Velvet Red Cake: Controversy is not usually my middle name

Speaking out against red velvet cake is as radical as I've gotten since representing the USSR at Model United Nations in college. Speaking out against beets was just rabble-rousing when my dad's meal trays featured the root veggie day after day. What would have occurred if a red velvet cake was delivered to the war room buffet table in Dr. Strangelove? You can't eat beets in the war room!

On Aug. 30, 1963, the hot-line communications link between Washington, D.C., and Moscow went into operation.

Beets are not the red ingredient in red velvet cake. A whole bottle of Adams Red food coloring give the cake that mildly toxic appearance with no hidden vegetable benefits. We can always justify another piece of carrot cake because we are consuming actual veggies that improve our night vision (and possibly delicious cream cheese frosting).

My history with beets is mixed. Pickled beets = thumbs down. Canned diced beets = satisfying building material pre-LEGO. Lovely stain, too, almost as beautiful as merthiolate and mercurochrome!

Vegetables sound better than mercury or insects in a dessert. A purple sweet potato velvet cake just needs some adjective rearrangement. Sweet velvet purple potato cake? Sweet purple potato velvet cake? Sweet purple velvet potato cake? Purple velvet sweet potato cake?

A Colorful History One common source of natural food coloring is cochineal, also called carmine, carminic acid, or Natural Red 4. The dye is made fromDactylopius coccus, commonly called a cochineal bug. It's a type of scale insect—tiny parasites that latch onto plants to drink their sap—that lives on cactus. "They kind of look like plant pimples," says entomologist Gwen Pearson, author of Bug Girl's Blog. "They don't have wings or visible legs; they're basically just little sacks of juice. Which means they need a powerful defense." That defense, in the cochineal bug's case, is a crimson-hued substance called carminic acid that tastes unpleasant to would-be predators such as ants. Humans have used this as a dye for centuries; the Aztecs put it in medicine, cosmetics, textiles, and even tamales, says Amy Butler Greenfield, author of the book A Perfect Red, about the history of cochineal. "It's the most intense natural red dye in the world, and it helped people and cultures in southern Mexico survive the devastation of the [Spanish] Conquest," says Butler Greenfield. "Nowadays it continues to be a key export for poor farmers in a number of disadvantaged regions. Big producers include Peru and the Canary Islands."
Slate's Dessert Map of the U.S. assigned red velvet cake to Arkansas, a state in need of cream cheese frosting with nuts. The over-the-top FABulosity trend of red velvet plus many years of preschool birthday cupcakes have driven me to take refuge on a safe tiny remote cakeless island. The only dessert on my island will be the perfectly roasted and golden brown marshmallow. I will be both queen and high priestess of the perfect marshmallow. You may bow or curtsy.

As to the problem of adjective arrangement, I offer this googlization of language example. Try searching the Go Big Red chant (performed by the Husker) drum line. You will get videos about fish (big red drums).

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Kathleen said...

Oh, the golden marshmallow sounds delicious.

And I do like the idea of a red beet velvet cake, to justify my eating of it. Or sweet potato, yes. All kinds of vegetable cake!!

seana graham said...

Beets were bad in childhood, but now they are good. That's not a change in my palate, it's how they are served.

I will have to ask my friend how she makes her cake red. I wouldn't have thought red dye would be part of it, but it might be that nostalgia gives the recipe a pass.

Collagemama said...

Loved your adjective arrangement post, Seana, but not the acronym.

seana graham said...

The acronym is horrible. Why bother?

Collagemama said...

Some interesting info about carmine from the Living With Insects blogger. The post is http://wp.me/p11QvZ-2ON.