Dutch-process & Natural Cocoa Powder

What is the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch-process? Everything explained here!

Welcome back to my beloved baking basics series where I blab about nerdy baking things. If you’re a curious baker like I am, grab a cup of coffee with me and stick around! Especially if you like chocolate.

Today I’m demystifying the difference between dutch-process and natural cocoa powder. Like this head-scratcher, the difference between these two types of unsweetened cocoa powders is beyond confusing. When I first began, most explanations I saw on the internet left me even more puzzled than when I started reading. So, let me break things down for you in regular terms.

What is the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch-process? Everything explained here!

There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: dutch-processed and natural. The two have different chemical properties and, therefore, different little jobs in a recipe.

First, let’s find out what cocoa powder actually is.

What is cocoa powder?

I’m glad you asked! Cocoa powder comes from cocoa beans. Crazy, isn’t it. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted and cracked into nibs. Then, the nibs are pressed to remove 75% of their cocoa butter. This leaves us with chocolate liquor. The pasty liquor is dried and then ground into unsweetened cocoa powder. All done!

What is the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch-process? Everything explained here!

Before you read the differences between dutch-process and natural cocoa powder, I encourage you to read my informational post about baking soda and baking powder. Understanding the difference between these two will greatly help you make sense of dutch-process vs natural cocoa powder.

Let’s break down each.

Dutch-process Cocoa Powder (AKA alkalized cocoa)

Obsessing over this line from Serious Eats “unfortunately, this does not mean it wears little wooden shoes.” Haha! That’s an awesome article to read on this subject.

Ok, in all seriousness. Dutch-process cocoa powder starts with cocoa beans that have been washed in alkaline solution of potassium carbonate. This wash neutralizes their acidity. So, dutch-process cocoa powder is neutral. Because it is neutral, it does not react with baking soda. It’s often paired with baking powder. (But not always!)

Hooray, SCIENCE!

Alkalizing cocoa makes it darker in color, mellow in flavor, and dissolves easily into liquids. Oreo cookies are made from dutched cocoa! Yum.

Natural Cocoa Powder

Natural cocoa is just that– natural powder from roasted cocoa beans. It’s acidic and bitter, with a very strong and concentrated chocolate flavor. Natural cocoa powder (ACID) is often used in recipes calling for baking soda (BASE) because the two react with each other to allow your baked good to rise. If you live in the US, the cocoa powder you often see in the baking aisle is natural– like Hershey’s (not the Special Dark, the regular) or Ghirardelli. Flavor varies by brand, but you can always find me using either of these two.

What is the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch-process? Everything explained here!

When to Use Either Type

You can use either type in recipes that do not call for baking soda or baking powder. Such as sauces, hot cocoa, brownies (as long as there is not BP or BS!), frostings, ice cream, pudding, etc. There is no leavening occurring, so it doesn’t matter. You can go by your taste preference.

Recipes requiring leavening are different. And, you guessed it, a little more complicated. Because it’s chemistry! Since cocoa powder can be acidic (natural) or neutral (dutched), always stick with the type of cocoa called for in that recipe. Using the wrong cocoa can result in a flat cake, bitter soapy flavor, sunken cupcakes, etc. If you’re in a bind, you can use natural cocoa powder for dutch-process. But do not use dutch-process for natural! The recipe likely needs that acid.

What if a recipe doesn’t specify?!

Ahhh! 

It’s ok, I got you.

Older American recipes for chocolate cakes, breads, cookies, or cupcakes are usually leavened with baking soda, but simply say “cocoa powder” without specifying which type. Use natural cocoa powder. I suggest this because natural cocoa powder is usually used for batters containing baking soda and dutch-process cocoa powder is usually used for batters containing baking powder.

Raw Cacao Powder

I received some questions on this! What is it? Raw cacao powder is different from natural and dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder. Raw cacao powder is pure powder from the cacao bean and much less processed than both natural and dutch-process. You can use raw cacao powder in recipes calling for natural cocoa powder, but the two taste much different. So, keep that in mind when using it in your recipes.

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake-- grab this crowd-pleasing, chocolate overloaded cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com!

That’s all for now! Do you sort of understand now? Or did I completely bore you?

Further reading:

Until next time!

91 comments

  1. I want to make a toothpaste recipe and it asks for organic cocoa powder,
    do you think I could use dutch cocoa powder instead or regular cocoa powder?
    thanks.

  2. Sally, very nice article, I have cadubry cocoa which is lighter in colour. This means it s natural I am confused plz help :-s

  3. Wow I’ve had trouble with bitter tasting chocolate cakes before and this must be the reason! What would you suggest using if the recipe just says cocoa powder, but has baking powder and baking soda in it?

    • Based on what I’ve researched, generally speaking, most U.S. recipes that just say “cocoa powder” are geared toward natural cocoa. But check the ratios: if there’s more baking powder than soda, go with natural cocoa powder. If there’s more soda than powder, try the Dutch processed. If the amounts are close or equal, I’d say it’s kind of a crapshoot that may come down to your own taste and preferences– but maybe the Hershey’s “Dark” cocoa powder (which is a blend of natural and Dutch process) would work well.

  4. There’s actually a third type of cocoa powder that’s readily available; you mentioned it briefly but didn’t explain it. That’s the Hershey’s “Dark” cocoa powder which, per the canister, is a blend of natural and Dutch processed. Also, a simple conversion I found for using natural cocoa to substitute for Dutch processed: 3T natural for every ounce of Dutch process in the recipe, plus add 1/8 tsp. of baking soda. Planning to try that today and experiment with the Hershey’s Dark blend as well; might be okay as a direct 1 for 1 substitute for full Dutch processed.

  5. Hi, Sally

    Nice article, I have a recipe of banana bread which contains natural cocoa powder and baking soda. I have some leftovers of dutch cocoa and I would like to use it, instead of buying more natural cocoa.
    Do you think if a good idea if a switch the dutch processed cocoa for the natural cocoa and at the time replace the baking soda for baking powder? Do you think it will work?

    Thanks.

  6. I live in Germany…is there a way to test the cocoa powder to know which kind one has? I believe it only say baking chocolate on the packaging and other than different brands I have never seen different types

  7. Thank you!  I realize this is an old post, but it cleared things up for me.   I’ve made several of your recipes & enjoyed them.  When I Googled the diff betweem dutch & non- dutch ( now to be known as natural to me), I chose your post because I recognized the name.  Thanx!

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