The difference between natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder.
Do you lie awake at night wondering ‘just what is the difference between natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder?’ Me too!
So, to finally answer all your hot cocoa questions, I’ve done the research for you and have found the answers. You’re welcome. I hope you sleep a little easier tonight.
What’s the difference between natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder and which one should I use?
First, a little theory:
The cocoa bean (also cacao bean) is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed which is found inside the cocoa pod. The pod grows on the Theobroma cacao. One cocoa pod houses 30 to 50 large beans. These are soft and white to pale lavender in colour. These beans are roasted and shelled to leave just the cocoa nibs, which are then milled to create cocoa liquor. Then the cocoa liquor is pressed to extract the cocoa butter, leaving a solid mass called a cocoa press cake. The cocoa press cake is broken into small pieces to form kibbled press cake. This is pulverised to make cocoa powder. Magic.
Up until the mid-1800s, there was just one type of cocoa powder. Then a Dutch chocolate maker named Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered a way of processing the nibs to neutralise the acidic taste of cocoa. He washed the nibs with an alkaline solution, potassium carbonate (K2CO3). This helped to lower the acidity of the cocoa powder, increase its solubility, make the colour darker and give it a smoother flavour. We call this alkalisation ‘Dutch-process’ or ‘Dutching’.
So today we have two types of cocoa powder:
Dutch-process cocoa powder – made from cocoa nibs that have been washed with a potassium solution to neutralise the acidity.
Natural (non-alkalised) cocoa powder – made from cocoa nibs that are roasted and pulverised into a fine powder.
So, the difference between natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder is…
Dutch-process cocoa powder has a darker colour and more complex flavour and it is pH neutral. Natural cocoa powder tends to have a redder, lighter colour and a fruitier flavour profile and is acidic.
Which cocoa powder should I buy?
Most cocoa powders are between 20-22% fat. The best quality cocoa powders have a fat content of 22-24%. So look for those. Reading the label, the number of the fat content per 100 grams should be higher than 21 grams. Alternatively, it should read 1 gram of fat per 5 to 6-gram serving.
Pure cocoa powder has no sugar or additional fats added. Therefore, these should not appear on the ingredients list.
The labels on tubs of cocoa powder may or may say ‘Dutch-process’ or ‘alkalised’. The ingredient list should read ‘acidity regulator’, ‘potassium carbonate’ or ‘processed with alkali’.
Non-alkalised cocoa may or may not be labelled ‘natural’. The ingredients will list ‘cocoa’, ‘100% cocoa’ or ‘unsweetened cocoa powder’.
Examples of Dutch-process cocoa powders:
- Cadbury Bournville Cocoa
- Ghirardelli Majestic / Sunrise / Sweet Ground Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
- Hershey’s Special Dark
- Green & Black’s Organic Cocoa Power – my personal preference. It has a fat content of 21.6g per 100g.
Examples of natural cocoa powders:
- Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened Ground Cocoa / Merritas Natural Cocoa Powder
- Scharffen Berger
Which cocoa powder should I use?
Recipes with no rising/leavening agents:
You can use your preferred type of cocoa in recipes that don’t use baking powder or baking soda/bicarbonate of soda. For example, hot cocoa, chocolate sauces, frosting, truffles and even some brownie and sponge cake recipes.
However, I find that non-alkalised cocoa power can taste a little bitter. So, for dusting cakes or rolling truffles, my personal preference is to use Dutch-process cocoa. But if I am making a very sweet frosting I sometimes like to use natural cocoa. The more acidic taste balances out the sugar well.
If I am making a cake that I want to have a red tinge, like Red Velvet Cake or Devil’s Food Cake, I will use natural cocoa powered as it has a lovely rich rusty colour.
Before we continue here are a few things to remember:
- Baking powder is a mix of bicarbonate of soda (an alkaline), and cream of tartar (an acid).
- Baking soda is bicarbonate of soda (an alkaline and a weak base).
- Natural cocoa powder is acidic (a weak acid).
- Dutch processed cocoa powder is pH neutral.
Recipes with rising / leavening agents:
I do not recommend interchanging the two cocoas because of the difference in acidity between the two types. This will not only affect the colour and taste but the rising/leavening, too.
Because the natural cocoa powder is acidic it is usually paired with baking soda/bicarbonate of soda. As this is alkali and the cocoa’s acidity will neutralise the baking soda’s soapy flavour. It will also react with the baking soda to help the bake rise.
If we think back to school science lessons, when we mix a weak base (baking soda) with a weak acid (natural cocoa powder), we get carbon dioxide. The alkaline and acid react and produce CO2 bubbles. It is these bubbles that create air and make cakes, brownies and cookies rise in the oven.
As Dutch-process cocoa powder is neutral it won’t react with baking soda to create the CO2 bubbles. Therefore, the bakes won’t rise unless there is another acidic ingredient in the recipe.
When to use natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder:
If a recipe does not use baking powder or baking soda use natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder. For example, for my Mississippi Mud Cake recipe, you can use natural cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder.
If a recipe uses baking soda as its rising agent and there are no other acidic ingredients in the recipe then use natural cocoa powder.
If a recipe uses baking soda and baking powder but calls for more soda than powder and there are no other acidic ingredients in the recipe then use natural cocoa powder.
If a recipe uses baking powder use either type of cocoa – it is up to personal taste.
If a recipe uses baking powder and baking soda but calls for more powder than soda use either type of cocoa. In these recipes, the baking powder is balanced (acid/base), therefore, the cocoa is used for its flavour more than its rising properties.
If you only have Dutch process cocoa powder:
If a recipe uses baking soda as its rising agent and there are no other acidic ingredients in the recipe add an acid to make the baking soda react. You can do this by adding in buttermilk, coffee, vinegar, yoghurt, sour cream, molasses, brown sugar, applesauce, pumpkin, puréed fruits. Alternatively, you could add a dash of cream of tartar. But as the Dutch-process cocoa powder and the baking soda are both alkaline it may cause a soapy aftertaste and could affect texture.
If you only have natural cocoa powder:
If a recipe uses 255 grams (3/4 cup) or more of Dutch-process cocoa powder you can substitute if for natural cocoa powder but the flavour and colour will differ.
“If a recipe calls for natural cocoa and baking soda and you want to use Dutch-process cocoa, substitute an equal amount of Dutch-process cocoa but replace the soda with twice the amount of baking powder. If the recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa powder and baking powder, substitute the same amount of natural cocoa but replace the baking powder with half the amount of baking soda.”
So, in my recipes, I will say which type to use and then you can follow this guide to help you with any further cocoa-based baking dilemmas.
Looking for some recipes that use cocoa powder?
Check out my recipe for hot chocolate mini cheesecakes.
You may also like my recipe for Mississippi mud cake.
My recipe for chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and salted caramel sauce also uses cocoa powder.
Now, tell me, do you have a favourite type of cocoa or prefer one brand over another? Is there a brand I should add to the list above? Leave any feedback and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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