Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

Recipe By Tessa Arias
  |  
December 3rd, 2020

The exact differences between Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder, how they work on a chemical level, which is better, and how to substitute!

If you’re a chocoholic like me, you probably find yourself using cocoa powder often. You might have wondered before how natural unsweetened cocoa powder is different than Dutch process cocoa powder. And, if one can be substituted for the other. Since Dutch process is harder to find, you’ve probably also wondered if you really need to use it.

different types of cocoa powder in measuring cups

Today I’m going to be showing you exactly what the differences between these cocoa powders is! Including how they affect your baking and how you can substitute. If you want to improve your baking, be sure to watch the video explanation below!

Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

comparison of dutch process vs natural cocoa powder

What is cocoa powder?

The product resulting from the process of fermenting, drying, roasting, and grinding cocoa beans into a powder.

More specifically, the fermented and roasted beans are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor which is a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Some of that chocolate liquor is used to make chocolate candy and bar products. The rest is pressed further to remove most of the cocoa powder (which is also used to make chocolate). The cocoa solids that remain are ground into what becomes cocoa powder.

What is natural cocoa powder?

This is medium brown in color, bitter in flavor, and is popular in American brownie and cake recipes (think Devil’s Food Cake). Brands such as Nestle, Ghirardelli, and sometimes Hershey’s are natural cocoa powders.

What kind of leavener works with natural cocoa powder?

Due to the fact that natural cocoa powder is highly acidic (pH between 5 and 6 typically), it’s often paired with baking soda as a leavener since it’s a natural alkaline ingredient. Basically, this just means that baking soda helps neutralize that acidity.

Is unsweetened cocoa powder the same as natural cocoa powder?

Yes! Different names for the same thing.

What is Dutch processed cocoa powder?

Dutch process cocoa powder is more commonly found in Europe and has a few properties that set it apart from natural cocoa powder. It’s made from cacao beans that have been washed with a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity from a pH of 5 to a pH of about 7. This means that Dutch process cocoa powder is only slightly acidic because of that Dutching process. This process also softens the flavor.

How do I tell if a cocoa powder is Dutch processed?

To figure out if a cocoa powder is Dutch processed or natural, look out for the words “Dutched,” “cocoa processed with alkali,” “alkalized,’ or “European style” on the packaging, which would mean it’s Dutch process.

What kind of leavener works with Dutch processed cocoa powder?

Oppositely from natural cocoa, Dutch-process cocoa is typically paired with baking powder as a leavener since the acidity has already been neutralized. Dutch-process cocoa powder actually won’t react to baking soda, meaning if you pair the two together without any other acid in a recipe, like brown sugar, lemon, or yogurt, you won’t get much leavening effect. I actually have an entire post explaining the differences between baking soda and baking powder HERE.

What do the differences in color signify?

comparison of Penzey's dutch processed vs natural cocoa powder

What’s perhaps most immediately noticeable about Dutch cocoa is its rich, deep, and sometimes reddish color that is a byproduct of Dutching. Contrast that with the lighter tan color of natural cocoa. However, color isn’t always an indicator of quality or chocolate flavor (see Black Cocoa Powder below).

Where to buy Dutch processed cocoa powder?

You can often find it a more specialty of gourmet stores such as Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, Penzey’s, or simply purchase it online from Amazon or King Arthur Flour. I really like E. Guittard, Bensdorp, and Penzey’s.

Is Hershey’s cocoa powder Dutch processed?

Hershey’s “Special Dark” cocoa powder is indeed Dutched. Their regular “natural unsweetened” is not Dutched.

What is Black Cocoa Powder?

The ever popular Oreo cookie is made with highly Dutched cocoa powder, sometimes called black cocoa. It imparts that characteristic dark color but very little chocolate flavor or fat, resulting in a more dry or crumbly product (more on fat below).

Are Dutch process and natural cocoa powder interchangeable?

While the two cocoa powders are quite different, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They can be used interchangeably if there is no baking soda or baking powder called for in the recipe.

However, if a specific leavening agent is called for, your best bet is to stick with the cocoa powder specified. When there is more than 3/4 cup of cocoa powder called for in the recipe and you do not use the cocoa powder specified, you really risk altering the intended texture.

Generally you will have more success substituting natural cocoa powder for Dutch process, but less success the other way around.

It can get confusing and since baking is a science, it’s best to be precise and follow the recipe exactly to eliminate the possibility of mistakes. Especially since good cocoa powder isn’t cheap!

Another substitution note: you can’t substitute sweetened cocoa for unsweetened cocoa in recipes, and you can’t substitute with bars of chocolate.

What if the recipe doesn’t specify the type of cocoa powder to use?

brownie comparison of brownies baked with different types of cocoa powder

If a recipe doesn’t specify or offers you the choice between the cocoa powders, note that Dutch-process will create a darker product with a smoother, mellower, and more earthy flavor vs. natural cocoa powder which will create a lighter colored product with a fruiter and more astringent flavor.

I personally find natural cocoa powder to be more reminiscent of childhood chocolate treats in America.

What is cacao powder?

In cacao powder, the beans are processed at temperatures low enough that the final powder is considered ‘raw.’ This means it has more nutrients, but is also much more bitter.

Cocoa powder goes through a process of roasting and higher heat exposure which means it is not raw and loses some of its nutritional value. That’s what helps to make regular cocoa powder less bitter.

I don’t bake with cacao powder. In part because of its bitter taste. But also because most recipes I use cocoa powder in are baked, which would strip the more expensive cacao powder of those raw nutrients.

How to store cocoa powder:

Store in a cool dry place in an airtight container and use within 1 year of purchase. Don’t refrigerate or freeze, which promotes moisture and therefore spoilage.

Can I add cocoa powder to any recipe to make it chocolate?

No. As mentioned above, cocoa powder contains starch which makes it a drying ingredient. It’ll often alter the entire chemistry of a recipe is you try to take a vanilla cake, sugar cookie, or blondie recipe and add cocoa powder.

The one exception is for American buttercream, which you can usually add cocoa powder to without issue.

different buttercreams made with different types of cocoa powders

Best cocoa powder recipes:

Pin for later:

chart comparing dutch process and natural cocoa powders

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

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  1. #
    Fun size wife — January 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Great article! I didn’t consider there was that much difference between the two types of cocoa, but this changed my mind. Thank you for the enlightenment!

  2. #
    Jennifer Holder — January 20, 2016 at 10:42 am

    It says that the video has been removed by the user?

    • #
      Tessa — January 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Sorry about that! YouTube cut off the end of the video somehow so I had to re-upload it. Should be up now!

  3. #
    Lisa Steckhouse — January 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I buy Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa, which is a blend of natural and dutched cocoas. What are your thoughts on baking with it and adding it to food like yogurt?

  4. #
    Christen — January 20, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Wow! thanks for the explanation! Always wondered the difference, and yes, Dutch pressed is hard to find!

  5. #
    Tara Ross — January 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Thank you. I had no idea about the difference between the two. This explains some baking issues.

  6. #
    Joanne — January 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I buy and use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa all the time. Thank you for explaining the difference in the cocoa powders.

  7. #
    Carol — January 27, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Outstanding information. More food science appreciated.

  8. #
    Zeneth — February 27, 2016 at 4:50 am

    Thank you so much for the information …

  9. #
    Nancy — October 16, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    It is missing. There is nothing to watch or read

  10. #
    Mike — November 30, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Hi Tessa, great article, thanks so much for the explanation.

    I’m curious about using cocoa powder in a yeasted bread recipe. I’ve been searching for a no-knead chocolate bread (I used to buy it in NYC) and frankly I’ve seen recipes with both natural and dutch-processed. I’m wondering how the yeast will interact with the different powders, and if active dry vs. instant yeast makes a difference?

    Thanks so much for any insight you can lend!

    Mike.

    • #
      Tessa — December 1, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Hi Mike, I really don’t know! I can’t remember a time when I baked a yeast bread with cocoa powder. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try 🙂

  11. #
    Mike — December 6, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Hi Tessa;

    I love a challenge 🙂

    I made the the same recipe and tried to control as many variables as possible. The only change in ingredients was to the cocoa powder–one was natural unsweetened, the other used dutch processed. One version had “user error”–just a small bit of extra water, but that has happened to me with no-knead breads in the past so I’m familiar with how that impacts the finished product.

    My original intention was to find out if added alkali had any impact to the yeast and I would say that it likely does not–the breads both came out the same, with the small variation that I believe the extra water had on the one version. They both rose pretty well, and they both turned out to be fairly “chalky” doughs. Very similar in size and consistency. So then I was just left with the taste and for me personally, the natural cocoa powder won hands down. The dutch processed version had an almost mocha flavor to it (there was no coffee added in the recipe) and while some might like that it wasn’t what I was looking for.

    It was a fun experiment for sure!

  12. #
    Eduardo — November 22, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I am a chocolate aficionado and love your tips and recipes to use chocolate in several forms. About natural cocoa vs dutch processed cocoa, you suggested using some baking soda to reduce the acidity of the natural cacao. Can you give me an idea of how much baking soda I should add (i.e. 1 tsp per x grams of cocoa)?

    Thanks,

    Eduardo

  13. #
    jackie runyan — February 7, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I made chocolate cookies with dutched cocoa and drained, chopped sauerkraut (yes, sauerkraut) added, because I’m always looking for interesting additions to plain chocolate cookies. They’re good! I used 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. soda for a recipe that called for 1/3 cup cocoa. I assume that the soda helped neutralize the acid in the kraut; at any rate, the cookies rose just fine and are moist and tender.

  14. #
    chris — March 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I have a recipe that is calling for dutch process cocoa and baking soda. Should I switch one ingredient out to correct the leavening issue.

  15. #
    Magdalena — March 15, 2018 at 5:46 am

    I have the same question as Chris. It calls for Dutch Processed baking aoda. But it does have brown sugar. Will it still rise correctly and taste okay?

  16. #
    Carolyn G. — June 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I also have a recipe that calls for Dutch Processed cocoa + baking soda. But there’s not brown sugar. I’m guessing that the buttermilk is the acid that causes leavening with the baking soda?

    • #
      Tessa — July 1, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Yep, sounds that way!

  17. #
    Marlene — January 18, 2019 at 9:24 am

    If recipe calls for dutch and I only have Nestle cocoa and there is no baking powder or soda in recipe how much baking soda would I add if recipe only calls for 2 tbsp of dutch cocoa?

  18. #
    Eileen — February 24, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    Since I’m a bit of a purist, I always use natural cocoa. I find that it tastes infinitely better than dutch processed cocoa. When the acids are neutralized during the dutching process, many of the natural chocolate flavors are neutralized as well. (Think decaf vs. regular coffee, a similar process). Besides, I’m not crazy about my food being chemically messed with in any way!

  19. #
    Ashley — January 5, 2020 at 5:03 am

    Hi,
    I have a question about your description of taste between Dutch process vs natural. Would you say that a Dutch process has a dark chocolate flavor and a natural cocoa has a milk chocolate flavor?

  20. #
    Joan LaCroix — January 7, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Coco unsweetened powder taste bitter and the tuffle taste terrible. Can you use sweetened coco to roll tuffles in.

  21. #
    Nancy Williams — August 3, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    I have learned so much from you. Thank you for explaining things so well. I look forward to making this cake. I am confident it will turn out great.

  22. #
    Shreya Basu — August 23, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Do I need to increase/decrease the quantity of sugar depending on the cocoa powder I use?

  23. #
    kathy lord — September 15, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Do you have another cocoa choice to buy since the Rodell isn’t available? Thank you

  24. #
    Judy Ashdown — December 5, 2020 at 9:09 am

    funny thing husband was in the room while i was watching so all he could do was listen he commented no humms no uuuughs no stuttering very thorough explanation. LOL thought i would let you know a non baking comment, as for me i will have both types available in house from now on.
    thanks Judy

    • #
      Handle the Heat — December 7, 2020 at 10:54 am

      Hahaha! Love this.

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