What’s the Difference Between Natural and Dutch Cocoa Powder?

updated May 1, 2019
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Cocoa powder is a bit of a confusing ingredient. Some recipes call for unsweetened cocoa, some call for cocoa powder, some call for natural cocoa, and some call for Dutch cocoa. What does it all mean? What’s the difference? (And is there any relationship between cocoa powder and hot cocoa mix?) Let’s find out!

Natural Cocoa Powder

How Natural Cocoa Powder Is Made

The process for making cocoa powder starts much the same way regular chocolate is made: fermented cocoa beans are roasted, then the nibs are ground to extract cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor is dried, then ground into the powder that we know as cocoa powder. This is natural, or what is also known as regular, cocoa powder.

Shopping for Natural Cocoa Powder

When buying natural cocoa powder, the only ingredient should be cocoa — there should be no mention of alkali or Dutch processing on the label or in the ingredients, and never any sugar.

Using Natural Cocoa Powder

Natural cocoa powder has a strong chocolate taste but is also astringent and bitter. It is a lighter shade of brown than its Dutch relative.

If a recipe is not specific about using natural or Dutch cocoa, go with natural. Cocoa powder, which is the most concentrated form of chocolate, is used in baking when an intense chocolate flavor is desired, but not the fat, sugar, or other ingredients that are present in regular chocolate. Natural cocoa powder works well in brownies, fudge, cakes, and cookies.

Cocoa powder is also a key ingredient in hot chocolate or hot cocoa mixes, but do not use these mixes in place of cocoa powder since they contain sugar and milk powder.

Hershey’s Dark (Dutch) Cocoa Powder (Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

How Dutch Cocoa Powder Is Made

Dutch cocoa powder is made by treating cocoa beans with alkali during the production process to help neutralize its natural acidity. This darkens the cocoa and gives it a milder chocolate flavor, since some flavors are stripped away, but also leaves it with less bitterness and astringency.

Shopping for Dutch Cocoa Powder

When shopping for Dutch cocoa, check both the ingredients and the label. The words alkali, processed with alkali, Dutch, or Dutched should appear somewhere on the label or in the ingredients.

Using Dutch Cocoa Powder

Some say that Dutch cocoa powder has a more toasted, nutty flavor than natural cocoa powder, but it can, however, also have an alkaline taste like baking soda. In her book Seriously Bitter Sweet, author Alice Medrich likens it to the dark color and distinctive-but-not-very-chocolatey flavor of an Oreo cookie.

Dutched cocoa can come in different shades, but counterintuitively, the darker the color, the milder the taste. It is often used in recipes where a really dark color is desired but a deep chocolate flavor isn’t needed.

Can You Substitute Dutch and Natural Cocoa Powders?

It’s not recommended that you substitute cocoa powders for one another in baking — acidic natural cocoa powder reacts with baking soda for leavening, which can impact the finished result of the baked good if you use the wrong one.

However, if you’re just rolling truffles in cocoa powder or dusting it onto a dessert, the choice is really up to you, depending on the flavor you prefer or how dark you want the finished result.

Cocoa Powder Recipes