There are two types of unsweetened cocoa used in various chocolate recipes: natural cocoa and Dutch processed cocoa.
Natural Cocoa is made from ground roasted cocoa nibs from which most of the cocoa butter has been extracted. It is naturally acidic with a pH of about 5.4 and is beige in color. Dutch processed cocoa is further treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize its acidity and bring the pH to about 7 and has a rich, dark brown color.
Most American cocoas are natural and most European cocoas are Dutch processed.
Many “baking experts” and cookbooks report that it’s important to use the type of cocoa specified in a recipe in order for baked goods to rise properly, and that Dutch cocoa and natural cocoa cannot be used interchangeably.
But is it really necessary for the home cook to stock both kinds of unsweetened cocoa in his/her pantry?
Since I wasn’t sure of the answer and have gone back and forth in my own baking, I decided to do some research on the topic.
Back in 2005, the folks at a respected cooking magazine tested five Dutch cocoas and five Natural cocoas in side-by side comparisons of hot chocolate and chocolate shortbread. The top two scoring Dutch processed and natural cocoas were then compared in side-by-side comparisons of hot chocolate, shortbread, low-fat chocolate pudding, devil’s food cake, and chocolate pudding cake.
The tests concluded that there was no discernible difference in the leavening results and the two Dutch cocoas beat out the two natural cocoas in terms of both flavor and texture. Dutch process cocoa won every test hands down.
I don’t know about you, but that’s sufficient evidence for me to stock only Dutch process cocoa in my baking cupboard from now on.
High scoring Dutch processed cocoas include Callebaut, Droste, and Mercken’s. I’ve also had success using Hershey’s dutch processed brand, when that’s all I could find on my grocery store’s shelves.