Baking 101: Natural vs Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

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natural vs dutch-processed

Today we’re talking about chocolate!  I’ve eaten two (ok, four) dark chocolate candies for this special occasion.  Let’s talk about this unsweetened variety of chocolate:  cocoa powder!  We’re talking depth, color, and yessssss chocolate flavor.  Of course, since we’re baking, nothing is simple, and we’re talking about acid reactions again.  It’s important!

The difference between Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder:

Cocoa powder is just cocoa powder, right? It’s just roasted cacao beans that have been ultra pulverized for cake and cupcake purposes, that’s all.  Not exactly.

There is a fundamental difference between Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder. The difference is acid.  Yea!  We’re talking about acid reactions again, this time by way of cocoa powder.  Who knew that cocoa powder was acidic?  Well.. now we do!  It’s worth understanding.

Dutch-processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder that has been washed in a potassium solution that neutralizes its acidity. The Dutching process also gives the cocoa powder a darker color. Dutch-processed cocoa powder in baking is usually paired with baking powder because, as mentioned in The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder, the baking powder takes care of the acid component in leavening our baked goods.

Was that too many words?  Here’s a breakdown:  Dutch-processed cocoa powder, acids stripped, dark color, reach for the baking powder!

Natural cocoa powder is cocoa that has not had its acid stripped. Natural cocoa powder is usually lighter in color, and because it has all of its acids in tact, it is usually paired with baking soda because the metallic taste that is released in the sodium carbonate of baking soda is mellowed by the acid in natural cocoa powder.   Natural cocoa powder is what is typically found in American grocery stores.  We’re talking Hershey’s Cocoa Powder… that’s natural cocoa.

Too many words again.  Here’s a breakdown: natural cocoa powder, acids present, light in color, grab that baking soda!

What if a recipe only calls for ‘cocoa powder’?  This happens all the time, right ? Take a look at the recipe.  Does it call for a majority of baking powder or baking soda.  If the recipe is mostly leavened by baking powder, reach for the Dutch-processed cocoa.  If it’s a baking soda heavy recipe, go for natural cocoa powder!

In my experience, most American recipes that call for ‘cocoa powder’ are generally referring to natural cocoa powder.

Are Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder interchangeable in a recipe?  Well… not exactly.  As with any baking recipe, it’s best to follow it as written.  When we make substitutions, we start fussing with the taste and texture.  In a pinch, you can substitute natural cocoa powder if you’re out of Dutch-processed cocoa powder.  Although, it’s not a good idea to substitute Dutch-processed cocoa when you’re out of natural cocoa powder.  We’d be missing those precious acids!

midnight black chocolate pudding

But your Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder is like… super dark.  You’re right!  And you’re totally perceptive.  It’s called Black Onyx Cocoa Powder.  It’s ultra-Dutched!  It’s the sort of cocoa powder used to make Oreo cookies.  Yea.  That’s really good news.

I used Black Onyx Cocoa Powder to make this Midnight Black Chocolate Pudding.  Halloween… just sayin’.

chocolate peanut butter chocolate pudding

On the lighter side we have Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pudding.  It’s as good as it looks.  Thank goodness.

chocolate beet cake

 Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting is one of my very favorite recipes to make with (natural) cocoa powder.  It’s beet pink!  It’s cake with vegetables that totally doesn’t taste like cake with vegetables.  IN LOVE!

Baking 101: How to Read A Recipe

Baking 101: Why We Use Unsalted Butter

Baking 101: Must We Sift This Flour?  

Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

 Thank you so much for being a part of these Baking 101 tips!  Be sure to leave comments below with any thoughts on future topics!

121 thoughts on “Baking 101: Natural vs Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

  1. You learn something new everyday! Thanks for this, will definitely be keeping an eye out for the different cocoa powders from now on! The Chocolate and beet cake looks delicious btw!

  2. I loooove this series, they are a must when struggling with sweet-baking (as I am, cooking is god, but desserts not so much…).
    Could you write about the oven? I don’t know when to use up or down heat, or both, or air, or the three at a time…
    Thanks for your blog!!! (and the cinnamon rolls: wow).

  3. I live in South Eastern Michigan, and just recently the family wanted to try a recipe for Truffles, that required Dutch Processed Cocoa, the problem is that nobody around here has it! It used to be quite easy to get at the super market, but all of a sudden it’s just gone. I think the only brand of it that you could get around here was a Hershey variety, but I don’t think they make it anymore. And no specialty stores have it. Why is it so hard to find?

  4. Actually I’m pretty sure that in the UK it’s almost always dutch processed, even if there isn’t an alkalizing agent listed in the ingredients (e.g. Cadbury Bournville only lists cocoa powder in the ingredients but it is actually dutch processed) – which is why people in european countries struggle to make a naturally coloured red velvet cake – the pH difference between the mixture made with dutched and natural cocoa powder causes the colouring the in the beetroot to react differently when cooking – you can only maintain the red colour if you use natural cocoa powder, which as far as I can tell is really hard to get hold of in the UK.

    1. Are you sure? In Ireland the only cocoa powder I can put my hands on is natural, not processed….Cadbury seems pretty pale to me as well. Martina

  5. Thanks so much for this, Joy! In Europe we hardly ever use baking soda in our recipes and I am pretty sure that’s the reason why we use Dutch-processed cocoa most of the time. I don’t even know where to get natural cocoa powder to be honest. I do have a bunch of recipes that call for natural cocoa powder, though. I have honestly no clue where to get it, but I’ll figure it out ;) Maybe in Germany, because the baking aisles in the Dutch supermarket are pretty pathetic. Seriously, they make me really depressed.

  6. That’s really interesting Joy. In the UK I’m not sure we have dutch processed cocoa powder, or at least it’s not common in supermarket, so I just tend to use natural. Now I know why most recipes use baking soda with cocoa powder!

    1. I love these posts! I feel mega smart after this post and the baking powder/baking soda post. Thank you for enlightening us!

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