Monday, May 31, 2010

Why Not-So-Red Velvet

It's amazing to me that red velvet is as popular today as it is. I mean, I'm a Sex in the City girl too, and I have no beef with the flavor of the cupcake (tangy buttermilky, light chocolatey, topped with cream cheese or vanilla frosting) or Magnolia's bakery (who truly is responsible for it's return to the younger masses), I just have a beef with the "red" part.

I am old enough (groan!) to remember the Red Dye 2 (made from yummy coal tar) we ate as kids, and it's removal from the shelves some years ago for toxicity. But in the meantime, a new one has popped up in its place. And though the FDA has given it the greenlight, it's safety in humans is not all that clear to me.

It's not that hard to find info about red dye; I lifted this from Wikipedia:

"Allura Red AC is a red azo dye that goes by several names including: Allura Red, Food Red 17, C.I. 16035, FD&C Red 40 [1][2], 2-naphthalenesulfonic acid, 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-, disodium salt, and disodium 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-2-naphthalene-sulfonate. It is used as a food dye and has the E number E129. Allura Red AC is one of many High Production Volume Chemicals. Red AC was originally manufactured from coal tar but is now mostly made from petroleum."

PETROLEUM??!! Is that really an improvement from coal tar??!! I took a look to see whether the oil-based red stuff was legal. Back to Wikipedia:

"In Europe, Allura Red AC is not recommended for consumption by children. It is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Sweden...."

Is it possible that only European children are at risk - and not the children of other nations and continents?

But what does the European Union, the major economic body of Europe, have to say about red food dye:

"The European Union approves Allura Red AC as a food colorant, but EU countries' local laws banning food colorants are preserved."

WTF???!!! Well that means that it's OK in the poorer Eastern nations in Europe, but banned in the richer, Western Democracies.

"In the United States, Allura Red AC is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in cosmetics, drugs, and food. It is used in some tattoo inks and is used in many products, such as soft drinks, children's medications, and cotton candy." (Wikipedia).

Ah ha - so it's OK for America and poor European countries, but banned in the Western part of Europe.

OK, so maybe it's just those crazy Europeans getting all activist-ey, is there really anything wrong with this red stuff?

Well, according to studies in Europe, it has been linked to hyperactivity in children (hence the ban in the rich European countries); "The study found that increased levels of hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and lower IQs were observed in children." (Wikipedia).

But it's dangerous effects have also been noted here in the US:
"Children are most often the ones who have sensitivity to red 40, whether or not their parents have realized it or not. Reactions include temper tantrums, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, uncontrollable crying and screaming, kicking, nervousness, dizziness, inability to concentrate and sit still among other findings. Physically you may get frequent headaches or migraines, upset stomach and feel ill after ingesting this additive. Often when Red 40 is eliminated from the child's diet a remarkable change is noticed immediately." Lifestyle on-line.(


I tried to make my cupcakes with organic, strawberry-based dye but it took too much to get the signature color - end ended up tasting of strawberry. Same for beets - although the resulting taste was much more earthy. So I have decided to make my velvets not-so-red. And it is amazing the effect this has on people. They really want to see the red. So do I, truth be told. But I can't in good conscience, color them red with Red 40.

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