Dutch-process Vs Natural Cocoa Powder

container of cocoa powder with a spoon

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.

spoons with cocoa powder

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!

a spoonful of cocoa powder

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.

container of cocoa powder with a spoon

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?!


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

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 different. Keep that in mind when using it in your recipes.

2 images of a slice of triple chocolate cake on a white plate with a fork and triple chocolate cake on a white cake stand

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

Further reading:

Until next time!


  1. Hi Sally! I was following your double chocolate crinkle recipe (which is great by the way!) and I accidentally put in an extra cup of cocoa powder. How will this affect my batch? And how can I save it? I don’t want this chocolate crinkles batch to be ruined.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Patricia, Your cookies may be dry with the extra cocoa powder. You can add the 2 Tablespoons of milk that were in the original recipe if you haven’t already to try to help but I’m unsure exactly how your cookies will turn out. I hope they work out for you!

  2. Hi Sally, which if the cocoa powder works better for red velvet cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bennie, Unsweetened natural cocoa powder is best in Red Velvet Cake.

  3. Kathryn Guldi says:

    I have the hershey’s special dark powder. It contains natural and dutched cocoa. How will that effect my recipe?

  4. Thank you for taking the time to explain all these differences AND the reasons why we need to use certain ingredients to achieve certain results

    1. Cristina Petrea says:

      Hello! I will try to make Dark Forest Cake 4 my birthday and i need your help! Please tell me if i can use organic cacao nibs? Thank you in advance

  5. Walden Sullivan says:

    Hi sally! I made some brownies yesterday and the recipe called for Dutch processed cocoa but I used regular. My brownies turned out kind of thinner and flatter than the picture. Is the cocoa why? The recipe didn’t have BP or BS. Thank you!

    1. That would be why. You introduced an acid to your cookies and didn’t neutralize that acid by adding baking soda.

  6. I have baked your triple chocolate cake and the white cake so many times and never failed! Today however, I (in my overexcited state to use dark chocolate) used Dutch process dark cocoa powder in the triple chocolate cake! It seems have have risen alright with some cracks on top! Do you suggest I bin it and bake a new one with the correct chocolate?? It’s going to be eaten by my chocolate loving 2 and 8 year old kids!! So don’t want to take any chances!! Thanks much!!

    1. Hi Jaya! I’m just seeing this comment now, my apologies. How was the chocolate cake with the dutched cocoa?

  7. Hi Sally,
    “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.”

    Could you explain more how they taste different?

    1. Hi AJ, absolutely. Cacao powder has a rich chocolate flavor, but is very bitter. You’ll want to use less of it due to its potent flavor and strength. Cocoa powder is also pretty bitter, but not nearly as much.

      1. Suggestion? I switched the cocoa for Hershey’s Dark cocoa to avoid milk/lactose in my family’s favorite drop cookie (“butter”, oats, peanut butter, sugar- no bs or bp). Now they turn out soft and rarely set up. Do I need to add acid? Suggestions?

  8. Which kind would you use in a protein shake?

    1. I always use Dutch processed in my smoothies because it’s a milder taste. My family loves them!

  9. Hi Sally-
    quick question…Ghirardelli’s Premium unsweetened cocoa powder doesn’t say “natural” on it. Hershey’s does say “natural.” Am I to assume Ghirardelli’s is also “naturally” processed (and use it for non dark chocolate recipes)? Thanks.

  10. I’d like to make some of your chocolate cookies but a lot of them calls for natural cocoa. I only have dutch-processed cocoa. Any way I can still bake your cookies? Thanks.

  11. Very useful and informative. Thank you!

  12. Hi,
    I recipe which calls for both baking powder and soda – which cocoa should I use?
    Thanks in advance.

  13. Nutritionally, according to several sources, including Dr. Gregor from NutritionFacts.org, Dutch-processed cocoa may have as few as half the phytonutrients as natural cocoa.
    Preliminary findings from Hershey suggest that natural cocoa, which has more flavanols than Dutch-processed cocoa, may limit the number of calories you actually take in during digestion by quashing the action of certain digestive enzymes, thus preventing some fats and starches in other foods from being absorbed.

  14. Hi Sally,

    I’m a long time listener, first time caller here. Making a cake for my wife’s birthday… Do you always buy name brand cocoa? Is store brand Cocoa significantly of lesser quality? I know store brand is typically lesser quality but just wanted to see if you had any insight for cocoa specifically.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Dillon! Flavors do vary a bit by brand, we like to use Hershey’s (not the Special Dark, the regular) or Ghirardelli. But I often use store brand and have never had an issue with that. Either should be fine!

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