July 08, 2018

Common does not necessarily mean unexceptional.

Coming in different tastes and shades of brown, cocoa powder has been one of the most widely used ingredients in the world of baking. It appears like a default ingredient you should think twice before deciding not to include it.

The Cocoa Powder

Wondering how this magical ingredient is made? If buttermilk came from the residual liquid--like the one which we previously discussed before--cocoa is not going anywhere further because it is made out of cocoa butter. Roasted cakes of cocoa bean solids--the main contributor to the chocolatey taste--are processed into powder. This gives the cocoa's very concentrated chocolate taste.

Two Types of Cocoa Powder: Natural and Dutch-processed

In baking, we use the unsweetened cocoa powder which comes in two forms: natural and Dutch-processed. The main difference is their PH levels. Understanding which among the two to choose is important as it could hugely affect the result of your baked goods.

Natural Cocoa Powder

After the extraction of cocoa butter from roasted beans, the natural cocoa powder is produced. The beans are naturally acidic which makes the powder to be likewise acidic, with a PH of 5.
Have you tried a dark chocolate flavored treat? Natural cocoa powder’s taste is quite stronger than that. So if you are a fan of strong- and bittersweet-tasting foods, then you should include cocoa powder to your list of baking ingredients. Natural cocoa did not undergo alkalinization process which makes its color brighter and its taste fruitier than dutch cocoa powder.

You might spend too much time in the supermarket wandering around and searching for “natural cocoa powder" because not all are labeled as such. To know if it’s natural or not, check the label right. If the ingredients just say "cocoa powder" then you are on the right track of your search.

Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder

Unlike natural cocoa, dutch-processed is alkalized. After the extraction of cocoa butter, it will then be treated with potassium carbonate--the substance that neutralizes acidity. Being in an acidic state, the dutch-processed cocoa powder has a PH of 7 or 8.
Due to the addition of alkaline, the beans become darker yet less bitter. Don’t be confused about the unmatched color and taste; the dutch-processed, though appears more chocolatey, its flavor is milder than the natural type. The darker the color is, the milder it tastes. Never underestimate dutch-processed. Though it tastes milder, many reviews claim that its flavor is more complex.

Like the natural cocoa powder, not all Dutch-processed are labeled as such. Look for “alkalized cocoa powder,” “cocoa powder processed with alkali," or “Dutched or Dutched-processed cocoa powder.” They are the right ones.

Choosing Between the Two

Usually, recipes specify the right cocoa powder to use. As what was mentioned earlier, choosing the right cocoa powder is important as results depend on it. However, some do not provide this necessary specification, so it requires self-learning to have a wise mind on knowing which to use right. 

In case you encounter this cocoa powder dilemma, you could use the following guide:

Tip: Keep in mind the leavening agent used; it is the ultimate decision-maker.

Baking Soda

Natural cocoa powder works best with baking soda. The latter is alkaline and the former is acidic--a perfect combination to neutralize and allow the baked good to rise. Remember the baking powder vs baking soda discussion? An alkaline, in this case, the baking soda should mix with an acid which is the cocoa powder in order to produce the desired result.

Baking Powder

Either cocoa powder type is recommended. Unlike baking soda, baking powder does not necessarily require an acidic ingredient. As for this, the main purpose of the cocoa powder when baking powder is around is to provide flavor and give the baked goods a rise. In this case, you are free to choose whichever of the two.

No Chemical Leavening Agents

If either of the two is not included, choosing which cocoa powder to use is not a question as you could choose whichever.
As what you have noticed, the natural cocoa powder could be used almost in any instances. However, please note that when you use natural in a recipe that is not using baking soda, it could make the goods more acidic.

In the selection of the two, you could also consider the taste. If you want a lighter one, try dutch-processed; if not, otherwise use the natural one. Dutch-processed is preferred usually if cocoa powder is only used as a supporting flavor. To test which to choose in terms of palatability, mix hot water and sugar to each type of cocoa. There you will know the difference.

Whatever cocoa powder type has laid in front of your eyes while you are scrambling onto the list of ingredients, you now know how these two differentiate and why this type of cocoa is used. At least now you have fully understood more the science of cocoa powders. In case you have any inquiries or suggestions, don’t hesitate to hit them up below.
Happy aking!

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