What’s the Difference Between Dutch-Process and Natural Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder, the ground cacao powder that comes after you remove some of the cacao butter from the processed cacao bean, comes in two forms: natural and Dutch-process.

Dutch-Process vs Natural Cocoa Powder

  • Natural cocoa powder is lighter in color, has a higher acidity of about 5 pH, and because of that acidity, has a sharper chocolate flavor.
  • Dutch-process powder is natural cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkalizing agent, changing the pH from a more acidic 5 pH to a neutral 7 pH. The process was invented by Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutchman (thus the name “Dutch-process”).

Dutch-process cocoa powder is milder on the palate, though it can, paradoxically, have more chocolate flavor because more cacao butter is left in the powder. (Fat is a carrier of flavor, remember!)

Dutch-process cocoa is often darker in color than natural cocoa, ranging from a dark gray, to reddish brown to almost black, depending on the brand and process. The color has nothing to do with the quality or flavor of the cocoa powder.

Black cocoa, an extra Dutch-processed cocoa, has most of the chocolate flavor stripped out of it, and it’s what is used in Oreo cookies.

Dutch-process cocoa also dissolves easier in liquid than natural cocoa, making it ideal for hot cocoa mixes.

Can You Substitute or Swap Natural Cocoa for Dutch-Processed Cocoa?

Whether or not you can substitute cocoa powders depends on the recipe. Here are the general rules:

WHEN IT’S OKAY: Is the cocoa being used for coloring or added to a non-baked dish just for flavor? Then yes, you can swap one type of cocoa powder for the other without issue.

For example, I like to add a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder into the cinnamon layer of our coffee cake, to give it more color contrast. Same goes for recipes like hot cocoa, pudding, or mole sauce. In those cases, I’d swap the two cocoa powders without an issue. Keep in mind, however, that the flavor might shift depending on the recipe, as natural and Dutch-process do taste different.

WHEN IT’S NOT OKAY: Is the cocoa being used in baking recipes like brownies, cakes, or anything that “rises” when you bake it in the oven? Then no, you should not swap one cocoa for the other, at least not without modifying the leavening agents, i.e. the baking powder and baking soda measurements (more on that below).

The Relationship Between Cocoa Powder and Leaveners

If you swap cocoa powders without changing the leavening, the results will be unpredictable due to chemical reactions between the cocoa powder and the leavener.

Your baked goods may be fine, depending on how the recipe is built. But there’s a high chance your cookies and brownies could be denser, and cakes may be flatter without the fluffy crumb.

If you use Dutch-process cocoa in place of natural cocoa without adjusting the leavening, it could result in baked goods that have a slight salty, metallic, or soapy taste.

If you use natural cocoa in place of Dutch-process without changing the leavening, it could lead to a sharper, less-balanced, and more acidic-flavored baked good.

How to Substitute Natural Cocoa for Dutch-Processed Cocoa

All that said, if you find yourself with only one kind of cocoa powder on hand and don’t feel like going to the store to get the other kind, here’s how to substitute:

  • If the recipe calls for natural cocoa, and all you have is Dutch-process, use the same amount of Dutch-process cocoa, but remove the baking soda and double the amount of baking powder. For example, if the recipe calls for 1/4 cup natural cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon baking powder, use 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa, no baking soda, and 2 teaspoons baking powder.
  • If the recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa and all you have is natural cocoa, use the same amount of natural cocoa but remove the baking powder, and add half the amount of the baking soda. For example, if the recipe calls for 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda, use 1/4 cup natural cocoa, no baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

Keep in mind, as with all substitutions, that the outcome can vary drastically depending on the recipe. But the above is a good starting point for substituting one cocoa powder for the other!