Dutch-process Vs 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!

131 Comments

  1. Wow I’ve had trouble with bitter tasting chocolate cakes before and this must be the reason! What would you suggest using if the recipe just says cocoa powder, but has baking powder and baking soda in it?

    1. Based on what I’ve researched, generally speaking, most U.S. recipes that just say “cocoa powder” are geared toward natural cocoa. But check the ratios: if there’s more baking powder than soda, go with natural cocoa powder. If there’s more soda than powder, try the Dutch processed. If the amounts are close or equal, I’d say it’s kind of a crapshoot that may come down to your own taste and preferences– but maybe the Hershey’s “Dark” cocoa powder (which is a blend of natural and Dutch process) would work well.

      1. That is opposite of what Sally explained! She said if the recipe just states to use cocoa powder, use natural with baking soda and Dutch process with baking powder.

  2. There’s actually a third type of cocoa powder that’s readily available; you mentioned it briefly but didn’t explain it. That’s the Hershey’s “Dark” cocoa powder which, per the canister, is a blend of natural and Dutch processed. Also, a simple conversion I found for using natural cocoa to substitute for Dutch processed: 3T natural for every ounce of Dutch process in the recipe, plus add 1/8 tsp. of baking soda. Planning to try that today and experiment with the Hershey’s Dark blend as well; might be okay as a direct 1 for 1 substitute for full Dutch processed.

    1. How did this go? Wanting to make these cupcakes but the cocoa I have on hand is the blend of natural and Dutch processed. Brand is the Saco Pantry, not Hershey’s Dark.

  3. Hi, Sally

    Nice article, I have a recipe of banana bread which contains natural cocoa powder and baking soda. I have some leftovers of dutch cocoa and I would like to use it, instead of buying more natural cocoa.
    Do you think if a good idea if a switch the dutch processed cocoa for the natural cocoa and at the time replace the baking soda for baking powder? Do you think it will work?

    Thanks.

  4. I live in Germany…is there a way to test the cocoa powder to know which kind one has? I believe it only say baking chocolate on the packaging and other than different brands I have never seen different types

    1. Unfortunately, pretty much all kinds of cacao for baking is dutch-processed in Germany. It’s called ‘alkalisiert’. The only kinds I have found that aren’t are the raw cocoa powder varieties you can find on Amazon which are quite expensive. Rapunzel claims that their cacao is also natural but I’m personally not a fan of the ‘stark entölt’ kinds.

  5. Thank you!  I realize this is an old post, but it cleared things up for me.   I’ve made several of your recipes & enjoyed them.  When I Googled the diff betweem dutch & non- dutch ( now to be known as natural to me), I chose your post because I recognized the name.  Thanx!

  6. Thanks for all the info. Now where do I find the recipe for that cake & icing pictured at the end of the article? Talk about distraction……..

    1. For my taste, definitely Dutch! It is less bitter, has a nice dark rich color to it and it has a healthier neutral PH for your body. Now, if you don’t mind the pale color and will sweeten it, some natural cocoa will have a richer taste. I am one of those crazy people that think food needs to be super healthy and delicious as well as beautiful all at the same time! My favorite way to make a creamy hot cocoa is using a milk frother to mix the milk and cocoa and adding a full tea spoon (or two) of Knox unflavored unsweetened gelatin to the mixture (rich in collagen! No good for vegans though) and using either rich coconut milk or half & half (the lactose free type is sweeter) instead of regular milk, the fatter the better! In my opinion, Valrhona makes by far the best cocoa powder if you are willing to pay the price, in some states Whole Foods sells fractioned little tubs and a little goes a long way, so it is worth the price. It tastes great and looks good too. Droste is another flavorful cocoa powder option. Hershey’s is a very good option for the price. I really do not like the Ghirardelli. I think it has been good one day but now it is not anymore. Not even the very expensive Majestic. Some brands have a Black Cocoa powder, the type used for Oreo cookies. If your intention is to have the black color effect that works but it has no taste at all and it does not look good in hot cocoa either. It can very much be used as a natural “food coloring” for black chocolate cakes or cookies with no flavor at all. I hope this helped!

      1. Oops! 3 years later… Maybe it will help someone else?
        By the way, Sally, your blog is great! Congratulations on a job well done!

  7. I had no idea about the difference between the 2 powders. I have always used the Dutch process and my chocolate cake always sunk in the middle and had no idea why. It uses baking soda. So now it all makes sense. I will have to try my recipes again using the correct powder. Thanks for the info!

  8. What about cake recipes that have both baking soda and baking powder? Would you use natural or dutched cocoa powder?

  9. This might be a silly question but i always use dutch process cocoa powder in your chocolate cupcake recipe and they always turn out delicious, moist, and they rise a good amount. I was just wondering since it works for me if its ok to keep using it or maybe switch cocoa powders to see if i get a different or better result.

  10. I found this really interesting because I had a recipe specifically calling for Dutch cocoa (hot chocolate). I did have another question.
    I went to panama and toured a cacao plantation. Fascinating. I came away with three hockey puck sized discs of raw cocoa paste hardened in to a brick. How do I translate using the raw cocoa in recipes. This was literally handground by me on the tour and then splodged in to a puck shape to harden.

  11. Hi Sally!
    Your baking tips posts are really helpful! Thanks for sharing these to us! 🙂
    I saw in one of the recipes I read that it requires an unsweetened dark cocoa powder, is that a natural or dutch-processed? And also, I saw cocoa powder in a baking store that does not specify if it’s natural or dutch-processed, the label only indicate “light”, “medium”, “dark” cocoa powder. How can I know if it’s natural or dutch-processed? Hope you can help me. Thank you!

    1. 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!

    1. Hi Lael, This definitely isn’t my speciality! I do have this recipe: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies-with-less-sugar/
      Try searching my “healthy choices” section on the blog for other ideas. Here is the direct link: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/category/healthy-recipes/

    2. Lael Poe, in order to make any suggestions, one would need to know what sweetener you can use in recipes for him. As Sally has pointed out, baking relies on chemistry and different sweeteners can produce different results when baking.

  12. So where does “baking cocoa” fall into this mix? Or does it? I have two containers of a store brand “baking cocoa” at home. Is that cocoa powder? Is it Dutch processed cocoa powder? Is it something completely different? Thanks!

      1. Thanks for the reply! Well, partially – it says “unsweetened Baking Cocoa” on the front/title and the ingredients says only “cocoa”. Nothing else, other than 2 recipes.

  13. So glad this has bene helpful! About your recipe–it will probably be the easiest to just use natural cocoa powder.

  14. Hi Sally,

    I baked your Triple Chocolate Cake and was amazed at how moist and tender the cake was.
    I usually bake with Dutch Processed Cocoa but bought Hershey’s cocoa powder instead to try as I was not sure.

    Would it be possible to bake Your Triple Chocolate Cake with Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder?
    Thanks you. I hope you could clear my doubts.

    Jacqui

  15. Hi Sally! Where I live, it’s more difficult to find natural cocoa powder — when I was last in the States, I picked up a tin of Trader Joe’s cocoa powder, thinking for sure it would be natural. When I came to use it (for your German Chocolate Cake, btw!) I found it didn’t say for sure. Do you know if this cocoa powder would be appropriate for your cake? Thanks in advance! 🙂

  16. Hi Sally, what is your favorite brand of Dutch processed cocoa? There are so many of them and I bet the quality varies wildly! And for natural cocoa I usually use Hershey’s but is there a better, tastier, higher quality brand out there?

  17. I want to bake your chocolate cupcake recipe and don’t want to mess it up! Can you please tell me if this cocoa powder is Dutch processed? https://www.oetker.co.uk/uk-en/our-products/home-baking/baking-ingredients/fine-dark-cocoa-powder/fine-dark-cocoa-powder-tub

  18. Great post! I want to make old fashion (boiled) chocolate fudge so I understand the cocoas would be interchangeable but would Ditch give a richer flavor?

    1. Hi Cindy, Dutch cocoa powder is actually more mellow in flavor. You can use natural, special dark, or even a combination of the two for a richer flavor.

  19. Hi 🙂
    How do you know if it is natural or dutch-pressed?
    I live in Iceland and we have several Icelandic brands, selling both organic and not cocoa powder.

  20. I would really love to see cacao powder used as it is full of antioxidants and less processed. I haven’t baked much with it but I do use it in smoothies. Would love to try a chocolate cake with it, but will likely start with brownies.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. Hi Sally, this post was very helpful! I found some organic cocoa powder in my pantry and am wondering if it would change the taste or would work with your chocolate cake or chocolate buttercream. My birthday is coming up next Sat and I like to plan ahead. Thanks, any reply would help!

  24. 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!

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