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Beets, Beetles, Battlestar Coal-actica & Cupcakes

Posted May 16 2010 12:00am

Was never really a fan of beets...and I really just used them for the first time when I made the semi- vegan red velvet cupcakes for Valentine's Day. My brothers graduation party was last night, and his girlfriend, Mare asked that I make them again, this time without the beets. I also wanted to try a little more tweaking.

Well, I had a plan...last time, the recipe called for 3 pureed beets, and I was so afraid of tasting them in the cupcakes (making them "beet" cupcakes, not red velvet) that I put a few chocolate chips in them to off-set the taste.

Why use beets? Well, first I must say (as I have before) that I never "got" the whole obsession with red velvet cake? Isn't it pretty much chocolate cake with red food dye? What's the big deal? I really never heard of it until a couple years ago...apparently it's made a comeback...and people love it. I have never tried a slice in my life; yet am always up for the challenge of making something "healthier" than the original. All natural, sista...which means there is NO way I was using FD&C RED #40.

Beets are a veggie....right out of the doesn't get more natural than that. Aside from that their are many health benefits of eating beets. The betacyanin, -which gives beets their deep-red color-is also a powerful cancer-fighting agent. Beets' potential effectiveness against colon cancer, in particular, has been demonstrated in several studies.Beets also protect against heart disease, lowering total cholesterol...triglycerides, and increasing the "good" HDL cholesterol. It also reduces inflammation and protects against birth-defects.

So, if you can get past your icky feelings against beets (remember always organic and fresh, never canned); there are MANY health benefits to gain from eating them!

maybe this will help with the icky-ness.....


"all-natural," yet neither vegetarian or kosher.

What is it about us that makes us so attracted to bright colored foods and packages? As kid, a summer night wasn't complete without a bright Cherry Popsicle. Cereals and snacks were more appealing based on how colorful the  packaging was. Hard candy seemed to taste more delicious based on how bright the color was. We are a "visually" driven society of consumers, which gives the marketing companies a whole lot of power in what we are eating. Science tells us that people look for RED in foods; even further believing that more intensely colored foods actually have more flavor and a stronger aroma. Do people eat with their eyes? I believe so.

When taking on the task of making "red-velvet" cupcakes...I gave myself the challenge of trying to appeal to a group of "visually" driven consumers of my own, the "All-natural way".

Like I said, there is nothing naturally more red than a beet! So I asked Mare what she would rather have:  

"Beets or Beetles?"



Carminic Acid

....are all other names for ground up beetlejuice

(check your yogurts, ladies & gents)

Food makers regularly use crushed female cochineal beetles to dye food, particularly certain yogurts, strawberry milk,  juices and candy; also shampoos and other cosmetics.

Beets are all natural....but so are beetles? So, what's the problem (besides the fact that it is disgusting? Unless you are a survivor contestant, our culture is not really "built" to eat bugs). You probably know someone or someones child that has an allergy or sensitivity to red food dye, I know a few....Most commonly you hear of sensitivities from the man-made chemical food dye #red40 (which I will talk about in a minute), but the "bug juice" found in so many foods may not be so great either.

Stated on the FDA's Web site: "Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru , the Canary Islands and elsewhere. ... These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock ." 

A package may say all-natural on it, but you still need to look at the ingredients. So I guess "all-natural" isn't always "kosher"--literally! You will not find carminic acid in Kosher foods, because they forbid the use of "Bugs" in their food; I think that's fair enough.

As far as safety goes, thinking about "bug juice" in your food and cosmetics is disgusting,however, safety-wise you could think of it as you think of any food allergy...someone could have these same reactions from pine nuts, or shell-fish. That doesn't mean I am going to run out and use it in my next recipe....and anyone that is Vegetarian or Vegan would not be too pleased to know they are eating bugs.

For me, vegetarian or not....the idea skeeves me out---and I would not appreciate any beetles in my food, thank you very much.

What I refuse to ever use....

Coal-Tar/ Petroleum
So what about FD&C RED#40 and other artificial food coloring?

There are studies dated back to the 1970's based on artificial food coloring and behavioral problems in children. Aside from the fact that our bodies do not digest this (or any) synthetic food color properly, contributing to abdominal fat; there is also suspect that some components of certain  FD&C food colorings may cause cancer (BLUE 1&2, Yellow 6 & RED 3).

Most synthetic food dyes are created from petroleum; the same stuff you use to fuel your car & heat your home. Lovely. That's not all....FD&C Blue No. 2 is manufactured in a chemical process that includes formaldehyde, aniline, several hydrozides under ammonia pressure, and heating in the presences of sulfuric acid.Batches are tested to ensure they do not "exceed" the FDA's prescribed regulations for impurities; mostly in the form of salts or acids, but others include lead, arsenic and mercury! Yikes.

In Europe, administrators have made it a priority to get artificial food coloring banned, however, these same products are still on the shelves, in many products, in the U.S.

An article on  Beyond Green shares some interesting  information from the Center for Science & Public Interest:

In Europe, regulators and industry have made considerable progress toward eliminating artificial dyes from food products, though American versions of the very same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. For instance, the syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald's in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries; in the U.S., the red color comes from synthetic Red 40.
In the U.S., synthetic food dyes are common in brightly colored foods popular with children, including candies, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and snack foods. Sometimes the sunny synthetic colors are designed to simulate fruits or vegetables, as in the case of a "Guacamole Dip" produced by Kraft, which gets its green color not from avocados but from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. The "artificially flavored blueberry bits" in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are blue thanks to Red 40 and Blue 2, not blueberries.
 He then goes on to state: "Indeed, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and McDonalds all replaced the harmful dyes in their British products. Even Fanta now uses pumpkin and carrot extracts to color their soda orange in the UK. And you know what? The world didn't end. Nor did the companies go out of business. There's not even any indication that eliminating dyes caused price increases. In fact, no one really noticed, which begs the question of why the colors are used in the first place."

What the hay!!????

My guess is maybe the $ green stuff; the paper kind? The same reason behind other GMO foods. The FDA's stance is that not enough evidence exists of a link between consumption of food dyes and hyperactivity in children; however studies conducted over several decades– and, particularly, two sizeable British government-funded  studies conducted more recently – shows a statistical significance that there is a connection between the consumption of synthetic food dye and behavioral problems.Between that and all the parents and consumers raising hell...things may be looking up? I don't know...

Maryland has been the first U.S. State that looks to ban certain artificial food colors.Baby steps.


What do you think? Beets, Beetles or Coal-Tar for your food?

As I mentioned earlier, my brothers girlfriend asked me to make these without the "beets" for my brothers graduation party. Last time I made them people did go for seconds....I DID make a very rich frosting and I put chocolate chips into the batter of some to try and off-set and taste of beets. I don't know if it's because since then they have seen my recipe or if they really did, but her and Michael both said they could taste the beets in them (both of whom had seconds on V-Day).

There is a whole chemistry behind making Red Velvet cake; if you use unprocessed cocoa, the reaction of that and the vinegar/ lemon juice (acid) will help hold the red color....

Last time I made them, they were BEET-red, literally. However, you could taste a hint of the beets. This time, I tried one batter with less beets...and they came out like this:

I followed the other recipe , except I did 1/2 sunflower oil and 1/2 applesauce; and 1/2 tablespoon more of cocoa powder. (As I am typing I wonder if carob or cacao powder would of worked better, they're absolutely un-processed?!) For the water, I used the water from the pot I cooked the (organic of course) beets in. Also, I added the lemon juice too soon, by I am thinking maybe that did it.

So, the following day I made a trip to whole foods to try and find some all-natural, vegan food coloring...and I was in luck!

It' s "best buy" date was the same day I bought I got to try it for FREE!! Yey me! Which is great because it cost $17.00.

The other batch of red velvet chocolate cupcake were actually quite delicious; melt in your mouth tasty! But I still wanted to try and fulfill Mare's I tried a different recipe using food coloring and supplemented for India Tree's all natural red (and some of the beet juice from when I cooked the beets but shhhhhhhh).

 Not quite as red as the typical red-velvet cake but it had the color.....success! They were tasty...but not nearly as much as the first batch!

My verdict...the chocolate looking, vegan cupcakes with the beets were absolutely divine!! I don't know if people were being nice, but I heard it was talked about all night...and the tray of them went quickly! I made it known that there were beets in there...this time you couldn't really taste them, they were amazing, I thought! I said it the day before the party that I liked the vegan-beet cupcakes much better when I "tested" them out.

Test group verdict: People were coming up to me saying I should market them!!!! They were a hit!

I never cared for beets, and it's not typically a favorite amongst crowds....and even Mare, who requested the "non-beet" cupcakes enjoyed them thoroughly!

Hmmmm? New business venture?

Icing this time was just cream cheese, vanilla and not nearly as much powdered sugar.... so it wasn't as sweet last time....didn't want to take a risk on a dairy-free icing, next time I will experiment with the icing!

That's enough sweets for a while.....they were so good, I was thinking about them when I woke up this morning-- and the two I salvaged, before they were all gone, were in my fridge this morning-- and I may of had one after my oatmeal breakfast.....and maybe another a lil bit later (leaving me feeling a lil green)---it's been a LONG time since I ate sweets that early in the day...bad news! However, it's a rarity, and I ate perfectly healthy the rest of the sugary-sweets craving is beyond fulfilled for quite a bit!I don't feel as bad eating them, as a treat,  knowing the ingredients that I used!

My pick: BEETS all the way, baby!!!!

Today's Challenge: Go in your fridge, and cabinets; as well as your cosmetic bag and bathroom cabinet...look at your ketchup, crackers, cereal, shampoo, lipstick, etc...see what types of; if any, synthetic coloring are in your food & cosmetics!? Any synthetic or beetle-based? 

Does it bother you?

 Read about the CSPI's urge to get the FDA to mirror the UK's ban on synthetic food coloring here .

Thanks for stopping by! 


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