They took about 22+ minutes. Bravo on this great recipe!

  71. this recipe is great. the first batch tasted really beet-y, though it seemed i was the only one who could taste the beets, so maybe it was my mind playing tricks. i ended up using only 6 oz of beets the second and third times, and using twice as much oil and lemon juice, and a little more cocoa powder, and they were great. i’ve never been a fan of red velvet, but the first time i tried chocolate beet cake was a year ago and i’ve loved it ever since, so i’ll be making these a lot more often!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for sharing your experiences and adaptions- Hopefully these great suggestions will help other readers who didn’t get quite the results they desired. :)

  72. Everything came out great. I did use unbleached flour, which I read on another recipe that bleached flour can also alter the pH levels. I added 1 extra Tb of cocoa. The cupcakes were dense moist & red and did have a hint of lemon flavor. 3 of us couldn’t taste the beets, but my husband and 2 of my sons said they tasted like dirt. I think it just comes down to individual taste buds. We have this issue with other foods. I would definitely use this recipe again!

  73. […] Cheese Frosting Whole Wheat Carrot Raisin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe to come) Red Velvet Cupcakes Our gracious host (whose blog I can link to soon, yay!) also shared four different flavors of her […]

  74. Wow. Thank you for this article. I have been curious about Red Velvet Cake for years, and figured if I ever made it, it would be with beets. I really appreciate your sharing your recipe, but especially enjoyed hearing about your process of experimentation. I aspire to being able to create recipes to suit my own needs and tastes, as well as to those I care about, even when the chemistry is tricky, as it is in baking. Your experiment is an inspriation.

    It is so funny how people sometimes like the piece of work we don’t think is our best.

  75. I’m a 14 year old vegan whose family is not vegan and I live in Texas. My diet consists of apples and salads, but this website is amazing! It has so many foods that I can eat and it sounds fabulous! Thank you so much for making all of these great recipes and I am so happy I can eat food again!

  76. Ugh I’ve just finished 2 attempts and while the second was better at the first, they keep coming out with a bitter/sour taste. Any ideas?

    1. Sorry for the baking struggles! To cover over that flavor, you could always try to increase the sugar and/or cocoa a little bit more. Hope you come out with something you find delicious!

  77. Wow that’s so great to know about that, thanks for the short explanation (it was enough, simple but still explaining basically what is going on with these mixtures of Ph-y foods).
    I will give the red color a try. Here in France we have a red colorant that is vegan (actually I do not know what it is made of), but although it is convenient, not every body is able to get it, which makes the red color like an ‘elite’ color kind of, whereas in your instructions you are simply using beets and lemon, which are very common foods.

  78. If I wished to use fresh mashed beets would 1/2 cup equal the amount of 8.25 ounce of this can amount?

    1. Unfortunately, I really can’t recommend using fresh beets in place of the canned. I’m not sure what would be the equivalent volume, and the consistency would be significantly different because the can contains a good deal of liquid, which is also added into the mix.

  79. […] Hannah, super-talented teen prodigy, blogs at BitterSweet, taking swoon-worthy photographs of gloriously photogenic creations that are always creative and clever. She wrote a book! And she knits and crochets! I particularly love her use of natural foods for colouring Check out her fascinating experiment with beets here. […]

  80. These turned out spledid. I’m in a wedding at the end of June and volunteered to bake the cupcakes and I’ll definitely be making these. The vegan cream cheese frosting went so well with the cakes. We paired it with a jice italian pinot noir. Lovelovelove

    <3 e

  81. How would you adapt this to fresh beets that have been boiled, puréed and frozen? I have beets that I boiled, removed the peels, puréed, and froze. I didn’t add any additional water to the purée though.

    I tried making red velvet cupcakes with the beet purée and oat flour in place of all purpose, in this different recipe. It was such a fail. They rose halfway through but then deflated completely and you could totally taste the beets (bitter) and they were mushy on the outside and took forever to cook. This happens every time I try baking desserts with beets.

    Also, do you think the same results could be achieved with oat flour instead of all purpose flour? Or barley flour?

    1. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t attempted to make these cupcakes using fresh beets in any form, and really can’t recommend it. I promise you can’t taste them in the final batter, so the metallic flavor that some people find in canned beets will be completely undetectable. The batter needs the added liquid that the canned beets are packed in, and the beets themselves are typically more tender than fresh. Likewise, all purpose flour is used here to support the structure of the cake, which would otherwise become very heavy due to the beets. Oat flour would yield a gummy crumb, so unfortunately, the only way to avoid that would be to stick with the recipe as written. I wish I could be of more help!


  82. i’ve been experimenting with red velvet cakes without using any colorings, just natural color with the help of fresh beets.. i was kind of upset that no matter how i try there will always be that weird flavor from the beets..i was wondering if you can help me whether it’s safe to use INDIA TREE’S natural food coloring(unsure if it really is natural) or beetroot powder? (<- unsure, maybe it'll give a weird taste?)…huhuhu helpp..i really need someones opinion.. :S

  83. I too would like to try making a Red Velvet Cake without food color. A number of years ago I had the taste of a luxurious red velvet cake made with raspberries for color & flavour. Have you ever tried making one using Raspberries?


  84. I used this recipe to make red velvet with fresh beets instead of canned. I boiled 2 whole beets and pureed them. The colour turned out perfect .. However the texture was very disappointing. It was too mushy and gooey even though the toothpick came out totally clean when i tested. Like Furwa mentioned in one of the comments, the cupcakes rose initially but then deflated. I initially thought it was the consistency of the batter, but it wasnt really that thin. Plus I baked it for a good 30 min. I really wonder if canned vs fresh beets make all the difference.

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