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Are Dutched and Natural Cocoa Interchangeable?

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2014

Can you use natural cocoa powder in a recipe that calls for Dutched, and vice versa?

In the world of cocoa powder, there are two main categories: Dutched and natural. The natural product is made mainly of unsweetened cocoa solids that have had much of their fat removed and are then dried and ground to a powder. Dutching refers to the step of adding an alkali to neutralize the powder’s acidity and to mellow its astringent notes (it also darkens the color).

While some recipes don’t specify whether you should use Dutched or natural cocoa, others do and then go on to strongly caution against swapping one for the other. We were curious how interchangeable natural and Dutched cocoa are, so we tested a half-dozen recipes, including our Hot Chocolate Mix and Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, side by side, using both types of cocoa in each recipe.

The biggest finding was that none of the recipes, even those with a high proportion of cocoa powder—and thus with the potential to be most strongly affected—failed. But that didn’t mean there weren’t differences in appearance, texture, and flavor. Not surprisingly, Dutch-processed cocoa always produced cakes, cookies, and hot cocoa with a darker color than the versions made with natural cocoa. In terms of texture, natural cocoa produced slightly drier baked goods as well as cookies with less spread than did Dutch-processed. Finally, we found that baked goods and hot chocolate made with Dutch-processed cocoa displayed more of the fruity, bitter notes of dark chocolate, while natural cocoa delivered a more straightforward chocolate flavor.

The takeaway? Both natural and Dutched cocoa will work in recipes; use whichever fits your preferences in terms of flavor, appearance, and texture.

NATURAL: Straightforward chocolate flavor with some acidity; produces a lighter color, drier crumb, and less spread.

DUTCH-PROCESSED: Fruity, bitter chocolate flavor; produces a darker color and moister, fudgier crumb.