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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes with Natural Food Coloring

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This recipe for healthier red velvet cupcakes means that you can enjoy a delicious treat with less guilt! Lower in calories and sugar than the traditional version, with no artificial colors, this is the perfect cupcake recipe for any time of the year!

red velvet cupcakes with natural food coloring, with a pink cupcake wrapper against a white background

Red Velvet Cupcakes (and cupcakes in general) have always been one of my favorite desserts. They are just so pretty to look at, and they feel festive and indulgent at the same time. The first red velvet cupcake I had was actually on Valentine’s Day – one of the first I celebrated with my husband. But we love these personalized cakes anytime of the year!

red velvet cupcakes with natural food coloring, with a pink cupcake wrapper against a white background

My only issue with red velvet cupcakes is the artificial coloring. The traditional version uses red food coloring, which has an ingredients list that looks like this: WATER, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, FD&C REDS 40 AND 3, AND 0.1% PROPYLPARABEN (PRESERVATIVE).

Red 40 is one of the artificial colors linked to hyperactivity in kids, and Europe has warning labels on products that contain it. 

So I was determined to create a red velvet cupcake recipe that had all the indulgence of the bakery version, but with no artificial colors and less sugar/calories per serving. 

My husband was super skeptical, but was sold as soon as he took a bite of these cupcakes. They’re moist and rich – little bites of perfection!

overhead view of a red velvet cupcake with natural food coloring, with a pink cupcake wrapper against a white background

The Ingredients 

This is what you need to make these lightened-up red velvet cupcakes: Cake flour, Whole Wheat Pastry flour, Unsweetened cocoa powder, Salt, Coconut Sugar, Oil, Unsweetened Applesauce, Eggs, Natural Red Food Coloring, Vanilla Extract, Low Fat Buttermilk, Baking Soda, Distilled White Vinegar

ingredients for red velvet cupcakes (flour, sugar, vanilla, etc.) on a white background

How to make Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes – step by step

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa and salt.

Flours, cocoa and salt whisked together in a large silver mixing bowl.

Flours, cocoa and salt whisked together in a large silver mixing bowl.
Step 2: In another large mixing bowl, beat sugar, applesauce and oil until combined. 
sugar, applesauce and oil combined in a silver mixing bowl
sugar, applesauce and oil whisked in a silver mixing bowl
Step 3: Add eggs and egg whites, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in natural food coloring and vanilla.
Eggs and egg whites added one at a time, beating until each is incorporated in silver mixing bowl
Step 4: Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk (a half a cup each time), and whisking well after each.
flour mixture added to wet ingredients
buttermilk added to flour and wet ingredients combined
Step 5: Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix until combined, about 10 seconds.
baking soda and vinegar added to batter
Step 6: Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.
red velvet cupcake batter divided evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.
Step 7: Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
red velvet cupcakes fresh out of the oven on a wire rack against a white background
Step 8: Mix frosting ingredients together in a bowl (you can use a beater to speed it up).

red velvet cupcake frosting whisked in a silver mixing bowl

Step 9: Let cupcakes cool completely, then frost with low-fat cream cheese frosting.
red velvet cupcakes with natural food coloring, with a pink cupcake wrapper against a white background

Low calorie red velvet cupcakes

This version is under 200 calories for an entire cupcake, thanks to my secret healthy swaps: egg whites for half the eggs needed, applesauce for half the oil, low fat buttermilk and low fat cream cheese instead of full fat for the frosting. It’s waistline-friendly, but also rich and tasty! It’s a cupcake you can feel good about eating 🙂

What makes these cupcakes healthy?

Being healthy doesn’t mean that you have to forgo flavor and texture! Here is what makes these cupcakes healthier than the traditional version but still delicious, moist, and full of flavor! 

  • The addition of whole wheat pastry flour for added fiber
  • Coconut sugar instead of granulated sugar, which is lower-glycemic and less processed. Note: For an even healthier cupcake, use only 1/2 cup of coconut sugar!
  • Unsweetened applesauce to replace 1/2 the oil
  • Lower fat ingredients for the frosting. Note: for an even healthier cupcake, use only a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar for the frosting!

What do red velvet cupcakes taste like? 

I like to describe the flavor of red velvet cupcakes as having a slight chocolate flavor, but is much milder and and smoother than chocolate cake thanks to the buttermilk and vinegar that make the flour rich, slightly acidic, and soft. 

red velvet cupcakes with natural food coloring, with a pink cupcake wrapper against a white background - cut in half

Top tips for making Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately – don’t skip this process!
  • Make sure you don’t overfill the cupcake liners, otherwise the cupcakes will overflow.
  • When measuring your cake flour, sift the flour first, and then spoon it into your measuring cup. Then level it off with the back of a knife.  
  • Once you have whisked together the dry ingredients, sift them to ensure there are no lumps. 
  • Make sure the oven is fully pre-heated before you put the cupcakes in
  • When the cakes are baked, an inserted toothpick should come out clean

Check out these other healthy cakes and desserts!

If you have tried this healthier red velvet cupcake recipe, or any other recipe on my blog, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAM and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Lightened Up Red Velvet Cupcakes

Some secret healthy swaps make for a lightened up nutrition profile, but it certainly isn't lacking in flavor. It’s waistline-friendly, but also rich and tasty! It’s a cupcake you can feel good about eating.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 24 cupcakes
Calories: 190
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

For the frosting:

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa and salt.
  • In another large mixing bowl, beat sugar, applesauce and oil until combined. Add eggs and egg whites, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food coloring and vanilla.
  • Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk (a half a cup each time), and whisking well after each.
  • Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix until combined, about 10 seconds.
  • Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Mix frosting ingredients together in a bowl (you can use a beater to speed it up).
  • Let cupcakes cool completely, then frost with low-fat cream cheese frosting.

Notes

Top tips for making Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately - don't skip this process!
  • Make sure you don’t overfill the cupcake liners, otherwise the cupcakes will overflow.
  • When measuring your cake flour, sift the flour first, and then spoon it into your measuring cup. Then level it off with the back of a knife.  
  • Once you have whisked together the dry ingredients, sift them to ensure there are no lumps. 
  • Make sure the oven is fully pre-heated before you put the cupcakes in
  • When the cakes are baked, an inserted toothpick should come out clean
Originally posted on WomensHealth.com

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupcake | Calories: 190kcal | Carbohydrates: 25.2g | Protein: 3.3g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1.8g | Sodium: 145.1mg | Fiber: 1.2g | Sugar: 14.5g

Posted In…

Dessert ·

Indulge your sweet tooth with some of my lightened-up treats. From gluten-free brownies to fruity crumbles, there’s something for everyone. Be sure to check out holiday favorites like my healthy pumpkin pie!

32 responses to “Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes with Natural Food Coloring”

  1. Oh my! I could eat a few these all by myself. lol. Red velvet has a special place in my heart. 🙂

  2. I love that these are lightened up, but still include all of the regular ingredients just in a lighter form. No weird flours or shortcuts! And YES to cream cheese frosting! Can’t sacrifice that! Delish!

  3. As a Registered Dietitian and a total foodie (and cupcake enthusiast) I am thrilled to see this lightened up version of my favourite sweet. I am particularly grateful that it didn’t include any Cool Whip, which I find a lot of light dessert recipes do.
    Looking forward to exploring your site further!

    Abbey Sharp
    http://www.abbeyskitchen.com
    @AbbeysKitchen

    • Thanks so much Abbey! I’m not a fan of Cool Whip either because it is so processed. I hope you like this recipe if you try it 🙂

    • No problem at all Kelly!! I’m so glad you liked this recipe — you’ll have to let me know how it compares to the traditional red velvet cake recipe too!

  4. I just learned about your blog, and the first thing I saw was this post! Red velvet cupcakes are my kryptonite! I have not had anything red velvet since December 2013 as part of my new diet!

    • Oh wow! Well kudos to you for starting a new diet in 2014! 🙂 If you do end up trying these cupcakes, they are at least a little more diet friendly thanks to the healthier substitutions!

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