Dutch Process Cocoa Vs. Cocoa Powder: SPICEography Showdown

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Dutch process cocoa powder and regular cocoa powder are both versions of the same thing: cocoa beans that have been ground after being fermented and roasted. The two have a lot in common and are among the most popular ways to get the chocolate flavor in everything from desserts to Mexican mole. Despite having a lot in common, they have different properties and applications. How do they differ? Can you use them as substitutes for each other? We will answer these questions in our SPICEography Showdown. 

How does Dutch process cocoa differ from regular cocoa? 

Dutch process cocoa powder is clearly darker than regular cocoa powder if you hold the two ingredients up side by side. Dutch cocoa is the type used to make Oreo cookies and is about that same color. Regular cocoa has a lighter color, more of a reddish brown. 

The reason for the color difference has to do with how the two types of cocoa get processed. Dutch process cocoa is cocoa treated with an alkaline solution to neutralize its acidity. Because it is neutral, it won‘t react with baking soda. To get a leavening effect in baked goods, bakers pair it with baking powder.

Baking powder is a blend of baking soda and tartaric acid. The tartaric acid provides the acidity. Regular cocoa powder has not undergone this chemical treatment, so it retains its acidity. Its natural acidity allows it to react with baking soda and provide the necessary rising effect in baked goods with no need for additional acid. 

The difference in acidity means that Dutch process cocoa has a mellower flavor than regular cocoa, which is more bitter. You will also find that Dutch process cocoa powder dissolves more readily in liquids than regular cocoa powder. 

Can you use Dutch process cocoa in place of regular cocoa and vice versa? 

As noted above, the differences in acidity between the two cocoa powders can have significant effects when it comes to leavening in baked goods. If a recipe calls for either type of cocoa powder, your safest option is to use that type and not make a substitution.

If you have no other choice but to make a substitution, you can try using regular in place of Dutch process but not the other way around. Regular cocoa powder may work in either case because it contains its own acid to spur the reaction that provides leavening. Dutch process cocoa powder simply would not work in a recipe that depends on baking soda to rise. 

In preparations where rising is not, you will need to take your own taste and color preference into consideration. If you want a mellower chocolate flavor, go with the Dutch process cocoa powder; if you want a more bitter chocolate taste, use the regular cocoa powder. 

When should you use Dutch process cocoa and when should you use regular cocoa? 

Dutch process cocoa powder is better for most baking applications. It will give cakes, cookies, and other baked applications an intense chocolate flavor without any astringency. It pairs especially well with vanilla, which makes the cakes even more flavorful. When it comes to hot chocolate, many people believe that regular cocoa is the better version to use as Dutch cocoa tastes flat in comparison.

For other applications, it’s all about your personal taste. Do you want the earthier, richer flavor and dark color or do you want something that is more acidic and that has a lighter color?