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 the baking powder vs. baking soda 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.
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!
Before you read the differences between dutch-process and natural cocoa powder, I encourage you to read my informational post about baking soda vs. 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 (Alkalized Cocoa)
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!)
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.
Which Type of Cocoa Should I Use?
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.
But what if a recipe doesn’t specify?
Older American recipes for chocolate cake, 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 Cocoa 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.
That’s all for now! Do you sort of understand now? Or did I completely bore you?
Until next time!
Reader Comments & Reviews
I wanted to make sugar free drinking chocolate powder with stevia powder. So which type of Cocoa powder should be used ; Raw Cacao, Natural or Processed one.
Hi Manish, When making a hot chocolate mix you can use either type. Since you aren’t baking with it you can use whichever flavor you prefer the most.
Hello. If a recipe requires both baking powder and baking soda but also includes buttermilk or soured cream and brown sugar which cocoa powder is best?? I’ve always used Dutch processed but I’m wondering now if natural would make my cakes better
Hi Heidi, With a lot of acidic ingredients in your recipe we would certainly try using natural cocoa powder next time!
I have the same question as is listed above – if the recipe calls for both baking soda AND baking powder, which cocoa powder should be used (such as your glazed chocolate donut holes recipe)?
Thank you for the awesome post!
Hi Brenda! Natural cocoa powder is best for that recipe. Happy baking!
Hi so when i want to bake cookies with dutch processed cocoa powder,should i leave the baking soda out?
Note that the recipe contains brown sugar
Thank you Sally. Your explanation is very clear and makes good sense. Good job!
What if the recipe calls for 1/2 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp of baking powder
Great post! What if the recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder?
Like always, it feels great reading your post, helps me all the more.
I owe my newly acquired skills for baking, largely to you, Sally.
Hi Sally, Finally! A description of cacao powder! I’ve been searching for years, and just get “product of cacao beans”. Well, isn’t that what cocoa powder is? Now I can judiciously use it, or natural cocoa powder, or dutch process cocoa powder. I used it in canning some Chocolate Cherry Jam (Ball Blue Book recipe) and it came out great. Thank you so much!
We’re so happy you found this post helpful, Margot!
Hi, thank you for the explanation!
What is the difference between Dutch chocolate cake and Regular chocolate cake? Im finding some different answers when googling. Is it just the cocoa powder/leavening?
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.
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!
Very useful and informative. Thank you!
“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?
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.
Hi Sally- so if I were making your chocolate buttercream frosting- how much cacao powder would I use?
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!!
Hi Jaya! I’m just seeing this comment now, my apologies. How was the chocolate cake with the dutched cocoa?
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
Hi Sally, which if the cocoa powder works better for red velvet cake?
Hi Bennie, Unsweetened natural cocoa powder is best in Red Velvet Cake.
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.
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!
This was such a helpful post when I was trying to decide whether to use my leftover Dutch cocoa powder in a cookie recipe! I decided to use it and baking powder instead of soda. Thank you!
I work at a spice store where we sell both natural and dutch process cocoa and I have struggled to concisely explain the difference between the two to customers, other than to make clear they react differently to leaveners. I now realize that knowing the difference between baking soda and baking powder is key. Always knew that baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, but how is it that in 55 years on earth I have never thought to look at the label on the baking powder? This was very instructive, thanks!
I really enjoy reading about the baking basics! I have learned just to blindly trust your recipes and follow them EXACTLY (pay attention to detail, people!), but it’s still fun to know why we do what we do and how the chemistry works.
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 :).
Thank you! That is so interesting and helpful, and explains why the last batch of brownies I baked turned out AWFUL! The recipe called for cocoa powder and all I could find was Hershey’s unsweetened or Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Cocoa. Because the recipe didn’t call for unsweetened, I bought the latter. I just now grabbed the bag of Ghirardelli and read the back (which I did not before). It is indeed Dutch Process, so that’s probably why they turned out so bad. I really wish that was made clear on the front of the package…it usually is. That’ll teach me to make sure to read everything the package says!
Thank you, Sally! I love these posts as a I am both a scientist and baker. You make understanding the ingredients so simple.
Who knew??! Thanks so much. I too am enjoying these tidbits of knowledge.
Wonderful and simple to understand. I had never been curious enough to check out the difference and used Natural for everything. Not any more!!! I will add Dutch processed to my shopping list. A lady must have a well-stocked pantry on those occasions when a chocolate attack arises! Love your baking basics.
Wishes for tasty dishes,
What a great post – I love this series. I learn so much! I always thought the difference between the two was solely about taste preference.
Okay, question time, teacher: does Dutch process cocoa powder have less richness of flavor? If they use it for Oreos, does it mean that a cake made with Dutch process won’t have as powerful a punch?
And how do you feel about the special dark cocoa powder? That’s still confusing me. It’s a Hershey thing, and I’m not sure what that’s best for.
Love these little tutorials, Sally! Keep ’em coming!
I wouldn’t say less richness, I’d say less bitter. Dutching darkens the cocoa and leaves a milder chocolate flavor. It’s quite odd that darkening it mellows the flavor out. You’d think it would be the other way around!
I believe Hershey’s Special Dark is dutch-process, or at least a blend of natural and dutched. I don’t really use it in my baking because I find its flavor to be way too intense.
Thank you I always wondered what the difference was. Now I know the difference and when and why I should use each one. Fantastic!
Hi Tin, I’m glad you find them helpful! Natural cocoa powder is usually used for batters containing baking soda and dutch-process cocoa powder is usually used for batters containing baking powder. But when in doubt I suggest using natural! I’m not sure where you live and what brand you are referring to but in my grocery store if I can’t tell by the label I would assume it’s natural. Hope this helps!
Hi Caitlin! You can use Hershey’s Special Dark in some recipes, but it will always work in recipes calling for just baking powder or no leavening at all such as homemade brownies or chocolate buttercream.