Dutch-process Vs Natural Cocoa Powder

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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!

118 Comments

  1. Thank you I always wondered what the difference was. Now I know the difference and when and why I should use each one. Fantastic!

  2. Not boring at all! !! Thanks. 
    My 49th recipe of yours was french macaron with Raspberry jam filling. It looked and tasted so professional that I should probably start charging my colleagues at work who get these.  🙂
    More macaron recipes please. … pretty please! !!! 🙂

    1. Throwing some simple ideas at you 😉
      For the third book- Sally’s  Macaron addiction.
      Fourth book – Sally’s biscotti addiction. 
      I will pre-order right now !!!! 🙂

      1. I agree on the macaron recipes, they make me weak in the knees. The only dessert that I will actually buy/purchase from a bakery. Especially with lots of colors!

        Glad  I read this post, although I do agree lots of recipes don’t seem  to tell you which one to use. Happy you got all science-y on me today Sally =) 

  3. Thank you for this post, Sally! I always thought it was just about the taste, when a recipe called especially for dutch processed cocoa powder. It’s good to know that there is chemical reason. Now I can make the right decision when the kind of cacao powder is not specified.

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us, Sally! I love reading your baking basics since I always feel like baking is a completely different language. It answers all those questions I have, especially the baking powder vs baking soda. Now to find a way to add cocoa powder to all my desserts =)

  5. My container of Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder claims to be a mixture of natural and dutch-process. Have you used this with success in many recipes? If so, do you find it reacts more like natural or like dutch-processed? Thanks for the tips?

    1. Virginia, I don’t really use Hershey’s Special Dark in my baking because I find its flavor to be way too intense. When using it, however, I find it is a suitable stand-in for regular natural cocoa powder if the recipe doesn’t call for a TON of cocoa. Over a cup of cocoa, it might not be the best sub for 100% natural cocoa powder. Hope this makes sense.

  6. 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!

    1. 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.

  7. hi sally! really liked this article… i hope you will write something about pans next time… like the difference between using aluminum, non-stick and glass… i’m planning to buy several kinds and im not sure what i really needed. thanks! 🙂

  8. I love these educational posts.  As soon as I started reading it, I thought of the Baking Powder/Soda article, and voila, there you mentioned it.  Terrific post!  And omg, that cake!  That looks beyond delicious.

  9. 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.

  10. So helpful!!  I’ve never actually used Dutch chocolate, and while I had hoped it had something to do with little wooden shoes, I figured that couldn’t be right.. Loving this baking basics series! I tend to do more experimentation when I bake and typically have no rhyme or reason to WHY things work, I love knowing the science behind it 🙂 

  11. 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,
    Linda

  12. Thanks for clearing this up! I was confused 🙂 
    Do you know anything about whether there are any differences in nutritional content? 

  13. Great article. Any ideas how I can find out which is which in the UK. Is there a way to tell from the ingredients info? Thanks 

  14. Thank you, Sally! I love these posts as a I am both a scientist and baker. You make understanding the ingredients so simple. 

  15. In my country in most supermarkets, Dutch  process cocoa powder is the most commonly available variety of cocoa (as a matter of fact  the only one unsweetened cocoa powder). So, +if I want to make a cake that calls for BS, do I simply substitute for BP?  Alkalized cocoa is TOO intense. Probably if I use the same quantity of dutch cocoa if substituting natural, the cake would be so bitter. 
    Do you have any rule for substituting? For instance, add a Tb spoon of vinegar or lemon juice or instead of 1/2 cup of natural cocoa use 1/4 cup of dutch process coca?
    Thank you Sally, I love the nerdy baking data. 

    1. Vania, I don’t really have a solid rule for subbing around like this. It truly depends on the recipe! If a cake calls for baking soda, dutched cocoa CAN be used, you just need to make sure there is another acid present in the recipe such as brown sugar, buttermilk, cream of tartar, etc. OR you can always try to use baking powder instead– just double or triple the amount. It would take a little testing!

  16. My mind is blown. 

    And funny… I prefer the Special Dark for my chocolate cake! 

    But seriously… I’ve read a million explanations about this and never once have I understood it, which is weird, because as a biologist, my brain operates well in chemistry terms when we’re talking baking. Somehow you made sense of it. YOU JUST GET ME, SALLY.

  17. Bookmarked this page! The difference between the two has always confused me; happy to have it cleared up 🙂 thanks Sally! (now I have to go make some brownies, right?)

  18. I totally believed the Dutch variety wore cute little wooden shoes lol!!! There goes that theory….;). So it’s not a Dutch thing. Got it!  Much thanks for the neat tutorial. Much to learn about something I took for granted?  That cleared up any questions about cocoa powder and acidity vs neutral. Thank you for sharing Sally. Your recipes are the bomb by the way. 

  19. Thank you Sally – this article is so useful for me. I’ve always disregarded the type of cocoa because I didn’t know the difference. I thought they tasted the same anyway, so I grabbed whatever was available at the supermarket. That is probably why my chocolate sponge cakes are always so flat – It’s likely that I used the wrong cocoa powder. By the way, I really like your Baking Basics posts. It clarifies so making baking questions for me 🙂

  20. 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!

  21. Thanks for the explanation, especially on what to use when older recipes do not specify. I keep both – but grab whatever if not specified in the recipe.

    Waiting for the book tour – counting the days until schedule is announced!!

  22. So, I am Dutch. Therein lies my reasoning for always buying DUTCH processed. Duh! SO happy to know there actually is a difference and what it is. I need to clear out my cupboard of Special Dark & Dutch to include some natural! Thanks, Sally 🙂 

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