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.
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 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 Hershey’s are natural cocoa powders. To get really specific, it’s made from cocoa beans that are roasted then finely ground into the powder you’re familiar with.
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.
Dutch Process 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 to a pH of 7. This means that Dutch process cocoa powder is only slightly acidic because of that Dutching process. This process also softens the flavor.
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’s perhaps most immediately noticeable is its rich, deep, and sometimes reddish color that is a byproduct of Dutching. However, color isn’t always an indicator of quality or chocolate flavor. In fact, 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.
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.
Natural cocoa = baking soda
Dutch process cocoa = baking powder
Regular cocoa powder is available at most all American grocery stores. For those in Europe or other areas, you may have more difficulty finding it in stores. Purchasing online is usually the simplest option! Same goes for those in the U.S. trying to find Dutch process cocoa powder. You can find it at gourmet or speciality food stores, such as Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, and Sur la Table. I usually buy this big jar of Dutch-process cocoa online becuase it’s such a great value.
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 ruining the texture, or even a complete recipe failure. Generally you will have more success substituting natural cocoa powder for Dutch process, but not 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.
If a recipe offers you the choice between the cocoa powders, note that Dutch-process will create a darker product with a most complex flavor and natural cocoa powder will create a lighter colored product with a fruiter flavor.
Another substitution note: you can’t substitute sweetened cocoa for unsweetened cocoa in recipes, and you can’t substitute regular chocolate.
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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