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What Cacao Powder Should You Use? Cocoa Powder Types

what cacao powder should i use

Want the best cocoa, but confused by the options? In this guide, we explain what cacao powder and cocoa powder types are most suited to the cooking applications you’re planning to use it for.

Cacao and cocoa at their core are relatively simple things, that is, the dried and ground beans of the cacao plant. However, the many ways they’re processed from cacao plant to your local store, result in a great variety of cacao and cocoa powders.

If you’re feeling confuddled by the difference between cocoa powder and raw cacao powder, and natural cocoa powder vs dutch processed cocoa, and regular dutch-processed vs bensdorp dutched, and all the rest… then we’re here to help.

In this guide, award-winning chocolatier Simon Knott explains what cacao powder vs cocoa powder is, the difference between these myriad cocoa types at your disposal, and how to pick one best suited to your cooking application and tastes.

What Cacao Powder Should I Use?

Cacao & Cocoa Powder Types

Natural Cocoa Powder

Cooking Applications:

  • Chocolate-making
  • Baking (intense, rich flavour)

Recipes for ‘cocoa powder’ usually refer to natural cocoa powder, the most widely available product.

During manufacture, fermented cocoa beans are first roasted and dehusked. These are crushed into smaller pieces, cocoa nibs, and ground into a paste, which is pressed, removing about 75% of the cocoa butter. The leftover cake is dried and ground, producing natural cocoa powder.

Natural Cocoa Powder can be used as the base for making chocolate from scratch, and it is the most used ingredient in baking recipes where a more intense chocolate flavour is required.

Natural cocoa powder is light brown with a reddish tint, as it has not been treated with alkali, which tends to darken cocoa. Without the reduction in acidity, as with the alkali used in Dutch processing, the taste of cocoa powder is more acidic and bitter, an often used benefit counteracting the sweetness of recipes.

The fat content of natural cocoa powder depends on the cocoa bean’s fat content and the degree of the physical pressing. Cocoa butter percentages can range from 10-23%, affecting the richness and mouthfeel of cocoa products when eaten.

Natural cocoa powder retains more polyphenols after processing than Dutch cocoa powder. Studies suggest polyphenols may limit cardiovascular disease, inflammatory processes, and cancer incidence.

what cacao powder is better for leavening
What cacao powder is better for leavening? It depends whether the recipe uses baking soda or baking powder.

Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder

Cooking Applications:

  • Baking (mellow, earthy flavour)
  • Black dutch cocoa powder: Very dark cookies and cakes
  • Beverages

The Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten developed the Dutching process in the late 19th C. The cocoa beans are first fermented, then washed and ground before being treated with either a potassium or sodium carbonate solution, which is a mild alkaline, or a similar alkaline solution. The resulting reaction creates Dutched cocoa powder or Dutch process chocolate, which is darker and has a milder, earthier flavour.

Different grades of Dutch cocoa powder have gradually evolved in response to customer demand, where each distinct grade uses successively stronger alkali solutions. After the simplest grade, Dutch cocoa powder comes red cocoa powder with a burgundy/red colour and a fudgy, bittersweet chocolate flavour, which makes it ideal for many baked items. Lastly, the most alkalised Dutch cocoa powder is black, used as a food colour to create dark-baked items, such as Oreo cookies.

The Dutching process generates a mellow, toasted, and nutty flavour when used in recipes. Although Dutching is a harsh process nutritionally, depleting various benefits such as antioxidants, polyphenols, flavanols, and fatty acids.

dark cookies likely use dutch processed cocoa
Dark-colored cookies like the one pictured, most likely use black dutch processed cocoa.

Cacao Powder (Raw Cacao/Cocoa Powder)

Cooking Applications:

  • Baking (intense, bitter flavour)
  • Health-conscious treats

Cacao powder is manufactured by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. This processing is the least harsh of all cocoa products. Without the damaging heat of roasting, the nutritional value of the bean is largely retained, also promoting a more intense chocolate flavour. The less invasive nature of cacao powder processing has been one of its strongest selling points in recent years, generating appeal, particularly in vegan and vegetarian markets.

Cacao powder has a distinctly bitter taste, which is thought to be due to the higher polyphenol content. Cacao products are good sources of iron and magnesium and contain flavanols, which have antioxidant, cardiovascular, and anti-cancer benefits. It’s necessary to note that baking cacao powder in recipes will reduce these benefits, especially as only a small quantity is eaten.

Bensdorp Dutched Cocoa Powder

Cooking Applications:

  • Baking (luxurious, rich mouthfeel)
  • Pastries
  • Sauces

Bensdorp is a Dutch 180-year-old chocolate brand that produces quality cocoa powders from specific West African cacao beans. Belgian chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut now owns the company. King Arthur Baking still sells Bensdorp Dutched cocoa powder for the home cook. It has a strong chocolate flavour with a darker, red-tinted colour.

It is ideal for baked items, pastries, and chocolate making, which call for Dutched cocoa powder. The higher fat content of Bensdorp cocoa powder (between 22-24%) produces a luxurious mouthfeel, particularly in a recipe like hot fudge sauce.

cocoa powder types
Cocoa powder types and brands designed for drinking, like hot cocoa, often contain dairy and sugar.

Blended Cocoa Powders

Cooking Applications:

  • Any cooking requiring a strong chocolate flavour

There are also several blended cocoa powders, such as Double-Dutched, a combination of Dutch and black cocoa powder, which is best for recipes calling for darker colours and stronger chocolate flavours. Triple cocoa powder is a combination of natural cocoa powder, Dutch cocoa powder and black cocoa powder. It combines the earthier, mellower notes of a Dutched cocoa powder with some acidity and more rounded, fruity chocolate flavours of natural cocoa powder. It has moderate cocoa fat ranging from 18-20%.

Hot Cocoa & Hot Chocolate Drinking Chocolate

Cooking Applications:

  • Beverages

Hot chocolate, or drinking chocolate, is a manufactured product comprising full-fat cocoa powder, sugar, and milk powder. Hot cocoa is made from Dutch cocoa powder and added sugar. The Dutching process helps make the powder dissolve better in the drink. Both drinks are served with boiling water or milk.

is cocoa powder vegetarian
Is cocoa powder vegetarian and vegan? Yes, except for drinking chocolate blends, which may contain dairy.

What Cacao Powder / Cocoa Powder is Better for Baking?

How Cocoa Powder Affects the Leavening of Baked Recipes

What Cacao Powder / Cocoa Powder to use with which Leavening Agents:

  • Baking Soda (aka Bicarb Soda) = Natural Cocoa Powder
  • Baking Powder = Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

When considering what cacao powder to use for baking, look to your leavening agents for clues. Different agents will react differently with the cacao/cocoa you choose, based on their acid-alkaline balance.

When a recipe calls for baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, an alkali), it is best to use natural cocoa powder, which retains its acidity. The two will react, producing carbon dioxide, which makes the mixture rise in the oven.

Conversely, a recipe calling for baking powder (sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, an acid) is best made using Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which becomes alkaline after treatment. The acid in the baking powder reacts with the alkali in the Dutch-processed cocoa powder, causing the recipe to rise in the oven.

Is Cocoa Powder Vegetarian & Vegan?

Is cocoa powder vegetarian? And vegan? Both cacao and cocoa powder are considered vegetarian and vegan as they are made from only cacao beans with no added dairy or animal derivatives. The only exception is Hot Chocolate or Drinking Chocolate, a manufactured product with added sugar and milk powder. When selecting vegan chocolate products, such as drinking chocolate, it’s necessary to check each brand’s ingredients to establish if the milk ingredients are of animal or plant origin.


By now you should have a pretty good idea of what cacao powder and cocoa powder types are available, and know which to choose for your cookery.

If all this cacao talk has made you hungry, maybe it’s time to put that cocoa powder to use. Learn how to craft easy home-made chocolate bars with cocoa powder or whip up some fudgey dark chocolate from cocoa powder, for a quick treat.

Or, delve deeper into the world of cacao tasting with Chef Prish, as she discusses the art and science of choosing cacao beans for chocolate-making, and even learn how to make your own cocoa powder.

Happy chocolateiring!

Article Author

  • Simon Knott

    Simon Knott studied a BSc Hons in Catering Management, Food Science, and Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and started writing in 2006, specialising in food and drink. He worked as Food & Drink Editor for two county magazines, interviewing chefs and local food producers. In 2010 Simon started a company making traditional fudges and chocolate products. The company quickly grew, supplying local outlets and Simon was awarded five Gold Great Taste Awards for his products. Simon recently completed a Diploma in Copywriting, and continues to write about food and drink, business and skiing.

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