When I was making the Rocky Road Cookies the other day, it occurred to me that there are several types of cocoa powders out there. And, I bet that people wonder what all those differences are. So, here’s a little research into cocoa power: Natural vs. Dutch-process, and how to use each.
Chocolate and cocoa come from cocoa beans that grow in pods on trees in tropical areas.
Cocoa beans are harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked to produce cocoa nibs. The nibs are then ground to extract the cocoa butter, leaving the chocolate liquor. After this chocolate liquor is dried, it’s ground into unsweetened cocoa powder.
All cocoa powder starts out the same, but can vary from cinnamon brown to black depending on the type of cocoa bean and the fat content of the powder.
Natural cocoa is simply finely ground cocoa nibs.
Dutch-process cocoa (or European-style cocoa) has been treated with alkali to yield a deeper, neutral, less acidic flavor. Altering the amount of alkali changes the pH, darkening the color, and lightening the flavor of unsweetened cocoa. The lighter the cocoa’s color, the stronger the flavor, and the darker the color, the mellower the flavor. Black cocoa powder, used in Oreos, is ultra-Dutched and has the mildest flavor. It’s also often pricier due to the extra processing.
In baking, natural unsweetened cocoa powder can usually be substituted for Dutch-processed, but not vice-versa.
In recipes using baking soda, use natural cocoa due to its higher acidity levels.
In recipes using baking powder, use Dutch-process cocoa, because it isn’t acidic enough to activate the baking soda.
In recipes without baking soda or baking powder (like frosting or sauce), use either. Dutch-process will give you a darker color and more mellow (less acidic) flavor than natural.
Take a look at an interesting article from the October 2011 issue of Health magazine about 4 New Uses for Cocoa.