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When it comes to chocolate there are no wrong answers. Chocoholics out there may have their favorites, but any sweets with chocolate are probably going to taste really good. But, when it comes to baking at home, there is one area where the kind of chocolate you buy is actually important and that’s with your cocoa powder. The question is when to use Dutch cocoa and when to use natural cocoa and to answer this question we need to look at the differences between the two.

cocoa powder being sifted into a bowl
Via/ Unsplash

How Cocoa Powder Is Made

Both types of cocoa powder come from beans of the Theobroma cacao plant. The bean pods of the cacao plant are fermented, dried, roasted, and then cracked open. What is left behind is the shell and the precious cocoa nibs inside. These nibs are then ground to make what is called chocolate “liquor”.

The raw chocolate that many products we consume is made from is cocoa liquor, the making of which removes some of the cocoa butter. Despite the name there is no alcohol in this product and instead it is about half cocoa butter and half cacao solids. In this form it is a viscous liquid, hence the name liquor.

cacao pods hanging from a branch
Via/ Unsplash

Bricks of chocolate are made with the liquor and so is cocoa powder. To make cocoa powder, the raw cocoa bricks made from the liquor are ground up. In the case of Dutch (or “Dutched” or “Dutch process”) cocoa, the powder also contains an alkalizing ingredient. Traditionally the formula for Dutch cocoa would have been 3 parts alkali carbonate to 100 parts natural cocoa powder. In more recent years other alkalizing agents have been used instead.

The History of Cocoa

The Spanish Empire was a driving force in international trade during the 17th-19th centuries. The Spanish conquest of Mexico and parts of South America led to the export of cacao all around the world. By the time of the Revolutionary War chocolate was a popular (albeit expensive) commodity.

late 19th century advertising card for Dutch cocoa
Via/ Flickr

In 1828 a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered that the nature of cocoa powder changed when a small amount of alkaline salts were added to it. Thus, cocoa powder treated in this way became known as Dutch cocoa. This is type of cocoa powder is common in Europe.

How Is Dutch Cocoa Different?

The difference between natural cocoa powder and is apparent in the color, flavor, and texture of each. Dutch cocoa has a smoother flavor, a darker color, and blends more easily into liquids due to the fact that alkaline salts tend to be water soluble.

If you ever tried to make chocolate milk with regular cocoa powder as a kid then you know how it doesn’t blend into liquid very well.

dutch cocoa powder alongside natural cocoa powder
Dutch cocoa is on the left, natural cocoa powder is on the right. Via/ Flickr

The flavor of Dutch cocoa is also more mellow, with a richer profile. This means that cakes and cookies made with Dutch cocoa often will have more chocolate flavor. If you’ve ever made a chocolate cake with regular cocoa powder and found it wasn’t as dark in color or as chocolate-y in taste as you were expecting, then this could be the reason.

Because Dutch cocoa has been neutralized via the alkalizing agent it won’t react with baking soda and is often paired with baking powder instead.

variety of cupcakes on a white background
Via/ Unsplash

Not every store carries Dutch cocoa, but many do. Some are labeled as dark cocoa powder and some are mix of natural and Dutch cocoa powders. If you can find it, Dutch cocoa can be a wonderful addition to your baking cupboard. And, if you’re looking to use up your natural cocoa powder you can always intensify the flavor in baked goods by adding just teaspoonful of instant coffee to the recipe to deepen the flavor.