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© Denzil Green

Cocoa is a chocolate powder.

When a recipe calls for Cocoa, assume it means unsweetened, as opposed to a sweetened mix of Cocoa for drinking.

Cocoa Powder is made from chocolate liquor (which is sold solidified as Unsweetened Baking Chocolate.) Chocolate liquor on average is about 55% cocoa butter, and 45% cocoa solids. About 50 to 70% of the Cocoa butter (fat) is removed from the chocolate liquor, leaving mostly cocoa solids behind. These are then dried, and ground to a powder.

The Cocoa butter that is removed from chocolate to make cocoa is often used to make white chocolate.

Difference between Dutch Processed cocoa powder and regular cocoa powder.

You can get dark or regular light Cocoa Powder.

Light (aka regular, "un-Dutched") Cocoa powder is lighter in colour and has a sharper, less-rounded flavour than the dark. It has a pH of about 5.5.

The dark cocoa powder is "dutched", and more expensive. It is regular cocoa powder to which a small amount of alkaline (usually potassium carbonate) is added. This raises the pH of the cocoa powder from 5.5 to 7 or 8, depending on how much is added, making it less acidic (not that it's very acidic to start with -- a pH of 7 is considered neutral by science.) This also deepens the colour, and helps it mix more easily with liquid. To most people's taste buds, it also improves the flavour making it taste better.

Though regular cocoa powder is slightly more acidic, the acidity difference between it and Dutched is not enough to make any kind of difference in baking in terms of the chemical reaction. Despite what many cookbooks will tell you, the two are indeed interchangeable. Disregard any advice about which one to use with baking powder versus baking soda, etc., and the need to have both in the house.

Why cocoa is brown

Cocoa contains small amounts of naturally occurring vegetable pigments called "anthocyanins." It is anthocyanins that make blueberries blue, and raspberries red. Anthocyanins are red in the presence of an acid; blue or bluish-green in the presence of an alkaline (base.) When cocoa beans are first harvested from their pods, they are cream-coloured, turning purple quickly in the presence of air. This is caused by the anthocyanins in them. Cocoa beans are let sit to ferment for about six days, during which stage most of the anthocyanins in them turn to quinones, which in turn interact with proteins in the beans to produce a brown colour. Any remaining anthocyanins break down and turn brown as well when exposed to heat.


Carob powder can be substituted for the look of Cocoa Powder, but not the taste. You can fool your eye, but not your tongue.

When substituting Cocoa Powder for Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, what you have to compensate for is the fat (the cocoa butter) that was removed to make the Cocoa. The standard formula to replace 1 oz (30g) of Unsweetened Baking Chocolate with Cocoa is therefore 3 tablespoons of Cocoa Powder plus 1 tablespoon of a fat (which can be butter, oil, lard or shortening).

To use Unsweetened Baking Chocolate when a recipe calls for Cocoa, try to find somewhere in the recipe that you can remove 1 tablespoon of fat.


1 cup Cocoa = 6 1/2 oz = 180g

1 oz Cocoa = 3 tablespoons = 30g

Storage Hints

Store in a sealed container at room temperature out of the light for up to two years.

History Notes

In 1828, a Dutch man named Van Houten invented Cocoa powder, and the process of "dutching" the powder.

Before the invention of cocoa powder, any chocolate drinks would have been the equivalent of stirring melted unsweetened chocolate into a liquid, which would have resulted in an unevenly mixed chocolate drink that would have been unacceptable to today's cocoa lovers.

Literature & Lore

"The deluxe Dutch process coca, made for many years by Walter Baker and Company for the ice cream trade and the better soda fountains of the country, has gone into retail distribution, appearing for the first time in food specialty shops of the city. R. H. Macy, Broadway and 34th, for one, has the product, priced at 22 cents for a half-pound. This domestic-made cocoa offers all the fine points of the Holland imported of pre-war years, but is lower in price." -- Paddleford, Clementine (1898 - 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. June 1944.

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Also called:

Alkalized Cocoa Powder; Cocoa Powder; Dutch Process Cocoa; Poudre de cacao (French); Kakaopulver (German); Polvere di cacao (Italian); Cacao en polvo, Polvo de cacao (Spanish); Cacau (Portuguese)


Oulton, Randal. "Cocoa." CooksInfo.com. Published 03 October 2003; revised 22 December 2012. Web. Accessed 04/20/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/cocoa>.

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