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The Lowdown on Cocoa Powder: Natural vs. Dutch-Process

Fancy a bite of brownie, a sip of hot cocoa or a spoonful of chocolate pudding? You're going to need cocoa powder. You might already have some in your pantry, but do you know what kind of bounty it is (quick without checking the label!)? It is important to know the difference because the two varieties - natural and Dutch process - are not necessarily interchangeable. Here's a look at cocoa powder.


Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans in a very complex process - they are fermented, roasted and peeled, and the resulting nibs are made into a paste that is then pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter. What is left over is dried and ground, which ultimately leads to what we know as cocoa powder. Regardless of the variety you buy from the supermarket, cocoa powder should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a year.


Natural cocoa powder is left untreated, that is, like chocolate, it is strongly acidic. When baking, it needs to be combined with an alkaline ingredient like baking soda to create bubbles of carbon dioxide that cause it to rise. Surprisingly, the lighter natural variety is more chocolaty than the darker Dutch process with a sharp, almost fruity taste. However, the color difference is consistent after baking. Baked goods made with natural cocoa powder are lighter, reddish-brown, while Dutch-Process products have a dark brown, almost black hue. Try the natural variety in our award-winning Texas Sheet Cake or Hot Cocoa with almond milk.

Dutch process

Also called “Dutched” or “European-style”, this cocoa powder differs from natural cocoa in that an alkali solution is added to the beans during roasting to soften their acidity (the label could also be “alkalized” or “processed with alkali” ). . While it still has a rich chocolate flavor, it's milder and smoother than its natural counterpart, with earthy notes that compliment both sweet and salty ingredients. It's the strain we use most often in our recipes. In baking, Dutch-Process cocoa powder is typically combined with another neutralized ingredient: baking powder. It's great in desserts from cakes and cupcakes to cookies and candy, and a tablespoon can turn a saucepan of chili or mole, or even a spice grate for ribs.

Substitute one for the other

You can use any type of cocoa powder in any recipe that doesn't contain baking soda or soda, like a dessert sauce, frosting, custard, ice cream, or hot cocoa - it's just a matter of personal preference. When baking soda or soda is involved, substitutions get a little tricky. Since natural cocoa powder and Dutch process react differently with the nipples, it is best to stick to the ingredients list. If unspecified, see the yeasts in the recipe - if it refers to a bulk of baking soda then use the natural variety. If the recipe is mostly baked with baking soda, use the Dutch process. If you're in a pinch, you can swap one out for the other, but keep in mind that there will be differences in appearance, taste, and texture.

Watch as Thomas Thomas, expert in kitchen corners, explains the nuances of cocoa powder: