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May 6, 2010 04:35 AM

Which type of cocoa do I have--dutch process or natural??

So, I bought a bit of what was labeled "dutch process" cocoa in bulk at my bulk food/spice shop. The color was a bit on the light side and seemed to resemble natural cocoa.

I wanted to test it out, so I did some research and I saw you can generally tell in recipes which it calls for (if it doesn't specify) by looking to see if it calls for baking soda (natural cocoa) or powder/cream of tartar (dutched)--alkalinity factor.

To test, I made Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies, unsure of which type it calls for (she later says it doesn't necessarily matter, though it might affect the texture of the dough), but I assumed that it meant natural cocoa as the recipe calls for baking soda (which I eliminated/subbed cream of tartar). Verdict: cookies were hard and not very tasty (my guess: soda wasn't there to tenderize the cookie).

So, can you tell me how I know whether I have (more) natural cocoa or dutched? Could this cookie need extra soda to tenderize regardless of the type of cocoa?

Is there a way to tell (simply) the alkalinity of cocoa? (I'm not a food chemist!)


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  1. Well, by your admittance, your cocoa was light colored, while dutched is not. How do you feel about the store and it's labeling abilities you bought it from, trustworthy or not? It's possible a stockperson unknowingly mixed up the cocoas, or something else occured.

    If you're reasonably sure the recipe didn't work out for another reason, all you can do at this point is to make the cookies again using baking soda as a leavening. BTW, the baking soda is there to create a leavening action and a rise, not to tenderize.
    Fat tenderizes.

    There's no way, aside from having a lab test performed, to tell the two apart, except for variation in color; also dutched cocoa has a milder flavor that natural. Natural is more complex, flavor-wise. Dutched cocoa also blends a little bit easier in liquids than natural.

    BUT, read this current link first on that particular cookie, it may solve your problem:

    12 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Thanks so much for the reply! Yes, I think it's natural cocoa. I have mixed feelings about the store. I wasn't going to believe the label, but the woman behind the counter seemed to know so much about the other stuff they had, that I thought maybe it was dutched. Oh well!

      As for baking soda's role, it does both: leavening and tenderizing. See this link:

      I suppose I'll just try an experiment treating it as "natural" cocoa to test it out.

      Also, made World Peace Cookies zillions of times w/ natural and Hershey's Special Dark (blend of the two) AND baking soda with delicious results... :



      1. re: jayaymeye

        Okay, so what I have *might* actually be dutch process after all. While I agree with Todao that color shouldn't be the only judge, I compared it with the "natural" cocoa powder that I have and it's definitely redder and a bit darker.

        Anyway, I found many conflicting recommendations on line about how to compensate for using dutched process in a recipe calling for natural. The one that seemed to make the most (chemical) sense to me was the following: add 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar per 3 tbsps of dutched cocoa. I tried it and it seemed to work! Now, my recipe already called for both baking soda AND powder, so the leavening part might have been taken care of, but the cake I made seems to be as light and fluffy as usual. Whew!

        My verdict re. World Peace Cookies: use either type of cocoa, but don't eliminate the baking soda. :)

        Thanks all!

      2. re: bushwickgirl

        You could probably test the cocoa at home by adding a base (like baking soda) to it and water, or even vinegar. If it reacts w/ bubbles, it's probably regular cocoa. I've never tried it but that would be the science behind it, like vinegar and baking soda. Being a milder base, it won't be as drastic.

        1. re: chowser

          OK, I just tried vinegar/water and natural cocoa and got nothing, as I suspected. Cocoa is acidic, so adding an acid will not cause a reaction. The test to see if baking soda is fresh is drop a 1/4 tsp baking soda in 2 tsp vinegar and stand back. Then I tried baking soda, water and cocoa, nothing. Oh well.

          I did note that it's more difficult to blend natural cocoa into liquid than dutched. I add just a bit of liquid to the cocoa at first, make a paste, then add the remaining liquid.

          Anyway, the "test" I use, and who's to say how accurate it is but me, is to taste the cocoa and observe the color; with a little cocoa experience you can be reasonably sure of what you've got.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Sorry, I edited it and didn't remove the vinegar. You need to add a base, not an acid so you wouldn't get a reaction adding another acid to it. I'll have to try it w/ cocoa and baking soda and water. Maybe the cocoa is too mild of an acid to see a reaction that is visible to the eye. It was the scientific geek in me that made me think of seeing the reaction.

            1. re: chowser

              Yes, I understood that you probably didn't mean to write that. I was just reading about the acidity of cocoa beans, apparently it depends of their country of origin; most cocoa is thought to be about 5.0 and possibly that's why a reaction to a base may not be visible to the eye:

              " Cocoa beans from Brazil and Far Eastern countries were highly acidic while those from Central American and South American countries were low in acidity. Samples from West African countries were intermediate with titratable acidity values from 0.12 to 0.15 meq NaOH/g sample and pH values from 5.20 to 5.49."

              Ok, here's a link for the geek baker in you, recently written by Shirley Corriher, covering the natural and dutched process cocoa subject in some detail:


              Actually, the whole chocolate seminar site is pretty interesting reading.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                I love Shirley Corriher--thanks. Acidic or not, I don't like the results using dutch cocoa as much as regular.

                Interesting part in the article is about proteins needing acidity to set and cake won't set w/out it. I make cookies that don't have acidity and they set fine. I've made angel food cake w/out cream of tartar. When egg proteins are heated, they set, don't they? I need to look into this more.

                "Proteins (especially egg proteins) that set (cook) to hold baked goods together need a certain acidity to coagulate (cook). If the batter is not acidic enough, the cake or baked good will never set. You have pudding instead of cake. Because of its alkalinity, Dutch process cocoa can prevent the setting of baked goods."

                1. re: chowser

                  I only use dutched cocoa for hot chocolate. I don't like it for baking, but I recently bought Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker and he uses dutched cocoa throughout; all his recipes are adjusted for it's use. So I guess I'll have to get some.

                  Well, maybe you used something else in your angel food cake batter that was acidic? Lemon, maybe, I don't know. Yes, when egg proteins are heated they set, maybe just not as well. Let's look into this. I've made never made an angel food cake w/o cream of tartar, for fear of it not working. When you whip egg whites, you can certainly get a nice meringue without the tartaric acid. I just wonder if it's more stable with than without.

                  Some days I think I should go back to school and take those chemistry courses I blew off for poetry, art and drama classes and the anthropology stuff. If I had the energy and the $$ now, I'd return to study food chemistry.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Even my most basic cookie: flour, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, has no acid. That's why it's not making sense to me, especially when she talks about the biscotti not setting with dutch cocoa. Angel food cake isn't as tall w/out the cream of tartar but it works, and it certainly sets. I took a lot of chemistry in college but wish I had known about food science. But, that was all decades ago anyway.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Acidity will help the proteins coagulate -- think poaching eggs: it's much easier to get a nice cohesive shape when you add some vinegar to the poaching water.

                      But it sure doesn't make or break the ability of the proteins to coagulate.

                      I just skimmed the article and I think that maybe what she means is that if you sub in Dutch for natural cocoa in a recipe which uses *baking soda* as its only leavener, and the cocoa is the only acid, then the product won't rise. Does that make sense?

                      1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                        That makes sense but she said the biscotti puddled which doesn't. I make cookies that don't have leaveners or acid and they don't puddle.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Yes, the use of the term "puddle) is just a bit confusing; I've seen cookies not set up but never puddle. That's a bit extreme, especially for biscotti.

      3. I have a question about cocoa! I live in the UK, where dutch-processed cocoa seems to be the norm, certainly for the good quality stuff. If I have a recipe that calls for non-Dutch processed cocoa and baking soda, should I omit the baking soda if I'm using the Dutch-processed stuff?

        I actually made this cake the other day, and due to confusion over American English terminology, used dutch processed cocoa and baking powder. It seemed to work, but I was wondering if I should have done something differently.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greedygirl

          "Dutched" chocolate is actually a term for a process that alkalizes the cocoa beans using potassium carbonate. It essentially reduces the acidity of the chocolate and puts it into a neutral pH of somewhere around "7". But don't let the color of the cocoa be your only indicator. "Dutched" chocolate can range from a modest light brown to much darker. The flavor of the dutched chocolate will weaken as it gets darker. I don't like it because it sometimes has an off flavor, something like drinking a glass of water with baking soda, and it makes controlling leavening somewhat tricky when the acidic leavening agent depends on the acid in the chocolate which, obviously, is not there without natural chocolate.

        2. I've just checked, and my cocoa powder has sodium carbonate in it. Does that mean it's the dutch process type? Cocoa powder is just cocoa powder here, never any mention of dutch process.

          5 Replies
          1. re: greedygirl

            Yes, either sodium or potassium carbonate are used to alkalize cocoa.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              So given that all cocoa powder in the UK is probably dutch process, what does that mean for my recipe and future US recipes?

              1. re: greedygirl

                It's more neutral than regular cocoa, which is acidic. If the recipe calls for baking soda, then you might not get the rise, unless you added a base, too. This is helpful:


                1. re: greedygirl

                  I would not just leave out the baking soda in your cake recipe, as it is the only leavening - that would certainly lead to a failed cake! But in fact, due to the baking soda/bicarb confusion, you used Dutch-process cocoa and baking powder, which probably worked out fine (it sounds that way, from your report on the cake). The only thing I'd be concerned about in that case is that I don't think there is necessarily a direct equation in amount of leavening from baking soda to baking powder per proportion of other ingredients.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    I seem to have accidentally done the right thing for once! Yay!