Which Cocoa Powder is Best?

Question: Which Cocoa Powder is Best?

Answer: The question of which cocoa powder is best depends on what you like and your reason for choosing one cocoa powder over another.

Most of the cocoa powder sold today is either natural (non-alkalized) or Dutch process (alkalized). If you are seeking the best unsweetened cocoa powder to use in a recipe, the answer depends on the food you are making. If the recipe does NOT use baking powder or baking soda, then the best cocoa powder to use for that recipe depends solely on your preference. Dutch process cocoa powder, which is treated with an alkaline solution that removes some of the naturally-occurring acidity and bitterness in cocoa beans, has a darker chocolate color than natural cocoa powder, as well as a more mellow flavor. However, some people claim that the Dutching process is used to cover up the fact that large-scale cocoa powder producers use inferior-quality beans to produce their cocoa, so these people use natural cocoa powder.

If the recipe that you are using contains baking soda as a leavener, without another acidic ingredient, the best cocoa powder to use is natural (non-alkalized). Natural cocoa powder, acidic in nature, combines with the alkaline baking soda and will cause whatever you are baking to rise. Further, the acidity in natural cocoa powder will counteract the slight “soapy” taste that can come from alkaline baking soda. Note that if your recipe contains baking soda and another acidic ingredient (such as applesauce, pureed pumpkin, sour cream, brown sugar, molasses, buttermilk, or vinegar), the other acidic ingredient will balance out the alkalinity of the baking soda, so the best cocoa powder to use for such a recipe depends strictly on your preference.

If the recipe you are using contains baking powder as a leavening agent, or a combination of baking powder and baking soda with baking powder predominating, again, the best cocoa powder to use depends upon what you prefer. Baking powder is a more complex type of leavening, in which an alkaline substance is balanced out by two acidic substances. Because you do not need an acidic cocoa powder to chemically balance this type of leavening, you can use either natural or Dutch process cocoa powder.

Are you thinking about consuming cocoa powder for its antioxidants? If so, the best cocoa powder is natural (non-alkalized). Typically, the alkalization process in Dutch process cocoa powder generally reduces the content of phytochemicals, so there will be fewer flavanoids than are present in natural cocoa powder.