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Aug 3, 2012 10:11 AM

Cocoa powder - Dutched or Natural?

I was reading a recent thread about Red Velvet cake and noted that several posted specified natural or non-Dutch-process cocoa in their recipes. I'm not a Red Velvet lover so I have no idea if natural cocoa makes a difference in that particular recipe, but in general I use Dutched cocoa for everything. I find that it has a much rounder, more chocolaty flavor than natural cocoa. America's Test Kitchen did an in-depth article on cocoa not long ago and here's what they had to say (paraphrased/truncated):

"If tasters had described the Dutched samples as more mellow than the natural samples, all would be explained. But that wasn't the case. Tasters consistently perceived the Dutched cocoas as having a stronger chocolate flavor. How could neutralizing part of the cocoa flavor profile result in a more chocolatey taste? What flavor remained?

Like wine, chocolate has a complex flavor profile that consists of hundreds of elements. The most common notes are sour, bitter, astringent, fruity, figgy, raisiny, floral, nutty, smoky, and even "chocolatey," the essence of cacao beans. Dutching eliminates only the fundamentally acidic components--sour, bitter, astringent, fruity. The others remain. Tasters' comments on the natural cocoas reflected that supposition. Bitterness and sourness were common complaints, as was an unexpected fruitiness. Two tasters even picked up on astringency in a few samples. The Dutched cocoas, by contrast, seldom lost points for bitter, sour, fruity, or astringent notes.

More intriguing was a phenomenon called flavor masking. The removal of a cocoa's harshest notes lets us better appreciate the remaining flavors--the flavors that recede into the background when forced to compete with acidic notes

The only case remaining for choosing natural cocoa concerned leavening. Getting a baked good to rise properly depends on a delicate balance of acids and bases. Conventional wisdom thus dictates that Dutched cocoa and natural cocoa cannot be used interchangeably. Many cookbooks include cautionary notes about the dangers of substitution. With these caveats in mind, we chose two recipes (for devil's food cake and hot pudding cake) that call for a particular type of cocoa--one Dutched, one natural. We noticed no difference in leavening among the four samples in either of these applications. And, across the board, the two Dutched cocoas beat out the two natural cocoas in terms of both flavor and texture."

I agree with this wholeheartedly - I've never had an issue with leavening in any cocoa-based baked good I've made with Dutched cocoa, and I find the flavor to be rich and satisfying. I don't hate natural cocoa (Hershey's was my default brand until I found Callebaut), but I see no reason to keep both around.

So, which do you use, and why?

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  1. Actually, red velvet cake is a great example of a place where natural cocoa is probably preferable: it results in a less deep and lustrous brown color, and so conflicts less with the red dye.

    I don't make that cake, and I generally only keep dutched around.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      Good point about the color, although most RV cake recipes I've seen don't call for enough cocoa to really color the cake strongly in any case.

    2. Mexican chocolate for me! (err... natural if it must be)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chowrin

        Mix equal parts of Mexican chocolate with thick coconut milk, then make ice cream.

        It's vegan and it's fabulous.

      2. karl is right. i've tried both and you should definitely go with natural. everyone i know that tried the two different versions thought something was off when i used the dutch process cocoa. and the color will be off too.

        1. I don't bake much, but I have compared natural and Dutch for drinking cocoa, and much preferred natural. Then again, I like bright, fruity coffees, so some brightness and bitterness in chocolate are quite welcome, as far as I'm concerned.

          1. "So, which do you use, and why?"

            Whatever I can get my hands on.

            Where I am, there are only two brands available at the grocery story - Hersheys or the store brand. And seldom are they available at the same time.