Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder - Handle the Heat

Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

December 3rd, 2020

The exact differences between Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder, how they work on a chemical level, which is better, and how to substitute!

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If you’re a chocoholic like me, you probably find yourself using cocoa powder often. You might have wondered before how natural unsweetened cocoa powder is different than Dutch process cocoa powder. And, if one can be substituted for the other. Since Dutch-process is harder to find, you’ve probably also wondered if you really need to use it.

different types of cocoa powder in measuring cups

Today I’m going to be showing you exactly what the differences between these cocoa powders are, including how they affect your baking and how you can substitute. If you want to improve your baking, be sure to watch the video explanation below!

While it’s important to learn about Natural vs. Dutch Cocoa, read my article here to learn the secret #1 MOST IMPORTANT thing about cocoa powder. The answer may surprise you and it’s something most people had no idea about!

Natural Cocoa vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

What is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is the product resulting from the process of fermenting, drying, roasting, and grinding cocoa beans into a powder.

  • The fermented and roasted beans are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor, which is a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
  • Some of that chocolate liquor is used to make chocolate candy and bar products.
  • The rest is pressed further to remove most of the cocoa powder (which is also used to make chocolate).
  • The cocoa solids that remain are ground into what becomes cocoa powder.

comparison of dutch process vs natural cocoa powder

What is Natural Cocoa Powder?

  • Medium brown in color and bitter in flavor
  • Is popular in American brownie and cake recipes (think Devil’s Food Cake)
  • Brands such as Nestle, Ghirardelli, and sometimes Hershey’s are natural cocoa powders

What Kind of Leavener Works with Natural Cocoa Powder?

Due to the fact that natural cocoa powder is highly acidic (pH between 5 and 6 typically), it’s often paired with baking soda as a leavener, since it’s a naturally alkaline ingredient. Basically, this just means that baking soda helps neutralize that acidity.

Is Unsweetened Cocoa Powder the Same as Natural Cocoa Powder?

Yes! Different names for the same thing.

What is Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder?

Dutch-Processed or Dutched cocoa powder has a few properties that set it apart from natural cocoa powder:

  • It’s made from cacao beans that have been washed with a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity from a pH of 5 to a pH of about 7
  • This means that Dutch process cocoa powder is only slightly acidic, because of that ‘Dutching’ process
  • This process also softens the flavor
  • Dutch process cocoa powder is more commonly found in Europe

How do I Tell if a Cocoa Powder is Dutch-Processed?

To figure out if a cocoa powder is Dutch-processed or natural, look out for the words “Dutched,” “cocoa processed with alkali,” “alkalized,’ or “European style” on the packaging, all of which mean it’s Dutch-processed.

What Kind of Leavener Works with Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder?

  • Oppositely from natural cocoa, Dutch-process cocoa is typically paired with baking powder as a leavener since the acidity has already been neutralized.
  • Dutch-process cocoa powder actually won’t react to baking soda, meaning if you pair the two together without any other acid in a recipe (like brown sugar, lemon, or yogurt), you won’t get much leavening effect.
  • Learn more about leavening agents in my article about the differences between baking soda and baking powder HERE.

Where to Buy Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder?

You can often find it a more specialty of gourmet stores such as Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, Penzey’s, or simply purchase it online from Amazon or King Arthur Flour. I really like E. Guittard, Bensdorp, and Penzey’s.

What do the Differences in Color Signify?

comparison of Penzey's dutch processed vs natural cocoa powder

What’s perhaps most immediately noticeable about Dutch cocoa is its rich, deep, and sometimes reddish color, which is a byproduct of Dutching. Contrast that with the lighter tan color of natural cocoa. However, color isn’t always an indicator of quality or chocolate flavor (see Black Cocoa Powder below).

Is Hershey’s Cocoa Powder Dutch Processed?

Hershey’s “Special Dark” cocoa powder is indeed Dutched. Their regular “natural unsweetened” is not Dutched.

What is Black Cocoa Powder?

The ever-popular Oreo cookie is made with highly Dutched cocoa powder, sometimes called black cocoa. It imparts that characteristic dark color but very little chocolate flavor or fat, resulting in a more dry or crumbly product (more on fat below).

What is Cacao Powder?

  • In cacao powder, the beans are processed at temperatures low enough that the final powder is considered ‘raw.’
  • This means it has more nutrients, but is also much more bitter.
  • Cocoa powder goes through a process of roasting and higher heat exposure which means it is not raw and loses some of its nutritional value. That’s what helps to make regular cocoa powder less bitter.
  • I don’t bake with cacao powder. In part because of its bitter taste, but also because most recipes I use cocoa powder in are baked, which would strip the more expensive cacao powder of those raw nutrients.

Are Dutch-Processed and Natural Cocoa Powder Interchangeable?

  • The answer is: sometimes. They can be used interchangeably if there is no baking soda or baking powder called for in the recipe.
  • Leavener-specific. If a specific leavening agent is called for, your best bet is to stick with the cocoa powder specified.
  • Altering the texture. When there is more than 3/4 cup of cocoa powder called for in the recipe and you do not use the cocoa powder specified, you really risk altering the intended texture.
  • Generally, you will have more success substituting natural cocoa powder for Dutch-processed cocoa, but less success the other way around.
  • Stick with the recipe whenever possible. Since baking is a science, it’s best to be precise and follow the recipe exactly, to eliminate the possibility of mistakes. Especially since good cocoa powder isn’t cheap!
  • Important note: you can’t substitute sweetened cocoa for unsweetened cocoa in recipes, and you can’t substitute with bars of chocolate.

brownie comparison of brownies baked with different types of cocoa powder

What if the Recipe Doesn’t Specify the Type of Cocoa Powder to Use?

If a recipe doesn’t specify or offers you the choice between the cocoa powders, note that one isn’t necessarily ‘better’ than the other – but there are differences in flavor and color:

  • Dutch-processed cocoa will create a darker product with a smoother, mellower, and more earthy flavor.
  • Using natural cocoa powder will create a lighter-colored product, with a slightly fruiter and more astringent flavor.
  • I personally find natural cocoa powder to be more reminiscent of childhood chocolate treats in America.

How to Store Cocoa Powder

Store in a cool dry place in an airtight container and use within 1 year of purchase. Don’t refrigerate or freeze, which promotes moisture and therefore spoilage.

Can I Add Cocoa Powder to Any Recipe to Make it Chocolate?

No. As mentioned above, cocoa powder contains starch, which makes it a drying ingredient. It will often alter the entire chemistry of a recipe if you try to take a vanilla cake, sugar cookie, or blondie recipe and add cocoa powder. The one exception is for American buttercream, which you can usually add cocoa powder to without issue.

different buttercreams made with different types of cocoa powders

Best Cocoa Powder Recipes:

Pin for later:

chart comparing dutch process and natural cocoa powders

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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  1. #
    Allyson S. — December 3, 2022 at 8:37 am

    I found this info to be enlightening and valuable. Thank you for taking the time to make this video and page.

  2. #
    Jerusha — November 27, 2021 at 12:53 am

    Hi Tessa, thank you for the great info.
    I wonder if Dutch processed cocoa will be suitable for my chocolate cake recipe that calls for both baking powder and baking soda and vinegar.
    I’m planning to try it out. I’ve been using Hershey’s all this while.

    • #
      Emily — December 1, 2021 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Jerusha! We only recommend using the cocoa powders interchangeably if there is no baking soda or baking powder called for in the recipe. If a specific leavening agent is called for, your best bet is to stick with the cocoa powder specified. If your chocolate cake does not specify, go for it! Let us know what you think!

  3. #
    John in Adelaide — October 4, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    Very informative and to the point. Thank you for answering a number of questions that were in my mind. I liked the summary table near the end. I might suggest adding a cacao column. My wife recently bought cacao powder (Dr Oetker’s brand) and we did not find it overpoweringly bitter. Maybe different people define things in slightly different ways? Looking for the difference between cacao and cocoa was what led me to your page.

    • #
      Emily — October 5, 2021 at 11:14 am

      Hi John! Thanks for the feedback! Tessa notes why cacao isn’t included when she talks about cacao powder in the article. Using cacao powder in baked recipes strips the cacao powder of those raw nutrients, which for us personally makes it not worth using in recipes, especially as it’s pretty expensive. It is definitely a personal preference though, and you’re welcome to give it a try!

  4. #
    Mehd — June 27, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Hi Tessa. i am a bit confused. Is Dutch Processed Cocoa the same as Unsweetened Cocoa?
    I want to make Red Velvet Cake. the recipe has no baking powder, but contains vinegar, buttermilk and baking soda. The recipe also calls for unsweetened cocoa. should i use Unsweetened Cocoa? Natural Plain Cocoa, or Dutch Processed?
    What will; happen if i use Dutch Processed?
    Plz help me out.

    • #
      Tessa — June 28, 2021 at 1:26 pm

      Unsweetened cocoa powder is the same as Natural cocoa powder. Please read the section underneath “What is Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder” where it discusses what kind of leavener works with Dutch processed cocoa powder 🙂

  5. #
    Nancy — April 11, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I am a frustrated cottage business baker. I have used Hershey’s special dark for many years and gotten the rich dark cocoa buttercream color and flavor that my customers love. For whatever reason Hershey’s decided to fix what wasn’t broken and came up with a new formula which now makes my buttercream much lighter in color and with a reddish hue. ugh! I read about the differences in the black cocoa (thinking I would just add some of that) and wondering if the flavor really is that much less that it would make a difference? Or could I just do a ratio of 1:1 black and regular? I don’t want to sacrifice flavor for appearance, but I would like to have the dark color to enhance the flavor. It’s kind of like the whole clear Pepsi thing. It doesn’t taste right if the color is wrong. LOL

    • #
      Tessa — April 12, 2021 at 9:41 am

      Oh, how frustrating for you! I hate when companies do that! You could try experimenting with black cocoa, BUT it really doesn’t have any chocolate flavor to it at all. You’ll get the coloring you want, but no flavor…

  6. #
    CJ — March 26, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    Have you tried Dutch processed cocoa?

  7. #
    Gilbert — March 11, 2021 at 7:32 am

    Love the chocolate post.
    Still a little confused about the diff between the Dutch process and the “natural” powder. I bought the 365 brand from Whole Foods thinking it was the healthiest product. But on the description of this product it states it’s “processed with alkali” …does this process eliminate some of the healthy nutrients that cocoa offers?
    Thank you! Gilbert

  8. #
    Judy Ashdown — December 5, 2020 at 9:09 am

    funny thing husband was in the room while i was watching so all he could do was listen he commented no humms no uuuughs no stuttering very thorough explanation. LOL thought i would let you know a non baking comment, as for me i will have both types available in house from now on.
    thanks Judy

    • #
      Tessa — December 7, 2020 at 10:54 am

      Hahaha! Love this.

  9. #
    kathy lord — September 15, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Do you have another cocoa choice to buy since the Rodell isn’t available? Thank you

  10. #
    Shreya Basu — August 23, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Do I need to increase/decrease the quantity of sugar depending on the cocoa powder I use?

  11. #
    Nancy Williams — August 3, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    I have learned so much from you. Thank you for explaining things so well. I look forward to making this cake. I am confident it will turn out great.

  12. #
    Joan LaCroix — January 7, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Coco unsweetened powder taste bitter and the tuffle taste terrible. Can you use sweetened coco to roll tuffles in.

  13. #
    Ashley — January 5, 2020 at 5:03 am

    I have a question about your description of taste between Dutch process vs natural. Would you say that a Dutch process has a dark chocolate flavor and a natural cocoa has a milk chocolate flavor?

  14. #
    Eileen — February 24, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    Since I’m a bit of a purist, I always use natural cocoa. I find that it tastes infinitely better than dutch processed cocoa. When the acids are neutralized during the dutching process, many of the natural chocolate flavors are neutralized as well. (Think decaf vs. regular coffee, a similar process). Besides, I’m not crazy about my food being chemically messed with in any way!

  15. #
    Marlene — January 18, 2019 at 9:24 am

    If recipe calls for dutch and I only have Nestle cocoa and there is no baking powder or soda in recipe how much baking soda would I add if recipe only calls for 2 tbsp of dutch cocoa?

  16. #
    Carolyn G. — June 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I also have a recipe that calls for Dutch Processed cocoa + baking soda. But there’s not brown sugar. I’m guessing that the buttermilk is the acid that causes leavening with the baking soda?

    • #
      Tessa — July 1, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Yep, sounds that way!

  17. #
    Magdalena — March 15, 2018 at 5:46 am

    I have the same question as Chris. It calls for Dutch Processed baking aoda. But it does have brown sugar. Will it still rise correctly and taste okay?

  18. #
    chris — March 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I have a recipe that is calling for dutch process cocoa and baking soda. Should I switch one ingredient out to correct the leavening issue.

  19. #
    jackie runyan — February 7, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I made chocolate cookies with dutched cocoa and drained, chopped sauerkraut (yes, sauerkraut) added, because I’m always looking for interesting additions to plain chocolate cookies. They’re good! I used 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. soda for a recipe that called for 1/3 cup cocoa. I assume that the soda helped neutralize the acid in the kraut; at any rate, the cookies rose just fine and are moist and tender.

  20. #
    Eduardo — November 22, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I am a chocolate aficionado and love your tips and recipes to use chocolate in several forms. About natural cocoa vs dutch processed cocoa, you suggested using some baking soda to reduce the acidity of the natural cacao. Can you give me an idea of how much baking soda I should add (i.e. 1 tsp per x grams of cocoa)?



  21. #
    Mike — December 6, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Hi Tessa;

    I love a challenge 🙂

    I made the the same recipe and tried to control as many variables as possible. The only change in ingredients was to the cocoa powder–one was natural unsweetened, the other used dutch processed. One version had “user error”–just a small bit of extra water, but that has happened to me with no-knead breads in the past so I’m familiar with how that impacts the finished product.

    My original intention was to find out if added alkali had any impact to the yeast and I would say that it likely does not–the breads both came out the same, with the small variation that I believe the extra water had on the one version. They both rose pretty well, and they both turned out to be fairly “chalky” doughs. Very similar in size and consistency. So then I was just left with the taste and for me personally, the natural cocoa powder won hands down. The dutch processed version had an almost mocha flavor to it (there was no coffee added in the recipe) and while some might like that it wasn’t what I was looking for.

    It was a fun experiment for sure!

  22. #
    Mike — November 30, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Hi Tessa, great article, thanks so much for the explanation.

    I’m curious about using cocoa powder in a yeasted bread recipe. I’ve been searching for a no-knead chocolate bread (I used to buy it in NYC) and frankly I’ve seen recipes with both natural and dutch-processed. I’m wondering how the yeast will interact with the different powders, and if active dry vs. instant yeast makes a difference?

    Thanks so much for any insight you can lend!


    • #
      Tessa — December 1, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Hi Mike, I really don’t know! I can’t remember a time when I baked a yeast bread with cocoa powder. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try 🙂

  23. #
    Nancy — October 16, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    It is missing. There is nothing to watch or read

  24. #
    Zeneth — February 27, 2016 at 4:50 am

    Thank you so much for the information …

  25. #
    Carol — January 27, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Outstanding information. More food science appreciated.

  26. #
    Joanne — January 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I buy and use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa all the time. Thank you for explaining the difference in the cocoa powders.

  27. #
    Tara Ross — January 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Thank you. I had no idea about the difference between the two. This explains some baking issues.

  28. #
    Christen — January 20, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Wow! thanks for the explanation! Always wondered the difference, and yes, Dutch pressed is hard to find!

  29. #
    Lisa Steckhouse — January 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I buy Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa, which is a blend of natural and dutched cocoas. What are your thoughts on baking with it and adding it to food like yogurt?

  30. #
    Jennifer Holder — January 20, 2016 at 10:42 am

    It says that the video has been removed by the user?

    • #
      Tessa — January 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Sorry about that! YouTube cut off the end of the video somehow so I had to re-upload it. Should be up now!

  31. #
    Fun size wife — January 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Great article! I didn’t consider there was that much difference between the two types of cocoa, but this changed my mind. Thank you for the enlightenment!

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