The cacao plant had been cultivated for centuries in Central America before Europeans encountered it in the 1600s. It would eventually prove very popular in Europe over the following century. By the 1800s, Europeans were very familiar with chocolate.
Even though the chocolate of the time was popular, it was not without its problems. One issue was the fact that it contained a significant amount of cocoa butter and was highly acidic. The result was that a cup of hot chocolate had a pool of grease floating on the surface and had a harsh taste.
Two of the people who tackled these problems in the early 19th century were Casparus van Houten and his son Coenraad van Houten. The elder van Houten came up with a technique that used a hydraulic press to remove some of the cocoa butter, while his son used chemistry to give cocoa powder a mellower flavor and make it easier to use. It was the chemical method that resulted in what is termed Dutch-processed cocoa powder or Dutch-processed chocolate. Alternatively, it is sometimes called Dutched cocoa. The process itself is referred to as Dutching.
The process of making Dutch-processed cocoa powder involved treating the cocoa solids with an alkaline salt. Coenraad van Houten patented it in 1846. The salt used was either potassium or sodium carbonate. The alkalization raised the pH of the cocoa and improved its flavor and color. The flavor was less bitter and its color deepened.
Dutch-processed cocoa was more easily dissolved in water which made it easier to use for cooking and baking. The process enabled the creation of the chocolate bar, which was made in 1849 when Joseph Storrs Fry combined Dutch-processed cocoa with cocoa butter and sugar.
The Van Houten company would aggressively market the cocoa for its health benefits despite questions about whether alkalization affected its nutritional value. The goal was to compete with the traditional favorites at the time, which were coffee and tea. By 1889, Van Houten was one of the major cocoa brands.
Dutch-processed cocoa powder flavor profile
The alkalization process provides a strong but mellow chocolate flavor while lessening the bitterness. In addition to being sweeter, the flavor is also nuttier but may also remind you of baking soda.
Health benefits of dutch-processed cocoa powder
Dutch cocoa powder comes with a significant nutritional profile. It has valuable compounds for health such as:
- Vitamins: The vitamins in Dutch-processed cocoa include various B vitamins like riboflavin and thiamin as well as vitamin K.
- Minerals: The minerals in Dutch-processed cocoa include magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
A diet that contains Dutch-processed cocoa Powder can help to treat or prevent health issues like:
- High blood pressure: Research suggests that the flavonols in cacao — some of which remain in Dutch-processed cocoa powder — can help to lower blood pressure.
- Inflammatory diseases: The antioxidant benefits from Dutch-processed cocoa powder can help to lessen inflammation, which means that it may provide relief from conditions like arthritis.
Natural cocoa is known for containing a significant amount of flavonols with powerful antioxidant properties. The alkalization process is believed to diminish the antioxidant value making Dutch-processed cocoa powder less beneficial than natural cocoa powder and raw cacao.
You can use Dutch-processed cocoa powder for baking and for making hot chocolate. When baking with Dutch-processed cocoa, you will want to use baking powder as your leavening agent since its pH is neutral. Alkaline baking soda combined with alkalized cocoa can result in an unpleasant taste and problems with rising.