Is Red Velvet Cake Just Chocolate Cake?

If you’ve ever made or had a red velvet cake, you probably remember that it has a distinct chocolate flavor. It’s subtle, but it is there. Does that mean red velvet cake is really just another chocolate cake?

The answer is no. Other than the fact that they are both super tasty cakes that contain cocoa powder, red velvet cakes, and chocolate cakes are very different types of cake. 

My name is Angie, I’m a self-taught baker and I’ve been baking for over 10 years. Where I live, people are quite new to western-style cakes. I constantly have to explain to people the difference between one cake and another.

In this article, I will talk about red velvet cake and chocolate cake, and the key similarities and differences between the two.

Keep reading to learn all about it!

Red Velvet Cake

The story of the red velvet cake started in the Victorian era when velvet cakes were popularized and frequently served at dessert parties. As the name suggests, velvet cakes are known for their tender, “velvety” texture. To achieve the velvety texture, cocoa powder was used to soften the flour.

When natural cocoa powder is mixed with acidic ingredients like buttermilk or vinegar, people noticed that it created a red hue to the normally brown cake. Many believe that that was what sparked the creation of the red velvet cake. 

But when did the red velvet cake become, well, THIS red? We have the Adams Extract Company to thank for that. 

Adams Extract Company was the first to promote the red velvet cake as we know it today. They did so in order to boost sales for their red food dyes. A red velvet cake recipe was created which they placed next to their food dye and vanilla extract section, and since then it’s become a trend that still hasn’t seem to have gone away. 

Chocolate Cake

Unlike the red velvet cake, which is quite specific without many variations to it, chocolate cake is an umbrella term that covers all different cakes made with some form of chocolate in it. 

You might be familiar with the traditional chocolate cake, the one that’s so moist and so dark in color, rich in chocolate flavor, and stacked together with ganache or chocolate buttercream in between each layer.

Or, you might prefer a german chocolate cake, a devil’s food cake, or a black forest cake. There are so many options. 

Key Similarities

There’s a reason why people would sometimes confuse the two. Here’s why. 

Both chocolate and red velvet cakes contain cocoa powder in their recipes. In a red velvet cake, cocoa powder most serves the purpose of softening the flour and thereby creating finer and more tender crumbs.

Cocoa powder used in chocolate cakes, on the other hand, is added for the rich chocolate taste it brings. Oftentimes, cocoa powder is mixed with chocolate and sometimes coffee to intensify the chocolaty flavor. 

The amount of cocoa powder in red velvet cakes might be little, but you’ll still get an unmissable hint of cocoa flavor. This is why red velvet cakes are sometimes confused with chocolate cakes. 

Key Differences

Ingredients, texture, and flavor are the key difference that makes red velvet cake and chocolate cake different. 

Ingredients

There are a few ingredients that set the red velvet cake apart from a regular cake. Of course, to start the list off there is red food coloring which gives red velvet cakes its classic bright crimson red color. Without it, a red velvet cake would literally not be a red velvet cake. 

Then, there’s buttermilk, a small amount of cocoa powder, and almost always baking soda. 

As for chocolate cakes, ingredients depend on the type of chocolate cake you’re making. In a traditional chocolate cake or a devil’s food cake, melted chocolate is added on top of cocoa powder to create a more decadent texture and flavor. In chocolate sponge cakes or swiss rolls, egg whites are used generously to incorporate air into the cake, giving it a cloud-like lightness. 

Texture

The texture of red velvet is one of a kind. The cocoa powder helps to soften the flour. The acidic ingredients in the batter react with the baking soda to achieve a very tender and moist cake texture with very fine and tight crumbs. 

The texture of chocolate cake depends on the recipe. Traditional chocolate cakes are also known for how moist they are. Crumbs are fine like a red velvet cake but the air pockets are generally larger which makes the cake a little bit more coarse in comparison to red velvet. 

Depending on the recipe, some chocolate cakes are lighter or denser than others. Chocolate sponge cakes, for example, uses a lot of aerated egg whites which makes them light and airy. 

Flavor

In terms of the flavors of the two, the red velvet cake has a distinct acidic taste to it which comes from the buttermilk and vinegar used in the recipe. There is a hint of chocolate coming from the cocoa powder used and it is usually paired with a tangy cream cheese frosting. 

Chocolate cakes on the other hand don’t normally taste tangy unless berries are added to them or if they use a cream cheese icing. 

FAQs

Here I will answer some questions you might still have about red velvet and chocolate cakes. 

Is red velvet cake just chocolate cake with food coloring?

I mean … if you want to put it like that you can. 

Technically speaking red velvet cake can fall under the big umbrella of chocolate cake because of its addition of cocoa powder, but it is rarely considered so because it has a very distinct texture with fine crumbs and a tangy taste that’s not present in most chocolate cakes.

Why is red velvet cake expensive?

To tell the truth, red velvet cakes aren’t much more costly to make than any regular cake. The only ingredients that might make the cake more expensive are the red food coloring and the cream cheese used to make cream cheese frosting. 

Why did my red velvet cake turn brown?

Browning happens naturally when baking and cooking food. It is a result of a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugar called the Maillard reaction

If your red velvet cake is saturated with red food dye, the browning may only turn the red color into a deeper red. However, if you have not put enough red food coloring in your red velvet cake batter, the red color is not going to show through and what you will end up with is a cake that looks brown. 

If the brown color comes with a smell, it’s also possible that you’ve burnt your cake in the oven. 

Why does my red velvet cake taste bitter?

There are two possible reasons why your red velvet cake tastes bitter. Most red velvet cake recipes call for baking soda as its leavening agent. Accidentally using more baking soda than necessary may result in a bitter-tasting red velvet cake. 

Another reason why your cake tastes bitter might be the food coloring you are using. To achieve the bright crimson red color, a pretty substantial amount of red food dye is used. Although food coloring is made to be as neutral tasting as possible, some food coloring does have a slightly bitter taste, especially if used in large quantities. 

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t gotten the idea already, red velvet cakes and chocolate cakes are quite different. I would never mistake one for another and after reading this article, neither should you!

Do you prefer a red velvet cake or a chocolate cake? And is there a recipe you recommend? I’m always looking to test out new recipes so let me know in the comments below! 

About Angie
I am a self-taught baker. I’ve been baking for over 10 years and started my own home baking business as a side hustle. I was born in Hong Kong and spent a pretty big chunk of my life in Canada. If you’re ever looking for me, I am probably there whisking vigorously away in the kitchen.

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  • Aubrey Smithwick

    Hey we didn’t even get into frosting …. The best thing about a red velvet cake is the frosting and I don’t mean cream cheese, thats what you put on a carrot cake. If you haven’t had a red velvet cake with Ermine butter cream on it Then you’ve never truly experienced what a red velvet cake should taste like. That particular butter cream is a complete pain to make, generally requiring 20 straight minutes of stirring a milk paste pudding type base. If you’re using the method where the granulated sugar is creamed with the butter after cooking you’re never going to get an unbroken Ermine … The trick here is to use a recipe that combines sugar with the milk and flour pudding base, from there it’s cooled on a plate with plastic wrap sealing it and preventing air drying it out and creating a skin until it reaches room temperature and the pudding base is then added slowly to fluffy well whipped butter. My grandmas recipe is:

    1 cup milk
    *3T flour
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup butter (or butter flavored shortening if the texas heat is going to melt it and ruin it … if you can use bitter do that)
    1 tsp vanilla

    *If I’m decorating and being fussy making a design that needs a stiffer frosting I use 5 tablespoons instead of three.

    I understand that stirring for 20 minutes is not a fun thing but it’s not gonna kill anyone to develop a little bit of a bicep … Please please stop ruining red velvet cake with cream cheese … as soon as you taste it together you’ll understand that all your hard work was worth it I promise.

    Reply
    • Angie

      Wow!

      Thank you so much Aubrey for what you’ve shared. I do love ermine buttercream as well and your grandma’s recipe looks amazing.
      Definitely going to give it a try when I make red velvet next!

      Cheers,
      Angie

      Reply