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What is Dutch-process cocoa powder?

A reader recently asked me: what is Dutch-process cocoa and where can one find it?  To put it simply, it is cocoa powder that has been treated to make it alkaline, and it can be bought in most supermarkets or gourmet food stores, and, of course, online.

I have a penchant for using Dutch-process cocoa in my desserts because I love its flavor and color.  The beverage in this photo is the last word on hot chocolate.  Click here for that recipe.

Cocoa powder is the cocoa solid end product when cocoa butter is removed from the cacao beans; cocoa butter or cocoa fat is what's used to make bar chocolate.  In its unadulterated state, cocoa powder is light in color (photo above), naturally acidic, and is high in flavonols.  Natural cocoa powder is the most common type found in supermarkets and is not expensive whatsoever (think Hershey's).

Baking recipes for cakes and cookies which use 'unsweetened cocoa' or 'natural cocoa' generally call for baking soda instead of baking powder as part of the leavening agent.  The chemical reaction between the baking soda and the acidic natural cocoa produces carbon dioxide, which does three things to the baked good:  it leavens the batter, it neutralizes the acidity and darkens the color of the cocoa.

Dutch-process cocoa is slightly different.

Dutch-process cocoa powder has been treated with an alkalizing agent, usually potassium carbonate, which renders its pH to neutral.  This cocoa powder is much darker in color, pleasing to the palate and does not work in conjunction with baking soda in baked goods.  Because 'dutched' cocoa does not react with baking soda, recipes for cakes and cookies using Dutch-process cocoa commonly have baking powder as the leavening agent.  It is possible, of course, to have cookies made with Dutch-process cocoa without any leavening agents.  My Chocolate Cookies and Heirloom Chocolate Cookies are such examples.

It is used in many desserts by professionals and is becoming more common among home bakers as well.  Found in most gourmet food stores and even in regular supermarkets, brands that are reliable include Droste, Callebaut, Guittard, Rademaker and, of course, Valrhona.  I've used all of these brands and have been pleased with the results over the years, but if I'm going to be truly honest, I tend to stick with one.

If you have some cocoa in the cupboard and are not sure if it's Dutch-processed, mix some in a bowl with warm water, and sprinkle a pinch or two of baking soda into it.  If it bubbles, then it is natural cocoa, but if it does not react, then it is Dutch-process. Labeling on Dutch-process cocoa packaging will tell you if it has been alkalized.

Valrhona Cocoa powder will always give me consistent results in the kitchen and it is the cocoa powder of choice for me.  I keep it in stock at all times, because I love how it blends into desserts and I can't get enough of its flavor.   

Whether it is hot cocoa, cookies, cakes, frostings or puddings, I always reach for my Valrhona cocoa in the Pantry.  

I buy mine at Whole Foods since it is near my home, but online sources abound for this particular cocoa powder.  If you can, give it a try and see for yourself.

There is one thing that I strongly advise for any baker using cocoa powder to do when preparing their desserts.  

Sift!  Cocoa powder naturally clumps and must be sifted.  When working with a recipe, I measure out the cocoa straight from the jar and place it in a sieve set over a mixing bowl.  I give this a good shake until everything goes through.  Anything that clumps gets pushed through with a silicone spatula.  I then use a whisk to thoroughly blend in the cocoa with the other dry ingredients.  Done and done!  

If you've never used Dutch-process cocoa powder, I encourage you to try it.


  1. David - I really think you must be the fount of all knowledge....the things you seem to know are so interesting and endless.
    Oh....and the word "penchant" - have not heard this for a while.

  2. Ha! I do have a 'penchant' for certain things, Phil, so why not say it? :)

    Thanks for your continued support!


  3. David, so happy to see this post. so many folks do not know the differences in chocolate and are wowed with the black chocolate - I did a post on plain brownies using the black chocolate. Here you go again informing, good for you. I wanted to tell you that MacTaggart's has a wonderful black chocolate and they just introduced Vanilla Bean Fiori Di Sicilia - which is heavenly.

  4. Joy,

    Thanks for the reminder!!! I have been meaning to do a mention of MacTaggart's and your general store!! I hope you're in good health and are doing well my friend.


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