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What Makes a Velvet Cake “Velvet”?

Part of my job as Editor is to respond to the comments and questions that you all have. Most of the time I just respond directly, but sometimes if I think it’s something that might be interesting to more of you I’ll try to answer it publicly.

Last week I received this comment on our recipe for White Velvet Cake

Velvet Question

I have to say, I was stumped. I actually hadn’t thought of this before.  Obviously the color sets these cakes apart, but what is in the “velvet” that makes them all part of one big happy family?

Velvet Cakes

 Purple Velvet Cake from Trivandrum Cake House

Yellow Velvet Cake from Rock Recipes

Blue Velvet Cake from i heart chocolate milk

White Velvet Cake from Mr. Food

Pink and Red Velvet Cake from Sugarhero

Green Velvet Cake from Recipe Girl

Black Velvet Cake from Shey B

I asked some of my coworkers here in the Mr. Food Test Kitchen and got a variety of answers. Some were like me and had never thought about it before, while others said it had to something to do with the texture.

Turns out, they were right.

Velvet Cake & Texture

Hmm…I guess I can see the resemblance?

So, if “velvet” refers to the texture, I figured there must be a common ingredient in all velvet cakes that sets them apart from other deliciously moist and smooth cakes.


According to various Internet sources, including these by Mental_Floss and io9, velvet cakes of the past were made with baking soda and either vinegar or buttermilk. When the baking soda combined with either of these two ingredients, it would bubble up and cause the cake to have a fluffy and smooth texture.

Just think of those science class volcanoes and imagine that happening inside your cake while it bakes!

But as we know, time changes everything and recipes are always evolving. Some traditional cakes still use the classic bubblin’ ingredients, while others use butter or sour cream to achieve that delicious velvety texture we all love.

Velvety Red Velvet Cake – [Buttermilk]

White Velvet Cake – [Sour Cream]

Red Velvet Cake – [Butter]

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty open to trying all the versions of this classic favorite. Bring on the cake!

[If you want to learn more about the history of red velvet cake, and the evolution of its red coloring, I suggest visiting Mental_Floss or io9]

Have food or cooking questions? Let me know below!