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?!

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

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!

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