A Delicious History of Red Velvet Cake

The red velvet origin story is a widespread urban legend.
The red velvet origin story is a widespread urban legend. / AdShooter/E+/Getty Images

The 1989 drama Steel Magnolias is widely credited with popularizing not only Julia Roberts, but red velvet cake. The dessert steals a wedding sequence in which it appears with uncharacteristic gray icing and in the shape of an armadillo in a scene played for laughs. In 2007, food writer Angie Mosier dubbed red velvet the “Dolly Parton of cakes … a little bit tacky but you love her.”

There is no doubt that red velvet cake has become a widely known treat in recent decades. You can find it in classic cake form, in boutique cupcake shops, and even in red velvet-flavored protein bars. It’s also grown popular, for very different reasons, during Juneteenth celebrations. 

Steel Magnolias is one reason why people assume red velvet cake has its origins in the South. But as host Justin Dodd explains in the latest episode of Food History, it’s not quite so simple. From what makes red velvet cake red (and velvet, for that matter) to its highly dubious origin story (which is so pervasive it’s now considered an urban legend), this episode breaks down all you need to know about this delicious dessert.

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