We recently had a caller wanting to make a Chocolate Banana Bread recipe calling for Dutch-process cocoa. She did not have any on hand and was wondering what the difference was between it and Natural Cocoa.
There are two basic types of cocoa – Natural and Dutch-process. Natural cocoa is solid unsweetened chocolate that has had most of its fat removed before being ground into powder. Dutch-process cocoa is Natural cocoa that has been treated with an alkalizing agent to lower its acidity allowing for more chocolate flavor. That difference in acidity though means you cannot always substitute one type of cocoa for another in recipes due to the type and amount of leavener also used in the recipe.
If your recipe calls for baking powder – or baking powder predominantly along with some baking soda- choose either type of cocoa. The baking powder has already balanced the acidity in the recipe so the cocoa is used more for flavoring than leavening.
If your recipe calls for predominantly baking soda and there are no other acidic ingredients (yogurt, vinegar, buttermilk, sour cream, etc), you will want to use the Natural cocoa. The Natural cocoa’s acidity will neutralize baking soda’s potentially strong flavor.
If you do not have both types of cocoa on hand you may substitute with some changes. If your recipe calls for a combination of natural cocoa and baking soda, and you want to use Dutch-process: substitute an equal amount of Dutch-process but replace the baking soda with twice the amount of baking powder, leaving the remaining ingredients the same. If your recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa plus baking powder and you want to use Natural cocoa: substitute equal amounts of cocoa but replace the baking powder with half the amount of baking soda and again leave the other ingredients the same.
Many people prefer to use a combination cocoa that will work in most all recipes. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa is a combination of both Natural and Dutch-process cocoas.
If you are making a recipe that calls for cocoa but no leavening, such as hot fudge sauce or hot chocolate, it is fine to use either cocoa as you are using it for flavor.