Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

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!

98 comments

  1. Hi from Australia Sally. Firstly, I LOVE your blog, especially the baking tips and the ‘nerd alert science’ stuff that comes with each recipe. (I’m a better baker because of it!) The cocoa powder I buy doesn’t say that it’s Dutch processed, so does that mean it’s not?? 

    In your recipes that call for natural cocoa powder, I’ve actually been using raw cacao – (the recipes have turned out delectable) but is this a different ingredient all together??

    • Hi Romana! About raw cacao powder– yep, it’s different from natural unsweetened. It’s actually pure powder from the cacao bean and much less processed than natural unsweetened. You can use it in recipes calling for natural cocoa powder, but the two taste much different. So keep that in mind when using it in your recipes.

  2. I love love love your baking basics series! They are so helpful! Another great post, Sally!

  3. Sally! great post as usual but SERIOUSLY getting to the bottom and seeing that oober rich Chocolaty slice of heaven just about made me fall over! 😉 obviously its a perfect way to end a post about chocolate but it left me in a serious chocolate craving dilema! HA! now I NEED some chocolate! 😉

  4. Awesome Sally!  Love it.  Thank you.  

  5. Thank you for your post!  I didn’t know the differences between the two…that is great information to have!

  6. Ooh, this is a very informative post. And as usual with lovely pictures. I always wondered why it’s called ‘Dutch’ processed, since I am Dutch myself lol.

  7. VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION here: Where do you buy it??? (A bit dramatic?) But seriously, any time I’ve had a recipe that called for Dutch process cocoa, I can never find it in a store, so I just give up and use regular. (Thanks for the great info.) 🙂

  8. <3 this post-so helpful! Pinning!

  9. I just read about this the other day to understand our scooping techniques in the bakery! It’s SO true that natural cocoa powder definitely makes things RISE more than the batters without it (like vanilla). It’s amazing how different it can be to scoop cupcakes and things because of this science. Personally, I love these posts. Nerdy for life!

  10. Thank you for demystifying this for us! So thorough and helpful to novice and experienced bakers alike!

  11. No, that was interesting! I’ve always wondered what the difference was.

  12. Hi Sally, 
    Great blog, thanks for sharing ..
    i have a question : if a recipe says unsweetened cocoa powder and the recipe has both baking powder and baking soda, what cocoa do you recommend?
    im referring to your recipe Glazed chocolate donut holes.
    thank you 
    Nathalie

  13. Wow..  I’m a Dutch girl, who loves to bake and who is  ‘slightly’  addicted to chocolate.. and guess what? Now I finally understand why my favourite American bloggers always mention which cacao they use! Thanks! 🙂
    <3 posts like this one!

  14. I just need to know one thing – where can I find those adorable measuring spoons!? 🙂

  15. This definitely explains why my homemade brownies never turn out quite right! Thanks for breaking down the difference between the two!

  16. Thankyou much for the info. I know I will use your info many times

  17. Thank-you for these posts. I love reading up on all the science behind baking and why some things are done a certain way or why certain ingredients are used :).

  18. This was truly fascinating. I know I read a long time ago that cocoa powder was usually very processed and I was surprised at the difference when I switched to Fair Trade organic cocoa. It’s so much lighter and more chocolaty in flavour. Now I guess that’s because it’s not dutch-processed. I’m also guessing that most cocoa powder in Sweden is Dutch-processed (because it is usually very dark)  but I have never ever heard the term before. But then again, baking soda is very rare in Swedish recipes. 
    Now I’m kind of curious though. Is there any other reason for this process than neutralising the acid cocoa? 

  19. Thanks for this- so helpful! I bookmarked this to read later when you posted it and of course had this exact question while recipe planning tonight. Glad to know the difference! 

  20. Great explanation for an often confused concept.  I might add, however, there’s more to consider than natural vs. alkalized (Dutched) and baking soda vs. baking powder.  The totality of the recipe must be considered.  The issue is really about the leavener more than the cocoa.  The crux of the matter is that baking soda requires an acid and moisture in order to activate.  If you are using alkalized cocoa (lack of acid) and baking soda, you must add an acid…i.e. buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, citric acid (lemon juice).  Natural cocoa is acidic enough that no additional acid is necessary in order for the baking soda to activate.  It’s often easier to determine the cocoa flavor profile you prefer (I like Dutched), and then choose the leavener and/or acids. Baking soda and baking powder produce different textures in baked goods, so that’s a consideration as well, but that’s a whole separate topic….

  21. thank you so much for this article! What’s the name of this pretty choco cake on the photo? And the recipe?..

  22. Hi, Sally!

    I made a chocolate drink using cocoa powder(the package doesn’t indicate the type. It’s either raw or natural unsweetened).. tasted terrible. I mixed the sugar and cocoa powder first, then made a paste, added hot milk. I also tried the baking soda tip(to balance pH), but the taste of cocoa is still harsh. I was wondering how to make it taste just like the chocolate drink mixes? Thank you 🙂

  23. Hey Sally!
    Thank you so much for always explaining why you should use a certain ingredient! It’s made my understanding of baking much better!
    I was wondering of there is any way to test what type of cocoa powder you have if you can;t find it anywhere on the packaging? 

    • Not that I know of. Though usually in the US (if you live in the US)– stores carry natural unsweetened and it’s not necessarily labeled that. Dutched cocoa is also darker and a little more red than natural unsweetened. And usually dutched cocoa will say dutched on the package.

      • Thanks for the reply! I actually don’t live in the US, I live in the Netherlands. 
        I found one brand that specified on the packaging that it was alkalized cocoa powder, so now I’m hoping that the ones that don’t specify that are natural cocoa powder! 

  24. Hi! Thank you for your science lesson! I really appreciate it! I realize this article is old, but I was wondering if I had a recipe that called for natural cocoa, would it work if I used dutch-processed cocoa and cream of tartar or vinegar for the acid? Thank you! 

  25. Under the Natural cocoa powder area you listed Hershey’s, but said NOT their Special Dark…  What type is their Special Dark powder?

     Thanks much for this article!  My favorite chocolate cake recipes is from the McCalls Cooking School recipes, and is included in the McCalls Cookbook.  It is called the Perfect Chocolate Cake – 3 layers of made-from-scratch cake, with a whipped cream icing in between and topped with the most delicious chocolate buttercream on the top.  The top icing is somewhat liquid such that you have to beat it over ice for it to come together – obviously not a cake to take to a picnic or transport on a hot summer day….  I’m not a big chocolate cake fan, but this cake tops my list of favorite cakes – it is THAT good!!!

  26. They say that dutching cocoa has a negative effect on its nutritional and health benefits over raw cocao, not that it would taste good. Most dark chocolate is dutched I would guess, by the way although you can buy natural orthodox roasted ones if you want dark chocolate

      It is somewhat true that roasting it to make dark chocolate lowers the antioxidant count although research has not proven in the case of chocolate that beneficial compounds can be made this way especially if this is being found to be true in the case of other foods, although it is true that dutching is even worse than the other method. It makes the darkest cocoa that holds up very tastily with lots of milk and sugar so we can all get sick together by enjoying something nice

  27. Hi Sally,
    Thank you for your article it has been quite informative.  I need some help.  I have tried the Hersheys Chocolate recipe and sometimes the cake is intensely chocolaty,  and other times the cake is baked, raises nicely has a lovely grain, but cake tasted like the chocolate is raw.  The cake also is not as intensely dark.  I use hot water in cake or sometimes pour it directly on the cocoa and it still happens.  I believe I have measured correctly each time it happens I have been wondering if the oven is not hot enough?  and cake needs a higher temperature to bake? I bake at 350F. DO you know what I could possible be doing wrong?

  28. I’m a big fan of Good Eats and Alton Brown’s rule was that he used Natural in baked goods(like brownies) because there’s usually enough fat to cut the bitterness, and Dutch-processed in recipes with little to no fat(homemade chocolate syrup). It works as a pretty good rule of thumb.

  29. Wow! I just thought one was fancier than the other one. Didn’t know about the different PH levels between the two. Where I live, we don’t have much imported goods. Therefore, there’s no Dutch processed cocoa which a recipe I wanted to make asks for. Would it be alright if I used natural cocoa?

  30. Hello! I’ve made Cook’s Illustrated Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt cake (following their recipe, which uses natural cocoa and baking sodz) in the past with great success. My question is, would I be a le to use Dutch cocoa if I were to replace the baking soda with equal parts baking powder?

    I found an enormous container of Dutch cocoa powder from Costco that I’d forgotten about, and since I’ve run out of the natural kind, I’d like to use up the one I have before getting any more. (If possible!) Thanks.

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