I've been wanting to experiment with red velvet for quite some time now. It always look so pretty and festive and people have been raving about the "crimson velveteen" cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for years now.
Two things have been stopping me. The first is that whenever I open VCTOTW I tend to default to the tried and true favourites and because I don't bake all that often (because I don't like to consume all that sugar all that often) I find myself terrified to try something new in case it isn't as good as the aforementioned tried and true.
The second is the food dye dilemma.
The what, you ask?
Many food dyes aren't actually vegan. Particularly red food dye. In fact, the majority of red food dye contains carmine which, if you're not familiar, is manufactured by grinding up scaled insects (i.e. beetles). Seriously.
The use of carmine (and therefore insects) in crimson-hued food is so widespread that there is only one mainstream food dye producer (to my knowledge) willing to confirm an entirely vegan product, and that is Wilton. When it comes to the rest of them you are gambling a little bit with the amount of bugs in your red-ish sugar cookie. Maybe none. Maybe thirty million. Who knows?
My mom once told me she almost fainted when someone told her that the lipstick she was wearing on her wedding day had ladybugs in it and I always thought that the person who said it was completely crazy. Turns out that her wedding day lipstick likely did have ladybugs in it (or, more probably, a Polish Cochineal). Many (if not most) modern mainstream lipsticks continue to contain carmine. So I'm sorry, random person that, long before I was born, said lipstick has ladybugs in it. I was wrong and you're not crazy.
Anyway, carmine is gross, which means most red food dye is gross, which means pretty much everything is gross because there is food dye in everything nowadays, isn't there?
How vegans choose to deal with it is a personal matter. Some avoid everything red; some make exceptions depending on the circumstance and the likelihood of an artificial dye being used. Other folks avoid food dyes entirely not because of the bugs themselves but because food dyes are quite terrifying and have been connected with many gastrointestinal (diarrhea, vomiting), behavioural (ADHD) and even neurological (migraines, fainting) issues in our modern society.
Me, personally? I can't preach about food dye too much. I'm fairly certain that regardless of what I do now my kidneys will continue to have a lovely technicolour glow resulting from the copious amounts of Kool-Aid I drank as a child. As an adult I do some avoiding, but I dabble now and again. I just do my best to make sure it's insect-free and hope that I don't have a stroke the three times a year I consume it.
So that's the story of how long it took me to finally make red velvet cupcakes. It's long and winded and sometimes exaggerated, but you get the point.
I'm still scared of food dyes but with these cupcakes I was kind enough to share the neurotoxins with my friends so that I wouldn't eat too much. Tis the season for giving, am I right?!
Some photos from the annual tree decorating at our friend Andy's house. Hard to believe I have been participating in this event since 2004. Anyway, the cupcakes went over well and get the omni seal of approval. No one had a stroke. Truthfully, in this situation, the amount of wine and whiskey consumed is probably a bit more concerning than the food dye.