The difference between non-alkalized cocoa powder and dutched cocoa powder

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Have you ever tried out a new chocolate cake recipe and thought YES! This tastes amazing! Then a few months later, it falls flat? What went wrong?
Well, it could be your cocoa powder!

Not many know that not every cocoa powder is made equal.

In a nutshell, there is natural cocoa powder (like hershey’s) and alkalized (dutched). But what does that even mean?

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Chocolate is naturally acidic, so natural cocoa powder typically has a pH between 5 and 6 which is pretty much in the middle of the scale. Natural cocoa powder has a sharp, citrus flavor.

Alkalized, or “European style,” or “Dutched” cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution that neutralizes cocoa’s acidity to a pH of 7. Although colors may vary, dutched cocoa powder is usually darker than natural and has a smoother and more mellow flavor.

There are also brands of heavily dutched cocoa powder that result in a much darker color (like the guittard cocoa noir we used in our Dark Chocolate Cake Recipe) or Cacao Barry Extra Brut which is what I use in my standard chocolate cake recipe that has been wowing my clients for over a decade!

What does this all mean?

Basically, you can’t always switch out your cocoa powders for any recipe. If you’re using dutched cocoa powder then baking soda won’t react with it, hence a flat, dense cake. And if you’re using baking powder with natural cocoa powder, you might have the same problem. If you’re tweaking your own recipe, just remember: Baking soda for natural cocoa powder, baking powder for dutched.

So which one should you use? Basically, look at your recipe. If it says baking soda as the leavener (and you’re in the US), most likely you’ll be using natural cocoa powder which is lighter and has a reddish hue (like hersheys) and if your recipe calls for baking powder, you’re most likely using a recipe that calls for Dutched cocoa powder which will result in a darker, fudgier cake. What if your recipe calls for both? Use the cocoa powder that the recipe recommends to be safe!

You can see here the difference in rise when you don’t use the correct leavener. I accidentally grabbed the baking soda instead of the baking powder when making my sturdy dark chocolate cake and was super confused at first as to why it was so short! I quickly figured out my mistake!

So for a nice fluffy, balanced and full-flavor chocolate cake, make sure you’re using the right cocoa powder and the right leavenings! And don’t forget to check out our delish recipes for fool-proof chocolate cake!

Chocolate Cake Recipe using Cake Flour
Guiness Chocolate Cake Recipe
Dark Chocolate Cake great for using in sculpted cakes


Liz Marek

Liz Marek

Liz is the owner of Artisan Cake Company in Portland, Oregon. Published author of Artisan Cake Company's Visual Guide to Cake Decorating, winner of multiple awards in cake decorating and cake design and regular contributor to American Cake Decorating magazine. Host of the Sugar Geek Show.

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