Learn the differences between Dutch Processed vs. Natural Cocoa and when to use each one.  Also, learn when and how to substitute each one!

Have you ever made a recipe that called for Dutch cocoa and wondered if you could substitute natural cocoa?  Have you wondered if the two were the same?  I’m here to explain the differences, how each one works, and when you can substitute one for the other.  Refer to this post anytime you’re wondering what type of cocoa to use in a recipe!

What exactly is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is the result of drying, fermenting, roasting, and grinding cocoa beans into powder.  The fermented and roasted beans are ground into a paste.  This paste is a mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, which is called chocolate liquor.  Some of the chocolate liquor is used for making chocolate candy, and the remainder is further pressed to remove more of the cocoa powder, which again is used for candy making.  The last remaining cocoa solids are ground into what becomes cocoa powder.

What is Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder?

Dutch-processed cocoa powder goes through a dutching process, leaving it only slightly acidic.  It’s made from cacao beans that have been washed with a potassium solution.  This solution neutralizes the acidity of the beans from a pH of 5 to a pH of around 7.  This process also leaves the cocoa powder darker in color with a more mellow flavor.

How can I tell if cocoa is Dutch-processed

Dutch-processed cocoa will always have the word Dutched on the packaging.  Some brands might have the word European as well.  Dutch-processed cocoa is very commonly found in Europe.  It used to be hard to find dutch-processed cocoa in the U.S.  However, today it’s pretty commonly found in most grocery stores.  I find it in my local Kroger.

What type of leavener do I use with Dutch-processed cocoa?

Since the acidity in Dutch-processed cocoa has already been neutralized, leaving it just slightly acidic, it needs to be paired with a leavener that is acidic.  Therefore, it’s typically paired with baking powder which is acidic.  If you paired it with baking soda, which is an alkaline base, you wouldn’t have enough acid to create leavening in your recipe.  In other words, your cookies or cake would not rise.

What is natural cocoa powder?

Natural cocoa powder is just that…natural cocoa powder from roasted coffee beans. It’s bitter and very acidic.

How can I tell if cocoa powder is natural?

Natural cocoa will always have the word natural on the packaging.  Look for the word unsweetened as well.  Natural and unsweetened are the same thing.

What type of leavener do I use with natural cocoa?

Natural cocoa is acidic.  It needs an alkaline base to pair with it.  Baking soda is the perfect pairing since it’s very alkaline and helps to neutralize the acidity in the cocoa.

What brand of cocoa should I buy?

Whether you are using natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder in a recipe, there are various brands of each, but did you know that not all brands are equal?  The FDA stipulates that all cocoa powder must contain at least 10% cocoa butter.  Cocoa butter is expensive, so most grocery stores carry brands that contain only 10%, the minimum requirement.  Cocoa powders with 10% cocoa butter tend to be chalky and starchy, and starch zaps moisture from your recipe, resulting in a dry cake or brownies.  Also, less cocoa butter (fat) in the cocoa powder equals less chocolate flavor.   

The best brand of cocoa powder to use is one that contains at least 22% cocoa butter.  Look at the nutrition label on the package to see what the cocoa butter (fat) content is.  Here are common grocery store cocoa powders and their percentage of butter cocoa (fat).


GHIRARDELLI (20% fat) – My favorite grocery store brand.  Ghirardelli is a little more expensive than Hershey’s and Nestle’s but well worth the cost.  The more fat content, the more moisture in your baked goods.

HERSHEY’S (10% fat) – This is the most common natural cocoa used by home bakers.  It’s used in many recipes.  However, when I bake recipes that call for natural cocoa, I reach for the higher fat cocoa, such as Ghirardelli.  Hershey’s cocoa can leave your baked goods dry or crumbly.

Is Hershey’s dark cocoa Dutched?

Yes! It is 100% Cacao cocoa and it’s dutch-processed. There’s a bright red label on the front of the can that states this.

What does the color of each type of cocoa signify?

Dutch cocoa has a dark, rich color, the result of Dutching.  Recipes baked with dutch cocoa result in a dark color, basically the original color of the cocoa.  Although it’s darker in color, it’s smoother and more mellow in taste.

Natural cocoa has a lighter medium brown color.  It’s more chocolaty than Dutch cocoa and has a sharper flavor.  Recipes baked with natural cocoa result in a lighter, almost reddish-brown color, basically the original color of the cocoa.

Why don’t older recipes specify what type of cocoa to use?

Older recipes in cookbooks or ones your grandma made list baking soda as the leavener, but don’t specify a certain type of cocoa.  That’s because natural cocoa was the only cocoa available back in the day and baking soda is the proper leavener to pair with natural cocoa.  Baking soda reacts with the acidity in the cocoa powder, thus resulting in the right flavor and texture.  If you must substitute Dutch process for natural, you need to omit the baking soda and use baking powder.  If the recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, you would substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

In what recipes can I use either type of cocoa?

Either type of cocoa can be used in recipes that don’t require leaveners such as baking powder or baking soda.  An example of a recipe where it does not matter which type of cocoa you use is this recipe for Perfect Fudgy Cocoa Brownies.   These brownies don’t require leavening because they are not supposed to rise.  They are fudgy brownies with little flour, and they do not rise as they bake, keeping them dense and fudgy.

Alton Brown, my favorite expert in the science of baking, does an excellent job of explaining the history of cocoa beans and the differences in cocoa powders in this article.

I hope this post has helped you in identifying the differences between Dutch-processed vs. Natural Cocoa.