If you’ve taken a look at some of my recipes or recipes around the internet, you may notice that when they use cocoa powder, they mention using a specific kind of cocoa powder. But what are these different types of cocoa powders, and why do they matter? Today I’ll be sharing all the details on the different types of cocoa powders, and a little trick to get more flavor out of your cocoa. Basically, this post is your one stop shop for all about cocoa powder!
What is cocoa powder?
Cocoa powder is made from cacao beans. Cacao beans are processed to remove cocoa butter from them. What’s left is dried and ground up to produce cocoa powder!
The different types of cocoa powder
Natural Cocoa Powder
Natural cocoa powder is the most common cocoa powder you will see on the shelves at the supermarket. It is the cocoa powder that is present in most hot chocolate mixes as well. You may seen it written as “Natural Unsweetened”, “Unsweetened Cocoa”, or “100% pure cocoa.” It is pure cocoa powder that has not had any additional processing. Natural cocoa powder is bitter and acidic, with a pH around 5.  Natural cocoa powder is acidic, which is why we pair it with baking soda. This neutralizes the acidity, and activates the baking soda. Natural cocoa powder is light in color with a slight reddish tint to it.
Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
Dutch process cocoa powder is cocoa powder that has been washed in an alkaline solution, which raises it’s pH from a 5 to around 7, a more neutral pH. Because the pH is not acidic, dutch process cocoa powder does not react with baking soda, and is often paired with baking powder instead. It is also often much darker in color than natural cocoa, and has a more chocolate-y flavor. Not all manufacturers use the same amount and type of alkalizing agent, so you may notice slight color differences among different brands of dutch process cocoa powders.
Black Cocoa Powder
You might not see black cocoa powder at your local supermarket, but I bet you’ve seen it before. Black cocoa powder is used in Oreos! Black cocoa powder is, you may have guessed, black in color. It is essentially dutch process cocoa powder that has been taken one step further in the alkalization process. It has a pH of ~8, and has a very deep and rich chocolate flavor. Black cocoa powder is not acidic, so it will not react with baking soda. It can also dry out your baked goods. If you want to substitute it into your favorite chocolate recipe, only swap out a few tablespoons!
Natural vs. Dutch vs. Black cocoa in baking
I don’t know about you, but I am very much a visual person. So let’s do a little experiment! For this experiment, I’m just going to use my small batch chocolate cupcakes to test out the different cocoa powders and see how they react and look. My original recipe uses dutch process cocoa, so I will just sub out equal parts natural and black cocoa for the other tests.
As you can see, the natural cocoa yielded the lightest result whereas the black cocoa powder yielded the darkest result. As I mentioned before, the recipe I used did not contain any baking soda, so the acid in the natural cocoa powder was not neutralized. This led the final cupcake to be more “flaky” and less tight in structure, because the acid interfered with gluten development. The natural cocoa powder had more fruity undertones in the flavor, where the dutch process and black cocoa powder only had chocolate-y notes.
Because natural cocoa powder is acidic and dutch process and black cocoa are more alkaline, I would recommend sticking to the cocoa powder that is called for in the recipe rather than making substitutions. If you sub in dutch process in a recipe that uses natural cocoa and baking soda, your product might not rise as much as it should because their is no acid to interact with that baking soda. If you sub in natural cocoa in a recipe that uses dutch process and only baking powder, your product will be flakier and different structurally. This is because that acid is interfering with the gluten rather than reacting with the baking soda.
Get more flavor out of your cocoa powder
Did you know there’s a way to get even more chocolate flavor out of your cocoa powder? This little trick is my favorite way to add more flavor to my chocolate recipes! The trick is to “bloom” your cocoa. Blooming the cocoa means you mix it with a hot liquid and let it sit before adding it to your baked goods. Doing so releases the cocoa powder particles from a very thin membrane on them, exposing cocoa solids and bringing out more flavor.  Only bloom the cocoa right before making your recipes, or you will risk bringing out some more bitter, undesirable compounds.
My favorite liquid to use to bloom cocoa is espresso! Espresso and chocolate have complementary flavor notes. Simply put, they bring out the best in each other! If you are not a big coffee lover like me, don’t worry! You usually can not taste the espresso. However, if you are avoiding espresso for any reason, hot water works just as well.
How much liquid do you need to bloom cocoa powder?
All you need is enough liquid to form a thick “paste”. I usually use a little more liquid in mL than there is grams of cocoa. For example, in my small batch chocolate cupcakes, I use 24g of cocoa and 30 mL of espresso to form the perfect paste.
If you are looking to bloom cocoa in a recipe you have, multiply the amount of cocoa you have by 1.25 and use that amount in mL from some liquid in your recipe, no need to add extra liquid!
Looking to make something with cocoa? Look no further!
Thanks for reading this post! I hope that I was able to teach you all about cocoa powder! If there is any topics you are interested in regarding all things baking science related, please feel free to leave a comment about it below!