Ever wonder what the difference is between Dutch-processed cocoa powder and natural cocoa powder? They're actually not the same!
When I first started baking, I thought all cocoa powders were the same and that they differed mainly in price and country of origin. When I discovered the difference, though, I realized how wrong I was!
Natural cocoa powder vs Dutch-processed cocoa powder
Natural cocoa powder refers to cacao beans that have been roasted and then finely ground into a powder. It has a light brown color and it's quite bitter and acidic.
Dutch-processed cocoa powder is treated with an alkali solution to neutralize the acidity. This process creates a darker color and it results in a wonderful, smooth flavor. That’s one of the reasons why I use Dutch-processed cocoa powder when I make my easy vegan chocolate truffles or garnish desserts, because it’s not as bitter as natural cocoa powder.
Why is it called Dutch-processed cocoa powder?
In the 19th century, a Dutch man named Coenraad Van Houten developed a process to remove the bitterness in cocoa solids and make it easier to mix with water. Today, this process is called “Dutching” and it produces a darker cocoa powder with a mild taste (hence the term “Dutch-processed”). By the end of the 19th century, Van Houten was synonymous with high quality cocoa powder. It’s actually my favorite Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
Can you use both interchangeably?
It depends. Most recipes use natural cocoa powder unless they specify Dutch-processed.
According to Fine Cooking recipes using natural cocoa powder often include baking soda as well. Both the baking soda and acid react and allow baked goods to rise. Baking soda is also an alkaline, so it also neutralizes the acidity in natural cocoa powder.
On the other hand, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is usually combined with baking powder as it’s already neutral.
So, depending on what you have, you’ll be using either baking soda or baking powder. If a recipe doesn’t have any baking powder or baking soda, you can either natural cocoa powder or Dutch-processed.
Also, since natural cocoa powder is more acidic, baked goods are somewhat drier. Dutch-processed cocoa, on the other hand, is less acidic, resulting in a fudgier product. For an excellent scientific explanation, Cooks Illustrated has a great article.
What if you don’t know which cocoa powder a recipe is referring to?
What I usually do is look at whether the recipe has baking soda or baking powder and then I use the cocoa powder that pairs best with either one.
So, in a nutshell:
Natural Cocoa Powder + Baking Soda
Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder + Baking Powder
If a recipe doesn’t have any baking powder or baking soda, I use whatever cocoa powder I have on hand.
But...sometimes I use BOTH baking powder and baking soda together! Why?
For my Sugar Free Whole Wheat Chocolate Cupcakes, I use buttermilk, because I love the tang. However, buttermilk is acidic and if I ONLY used baking soda, it would neutralize all the acidity and I wouldn’t get the tanginess I love. So, I keep the baking soda, which reacts with the acid to help it rise, and I add the baking powder to retain the tanginess from the buttermilk, killing two birds with one stone! ?
“Blooming” cocoa powder
I absolutely love this technique! Blooming cocoa powder refers to mixing unsweetened cocoa powder with a hot liquid (like boiling water, hot coffee, or hot oil) and allowing it to sit for a few minutes. The cocoa powder dissolves, intensifying the chocolate flavor. If you’re a chocolate lover, this will definitely enhance your chocolate desserts!
If you want to learn how I use this technique, check out these recipes: