There are two types of cocoa powder: natural and dutch processed. Natural cocoa powder is made from the solids of a roasted, dried cocoa bean, which are very finely ground into a powder for packaging. The powder is slightly acidic and has a very sharp taste to it, though it usually contains fruity or smokey notes just like dark roasted coffee beans do. Natural cocoa powder will react with leavening agents like baking soda, which depend on the presence of an acidic ingredient to activate them.
Dutch process cocoa powder is natural cocoa powder that has been alkalized to remove its acidity and make it neutral. For many, this deepens the flavor of the cocoa powder because sugar (or other ingredients) don’t have to overcome the slightly acidic taste of the cocoa before enhancing its flavor. It also means that dutch processed cocoa powder will not react with baking soda in the same way that non-alkalized cocoa powder does; there should be no additional leavening effect when using dutch process cocoa in a recipe that uses baking soda.
When it comes to baking, the general rule is that if a recipe doesn’t specify, it calls for natural cocoa powder and it will specifically state it if it was designed with dutch processed cocoa powder in mind.
That being said, the reality is that natural and dutch processed cocoa powder are mostly interchangeable. There are very few recipes that would be thrown off by the presence or absence of the acidity of cocoa powder. In fact, many of the ingredients you regularly use in baking are slightly acidic (have a pH < 7) so even recipes that seem to rely on the acidity of cocoa powder to produce leavening are getting that acidity from milk, butter, egg yolks, honey (sugar is neutral, in case you were wondering), etc., and the recipe should turn out to be just fine if you use dutch process instead of natural cocoa powder, or vice versa.
bakingblondeJanuary 6, 2009
Great article, I love the baking information you provide, I check in daily just to see what recipes you have!
AvanikaJanuary 7, 2009
Thanks for this super-informative post. I’ve always wondered about the difference between the two, though I always use normal cocoa since Dutch processed doesn’t seem to be available here. 🙂
Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)January 7, 2009
So helpful — I’m always, always, always confused and have to look this up each time I bake.
bj3gvJanuary 7, 2009
Hi Nicole. I always visit your site and enjoy your write-ups. I’ve had difficulty finding Dutch cocoa. Can you please advise what stores carry them? I’ve checked out Vons, Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, Smart & Final, but can’t seem to locate it. Thanks much.
P.S. I love your sour cream pound cake. It’s the best! Thanks for all the recipes you share. You’re awesome.
MarjokeJanuary 8, 2009
Thank you so very much for this explanation. This winter I’ve got a few american magazines with recipes in which natural cocoa powder is recommended. Living in Holland, the only cocoa powder available is de Dutch processed. Thanks to you I know it’s mostly possible to interchange.
Lose Belly FatJanuary 9, 2009
I for one can’t tell the difference between the two.
MichieJanuary 21, 2009
I too have trouble finding dutch processed cocoa. In fact, I have looked at fancy grocery stores and regular grocery stores and have yet to find it. It has been a 3+ year quest. I keep forgetting to see if I can mail order it from somewhere.
VitÃ³riaAugust 6, 2009
Thanks a lot for the info! I live in Brazil and we don’t have dutch processed cocoa here… good to know they’re pretty much interchangeable!
NewcoJohnOctober 28, 2009
Marjoke, Since you have access to Dutch processed cocoa and can’t find natural, and we have the opposite here, we should do some trading. You send one of us some Dutch processed and one of us will send you some natural. 🙂
debDecember 16, 2009
I found Ghiradelli brand cocoa that states in the ingredients list that it is processed with alkali but it is not called dutch processed. Sounds like Dutch process to me.
LoopyFebruary 28, 2010
I have found Droste dutch processed cocoa at Whole Foods. It’s the only place I’ve been able to locate it!
KatieApril 24, 2012
Thanks do much for this helpful article!! I’m so glad there aren’t noticeable differences!
I was able to find Dutch processed cocoa powder at Wegmans near me – and it’s surprisingly comparable in price to Natural Ghirardelli cocoa powder.
ThiagoJanuary 13, 2013
Thanks for the help! 🙂
SuzanneFebruary 6, 2013
We sell the Dutch processed Cocoa powder from Amedei.
mertyceSeptember 25, 2013
Thank you, I never knew the difference.
NarcelNovember 16, 2013
Thank you, it help me a lot. 🙂