Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder

Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder by: Cece Kirkwood

What is the difference between dutch-process vs. natural cocoa powder? Can I substitute dutch-process cocoa powder for natural cocoa powder? Do I even know which brown container I currently have in my pantry?

Why does it smell so good, but I know I just cannot take a spoonful of it and eat it. 

If you’ve asked yourself any of those questions, you’re in the right place. 

Let’s dig in. 

Two glasses filled with either natural or dutch processed cocoa powder, sitting next to their containers | Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder
This baking basic will cover:

What is cocoa powder?

We could go into a big long explanation of the process to create cocoa powder, but instead, let’s just put this simply. Cocoa powder is a by-product of creating chocolate, specifically when the cocoa-butter is extracted. That’s all you need to know. 

Before we jump too far in…

A little bit of history… for context

Thanks to Mr. Hershey, the 20th century saw a boom in the chocolate industry but there wasn’t much dutch-process cocoa powder in the mix just yet. The stock piles you’d find in the stores, that Americans were obsessing over, was all natural cocoa powder! 

The demand for chocolate skyrocketed in the 20th century and it has only continued since then. If you haven’t, go ahead and look up the current cocoa shortage that is continuing to worsen. 

So what is the difference…Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder  

Similar to my baking soda vs. baking powder baking basics, the difference between these two cocoa powders comes down to an added ingredient. It’s all about science and chemical reactions. 

Dutch-process cocoa powder sitting next to a can of baking powder. Underneath them is natural cocoa powder sitting next to baking soda. | Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder

What is natural cocoa powder? 

Remember how I mentioned there was really only natural cocoa available in the 20th century? This basically makes it the classic cocoa powder. The one you may remember your grandparents and parents baking with when you were young. It’s the one you’ll see the most in the grocery store. 

Natural cocoa powder is just like the name sounds… It’s natural. It is simply ground down chocolate without any real modifications. All the acids in the chocolate are in-tact. It is also a bit lighter in color! 

A glass bowl with natural cocoa powder sitting next to its container. | Two glasses filled with either natural or dutch processed cocoa powder, sitting next to their containers | Dutch-Process vs. Natural Cocoa Powder

What is dutch-process cocoa powder? 

If natural cocoa powder is the classic, dutch-process cocoa powder is the more “decadent,” “special” cocoa because for many years in America, it just wasn’t even  on the grocery shelves. 

The “process” part comes from an alkalizing agent that is added to the cocoa to reduce the acidity. This agent makes the powder darker in color and smoother in taste. Because the acid is removed, dutch-process cocoa powder can also be considered “dark chocolate” and therefore more “bitter” of a chocolate taste. 

A glass bowl of dutch-process cocoa powder sitting next to its container

What happens in the mixing bowl with these different cocoas? 

So if a recipe calls for a specific type of cocoa powder and you don’t have that one, you’ll need to take a look at the other ingredients before deciding if you can easily substitute one for the other. The biggest ingredient to look out for is whether the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda

As mentioned before, natural cocoa still includes the acid, while dutch-process has removed that acidity. 

Many times, a recipe that calls for natural cocoa will also ask for baking soda. That baking soda acts as a natural “calmer” to the cocoa acidity, basically neutralizing it. Leaving behind the delicious chocolatey flavor. That reaction will also activate bubbles, creating the rising agent needed to lift off muffins and cakes! So natural cocoa and baking soda are a match made in baking heaven.

What about dutch-process? Now you may remember that baking powder is baking soda + an acid, super similar to dutch-process cocoa powder. So these two ingredients, dutch-process cocoa and baking powder, which are already neutralized, go together beautifully. 

Can I substitute natural cocoa powder for the dutch-process?

The short answer is, yes, ​​most of the time, you can substitute one for the other, if the recipes doesn’t call for either baking soda or baking powder in the ingredients (things like brownies and puddings that don’t need a “lift off”). 

You may even notice a recipe calls for any one of dutch-process, natural or unsweetened cocoa powder.

However, if you are using an older recipe, it likely will just call for “cocoa”, which would mean “natural cocoa”. This little tip goes back to the history context we were talking about before. 

Two glasses sitting diagonally from one another, each one filled with a different cocoa.

What if my recipe does call for baking soda or baking powder? Can I still substitute? 

If they do call for baking soda or powder and you add in whichever cocoa powder you have in the pantry, you may notice a little bit of a difference in the color, rise and texture of the bake. Nothing that would completely ruin the bake though! 

For a better baked good, think about adjusting the baking soda (or baking powder) depending on what the recipe calls for and what cocoa you have in the pantry. However, this can get a little complicated, so it’s honestly just worth it to just head to the store and purchase the correct cocoa powder! 

If you still have questions about cocoa powder, do not hesitate to reach out! I am always here to lend a baking hand.

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