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):

Natural

vs

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!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *