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cocoa powder: dutch vs. natural

cacao powder, cocoa powder

if you’re not a frequent baker, you might be surprised to hear that cocoa powder comes in two varieties. these varieties are differentiated by their preparation processes – the natural process and what’s known as the dutch process. so, what is the difference between these two processes, and how does it affect the resulting powder?

what is natural process cocoa powder?

to answer that question, we’ll need explain how cocoa powder is made. cocoa powder is created from the dry, solid remains of cacao beans once the creamy cocoa butter is extracted. these solids are then ground into a fine powder, which results in natural process cocoa powder. because cocoa is naturally acidic, natural process cocoa powder has a pH level of about 5 to 6.

this is important because the pH level of cocoa powder is a key part of the resulting flavor profile and determines how it interacts with other ingredients. natural process cocoa powders (or those higher in acidity) have a fruitier flavor that is more bitter in nature. most big brand cocoa powders you find on a grocery store shelf will be natural process (e.g., hershey’s).

what is dutch process cocoa powder?

on the other hand, dutch process cocoa powder (other names include “dutched” or “alkalized”) is created when natural processed cocoa powder’s acidity is neutralized to a pH of 7 with a potassium carbonate solution (a neutralizing agent). this process results in a darker colored and a richer flavored cocoa powder with a more “chocolate-y” finish. this cocoa powder may also be further alkalized (to a pH of 8), resulting in an even darker cocoa powder that is bittersweet in flavor (referred to as “black” cocoa powder).

can dutch and natural cocoa powder be substituted in recipes?

the bottom line is, you should always use whichever cocoa powder the recipe calls for, but if you’re in a pinch, you can substitute powders in a 1-to-1 ratio while still maintaining decent results. that said, there will be slight flavor, color, and texture differences. using natural cocoa in a recipe that calls for dutch will likely produce a slightly tangier flavor than anticipated, while the reverse will result in a richer chocolate flavor.

for better results, we recommend adjusting the baking soda or powder in the recipe to better align with the cocoa powder you have on hand. if you only have natural cocoa on hand, it is best used with baking soda, whereas dutch process cocoa is best used with baking powder. if a recipe does not specify which cocoa powder to use, it most likely refers to natural process cocoa powder.

if you enjoyed expanding your chocolate knowledge in this blog, check out our blog on what chocolate percentages mean to continue your education!  

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