Dutch process cocoa. Seems fancy, huh? While you might be tempted to buy this continental-sounding product and use it interchangeably with the natural stuff, there are some key differences to know. Namely, Dutch process cocoa performs much differently in baked goods than its natural cocoa counterpart. This means it can truly make or break your cake. Be sure to refer to this guide when making our most decadent chocolate desserts.
The Difference Between Cocoa and Dutch Process Cocoa
Natural cocoa powder is untreated, so it maintains its light brown color and is slightly acidic, with a pH between 5 and 6. Dutch process cocoa powder (also referred to as Dutched chocolate, European-style, or alkalized) is made from beans that have been washed with an alkaline solution that neutralizes that natural acidity and raises their pH to closer to 7. The process gives the powder a darker color and a smoother, softer flavor.
How it Affects Your Baking
The neutral pH of powder that has been Dutch processed is its key characteristic when it comes to incorporating it into recipes. If you want your chocolate baked good, say a moist chocolate cake, to rise appropriately, using Dutch process cocoa with baking soda won’t do you any good. Especially if there are no acidic ingredients in the recipe (such as yogurt or buttermilk). This is because the alkaline baking soda requires an acid to produce the bubbly reaction that makes cakes rise. Instead, pair Dutch process cocoa powder with baking powder to get some lift, as it also has a neutral pH and doesn’t depend on any acidity in the cocoa. (Learn all about the differences between baking soda and baking powder here.)
Pro tip: It’s not uncommon to come across a recipe in an amateur online publication or cookbook that doesn’t specify what type of cocoa powder to use. Though a safe bet for Americans is to use natural cocoa powder (like Hershey’s), you can be sure to choose the right one by checking your recipe’s leavening agent. If baking powder is listed as the main leavener, opt for Dutch process cocoa. If baking soda is listed, use the natural stuff.
That being said, if the recipe doesn’t use any leavening agents at all (frosting or fudge sauce, for example), Dutch process cocoa powder and natural cocoa powder are practically interchangeable. Play with ingredients and see what you like best.
In a pinch, there are some substitutions you can use if you can’t find Dutch process cocoa powder. If you replace it with the more acidic natural cocoa powder, use a little extra baking soda (alkaline) to balance the pH and neutralize the acidic taste, about 1/8 teaspoon for every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder used. According to King Arthur Flour, a second method is to replace the baking powder called for in the recipe with half as much baking soda. You should also be prepared for your finished product to be lighter in color than if you used Dutch process cocoa powder.