Yellow and red-violet betalain plant pigments are restricted to several families in the order Caryophyllales, where betacyanins play analogous biological roles to anthocyanins. The initial step in betalain biosynthesis is the hydroxylation of tyrosine to form L-DOPA. Using gene expression experiments in beets, yeast, and Arabidopsis, along with HPLC/MS analysis, the present study shows that two novel cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzymes, CYP76AD6 and CYP76AD5, and the previously described CYP76AD1 can perform this initial step. Co-expressing these CYP450s with DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase in yeast, and overexpression of these CYP450s in yellow beets show that CYP76AD1 efficiently uses L-DOPA leading to red betacyanins while CYP76AD6 and CYP76AD5 lack this activity. Furthermore, CYP76AD1 can complement yellow beetroots to red while CYP76AD6 and CYP76AD5 cannot. Therefore CYP76AD1 uniquely performs the beet R locus function and beets appear to be genetically redundant for tyrosine hydroxylation. These new functional data and ancestral character state reconstructions indicate that tyrosine hydroxylation alone was the most likely ancestral function of the CYP76AD alpha and beta groups and the ability to convert L-DOPA to cyclo-DOPA evolved later in the alpha group.