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Mixer education, recipes and news

Cocoa powder types and when to use them

Colombian farmer holding out a cacao pod
Consider this an ode to my favorite cocoa powder, Saco brand, a combination of natural and Dutch process (or "dutched") cocoa. I'm sad to say I can no longer find it at any local grocer, so must now order it in bulk online. But to me, it's totally worth it. There's a huge difference in flavor between it and it's more common cousin, natural cocoa (like Hershey's). While natural cocoa has a more bitter, thinner chocolate flavor, dutched cocoa is bolder, darker and earthier.

I went online to discover why this is, and found some great articles, which I have links to in this post. I've summarized the facts below, but these articles have much more science and one shows baked goods comparisons.

We have no relationship with Saco, by the way. We're just fans!
cocoa powder in a bowl, topped with cocoa nibs


Most cocoa powders begin life in the same way. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. The beans are cracked into nibs, which are then ground into a paste made of cocoa solids suspended in near-flavorless cocoa butter. They extract the butter, are left with crumbly solids, which are ground into a fine powder. Seems like one too many steps, but I'm no expert! The end result is pure chocolate flavor, without any added fat, sugar or milk. This process creates "natural" cocoa powder, the ones you normally find in your supermarket, like Hershey's, Nestle, Ghirardelli and others. 
Natural cocoa is acidic, and has a slightly bitter, almost citrus, flavor. Recipes that use it typically call for baking soda as a raising agent. Natural cocoa also achieves a higher rise than dutched cocoa, as the chemical reaction creates a lot of carbon dioxide bubbles.


Natural cocoa powder is washed with a solution that neutralizes its acidity to 7, which is the same as water. This process gives the cocoa a darker color and makes the flavor more mellow and earthy. Black cocoa is heavily dutched, and more alkaline. It's flavor is the one you might associate with Oreos.
Dutch process cocoa isn't acidic, so it doesn't react to alkaline leaveners like baking soda to create carbon dioxide (so no lift). You'll need to use baking powder in recipes using 100 percent dutched cocoa.


Black cocoa is super-dutched cocoa. The extra processing makes it quite expensive. This ingredient is best used for cakes where you want a very dark color and an extra-deep chocolate flavor. 


We prefer the flavor of dutched cocoa, but appreciate the ability of natural cocoa to provide lift and a lovely open structure. So we like cocoas that include a combination of natural and dutched cocoas. We've used Saco brand for many years and have never had any issues using it in a variety of recipes. There are other brands of combination cocoas on the market, and I'm sure they also work well and are extremely versatile, too. 
photo by Dephine Houlay