What’s the Difference: Cocoa Powder?

A student in one of my classes recently asked me what the difference is between “regular” cocoa powder and Dutch process cocoa powder. Although I try to prepare for all possible questions, I didn’t anticipate this one – fortunately I have a great support system.  One of my “backup singers” (as I affectionately refer to the key people assisting me during a class), Barb, quickly jumped to action and grabbed the shop copy of a wonderful resource – The New Food Lover’s Companion: Comprehensive Definitions of Nearly 6000 Food, Drink, and Culinary Terms.

Food Lover's Companion

The Food Lover’s Companion includes the following about Dutch cocoa:

The richer, darker Dutch cocoa has been treated with an ALKALI, which helps neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity.”

Although this definition was enough to help me answer the question that followed – whether you can substitute Dutch process cocoa for natural cocoa powder and vice versa, it wasn’t quite enough to satisfy my curiosity.  So I did more research after class.  The following is what I have learned.

Cocoa Powder in General (regardless of whether it is natural or Dutch process):

  • Pure cocoa powder has no sugar or additional fats added.
  • Should be stored in a cool, dark place – but not refrigerated.
  • Will keep up to two to three years if it is stored in a dry location.
  • Ranges in color from light brown to deep reddish brown – the color depends upon the pH value of the cocoa.
  • Contains several minerals including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
  • Is rich in flavonols (antioxidants).

Natural vs Dutch Process Cocoa

Natural (pictured left above)  vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder (pictured right above):



Dutch   process


  • Made from cocoa beans that are roasted, and pulverized   into a fine powder.
  • Made from cocoa beans that have been washed   with a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity.
  •  Will give the end result a lighter color and a fruitier taste.
  • Will give the end result a darker color and more complex flavor.
  •  pH between 5.4 and 5.8.
  • pH between 6.8 an d 8.1.
  • You CAN substitute natural cocoa powder for Dutch process in many recipes.
  • You SHOULD NOT substitute Dutch process for natural cocoa powder in many recipes.
  •  Do not substitute in cake or cookie recipes.
  • Do not substitute in cake or cookie recipes.
  • OK to swap one for the other in sauces, ice creams and other non-baked recipes.
  • OK to swap one for the other in sauces, ice creams and other non-baked recipes.
  • Lighter in color.
  •  Darker in color.
  • Generally paired with baking soda (which is an alkali) because it has not had its acidity tempered.
  •  Typically used with baking powder.
  • Contains a larger amount of flavonols than Dutch process cocoa.
  • Contains a smaller amount of flavonols than   natural cocoa.
  • Preferred for baked goods.
  • Preferred for beverages and frozen desserts.
  • Black cocoa powders have been heavily Dutched – an example is one of my favorite cocoa powders, Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder.

All the information I learned confirms the answer I gave in class, which was something along the lines of, “in recipes that do not require baking, you could substitute one for another; however, I would not substitute one for the other in baking because it [baking] is more scientific and recipes are precisely written to ensure certain chemical reactions.”

I love learning new things – whether they relate to cooking/baking or not.  And I appreciate that over the years have stored enough knowledge (although recall is getting tougher as I age) that I can think critically to draw conclusions that are correct much of the time.  I would never be so bold as to call myself an expert, but I am happy to be on this journey through life with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining!

Thanks to my “backup singers” for always making me look good, for doing research on the fly, and for your constant support and encouragement!!!!

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