Friday Food Facts: Natural vs. Dutch-process Cocoa Powder

Chocolate… we all love chocolate in one form or another. May it be a chocolate cake, a brownie, chocolate ice cream or hot cocoa, I’ll take mine in a giant mug piled high with whipped cream please, add some chocolate shavings for good measure! And you can make all these at home with a simple scoop of cocoa powder… one ingredient, so many different possibilities.

natural vs dutch process cocoa powder wildwildwhisk.comBut is it really that simple? Back in the day, I never really noticed there are actually two different kind of cocoa powders you can get, natural and Dutch-process. What do you mean different? I thought cocoa powder is just COCOA POWDER! Yes, yes, both are still just cocoa powder, and you can use either one in your baking; however, there is one tiny BUT very important difference, the acidity of the powder.

Cocoa powder is made from the cocoa beans, roasted, de-shelled and ground into chocolate liquor, which is then separated into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of the beloved chocolate bar, and others (think bath and body works…). Since chocolate requires the addition of extra cocoa butter into chocolate liquor, we are left with excess cocoa solids. This is then pulverized into cocoa powder, and ends up in your kitchen pantry. This is natural cocoa powder, unprocessed (chemically), has a light brown color, and is acidic.

In the 19th century, a Dutch chemist and chocolate maker, named Coenraad Johannes van Houten, developed the “Dutch process” by treating chocolate liquor with an alkalizing agent (alkaline salt). These alkaline salts could be either potassium or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda!). They react with the acid in cocoa powder and neutralize it.  This process lowers the acidity of cocoa powder, enhances its color, making it much darker than natural cocoa powder (Oreo dark), makes it less bitter and increases its solubility (think hot cocoa!). However, due to the lower acidity, Dutch-process and natural cocoa powder are not interchangeable in baking, not without modifying other ingredients as well, namely the leavening agents.

Recall from the last post (baking soda vs. baking powder), baking soda has to be used in an acidic environment, while baking powder does not as it already contains an acid component. Hence, natural cocoa powder is always paired with baking soda, and Dutch-process cocoa powder with baking powder. Substitution is possible as long as you remember to substitute the leavening agents as well.

What if the recipe didn’t define the type of cocoa powder? If the recipe calls for “cocoa powder” it is most likely natural cocoa powder. But to be sure, take a look at the leavening agent used in the recipe, is it mostly baking soda? Then yes, it is natural cocoa powder. If it calls for mostly baking powder, then it is Dutch-process cocoa powder.

Happy Friday friends! I think I will go make myself some hot cocoa now, it is gloomy outside… and plus I like hot drinks and hot soups, no matter the weather.

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