What is Dutch-process cocoa powder?

30 Apr 2021

Chocolate Knowledge

Dutch or Natural cocoa powder? Discern the difference and become a true cocoa connoisseur.

Cocoa powder is a cupboard staple. It doesn’t matter whether you’re baking a decadent chocolate cake or warming the cockles of your heart with a comforting cup of hot chocolate. That packet of luxury cocoa powder in the kitchen cupboard means you are always ready to whip up a treat. But what’s the difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa, and what kind of recipes does each one best suit?

What is cocoa powder?

Is there anything the mighty cacao bean can’t do? From truffles to beauty products, the botanical hero is at the heart of the Hotel Chocolat range. The source of creamy cocoa butter and crunchy nibs, it also provides the base for soft, flavoursome cocoa powder.

After fermenting, drying, roasting, and cracking the cocoa beans into nibs, chocolate makers press the nibs to remove around 75% of the cocoa butter. What’s left is known as chocolate liquor. The liquor is dried and finely ground into unsweetened cocoa powder.

Of course, cocoa powder is a core ingredient for devilishly delicious desserts when you need a bit of indulgence. However, cocoa powder can also be a healthy way to add a chocolatey flavour to dishes without the sugar or fat content. In fact, it’s packed with nutrients and antioxidants. So, chocolate fiends, have no fear — you can still get that guilt-free cocoa kick!

Most unsweetened cocoa powder is processed in one of two ways: natural and Dutch. Both taste great and work well in a variety of recipes, but what exactly is the difference?

What is Dutch-process cocoa powder?

During the Dutch process, chocolate-makers wash the cocoa powder with a potassium carbonate solution. The solution neutralises the powder’s acidity to a pH of 7 and gives it a rich dark brown colour. Dutched cocoa tends to have a milder, more earthy flavour than natural cocoa powder.

The name comes from the fact that the process’s inventor, Coenraad J. Van Houten, was from the Netherlands. However, you may also see tins and tubs of Dutch-process cocoa powder referred to as ‘alkalised’ or ‘European style’ cocoa.

What is natural cocoa powder?

Natural cocoa powder does what it says on the tin — once the chocolate liquor has dried, it’s the end of the process, and the powder left is ready to go.

Unlike Dutched cocoa, natural cocoa powder retains its acidity at around 5 pH and is lighter in colour. The vibrant mahogany hue looks great in cakes and bakes, while the acidity gives the cocoa a fruity, intense flavour.

When to use Dutched

chocolate muffins rising in a baking tin

Because Dutch-process cocoa powder isn’t acidic, it won’t react with alkaline raising agents like baking soda. So if a recipe specifically requires Dutched cocoa powder, it likely includes baking powder, which also has a neutral pH.

Sometimes, cocoa powder is heavily alkalised, resulting in a very dark, smooth-tasting ingredient. This type of Dutched cocoa, known as ‘black cocoa,’ can give a really striking colour to buttercream icing. It also has a very low fat content, which works well in biscuits. However, many bakers blend black cocoa with another kind of Dutched or natural cocoa powder for a richer flavour and better results in cakes.

When to use natural

Recipes that use baking soda, on the other hand, often call for natural cocoa powder. This is because the baking soda, which is alkaline, tempers the natural cocoa’s acidity. The chemical reaction also creates carbon dioxide bubbles to give cakes and muffins a good rise. It’s worth reading up on the difference between baking soda and baking powder if you want to learn more about the impact of each on baked goods.

The rich, deep flavours of natural cocoa powder make it a versatile option for adding a new level to savoury dishes as well as sweet. Why not try adding a spoonful to a spicy chilli con carne, or even give these innovative chocolate barbecue recipes a go? They might sound unusual at first but, trust us, the cocoa twist will open up a whole new world!

And if that tickles your taste buds, you can find more culinary cocoa inspiration in A New Way of Cooking With Chocolate.

Both natural and Dutched cocoa powders work well in sweet frostings and cookies or cakes that don’t use any sort of raising agent. But when baking powder or soda comes into play, the type of cocoa powder you use can impact the rise and texture.

Which one to use for hot chocolate?

hot chocolate in a glass mug with marshmallows

Afternoon pick-me-up, dessert, or bedtime warmer, hot chocolate can bring a delicious feeling of luxurious calm.

To make the perfect hot drink from cocoa powder, you can use either natural or Dutch-process. Much of it depends on your personal taste preferences. The acidity in natural cocoa powder gives it nuanced notes and depth of flavour. However, some people prefer the subtler, almost nutty quality Dutched cocoa brings.

For a truly rich drinking experience, you can also try Hot Chocolate made from grated chocolate rather than cocoa powder. From sweet Salted Caramel and Clementine Hot Chocolate to enticing Dark 85% Hot Chocolate, using more cocoa and less sugar gives our pure drinking chocolates satisfying intensity and a velvety-smooth texture.

Dutch-process and natural cocoa powder are both excellent choices for baking, cooking, and drinking. Knowing the intricacies of how each type interacts with different ingredients will level you up in the kitchen so you can go forth and set your cocoa creativity free. hot choc