Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

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!

Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
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.

Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
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.

Bottom line:

Natural cocoa = baking soda

Dutch process cocoa = baking powder

Buying

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.

Substitutions

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.

13 Responses to “Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder”

  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!

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