Cocoa powder is a classic ingredient that chefs, bakers and home cooks have been using for hundreds of years to make cakes, puddings, biscuits and brownies, not to mention hot chocolate (I prefer to use real chocolate).

But what is cocoa powder?

Cocoa powder is what’s left behind after the cocoa bean has been pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter, known as “cocoa press cake” which is then ground into a finer cocoa powder.

The cocoa powder that is left after this processing method is known as natural cocoa powder.

Processing removes most of the fat content, low fat cocoa powders still contain as much as 10-12% fat. and high fat double that.

This powder can then be alkalized, to raise the pH levels to improve its colour, taste and functionality. Alkalized powder is sold as Dutch processed or Dutched cocoa powder.

The two main characteristics

Of cocoa powder are the amount of cocoa butter and the level of alkalisation remaining after pressing.
To understand their potential and get the most out of these ingredients is important to understand how these components work.
 
What is the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic colour?
Extrinsic colour = the colour you see when you look at dry cocoa powder on its own.
Intrinsic colour = the colour after combining it with a wet substance.
For a quick example of how the colour will vary between the intrinsic and extrinsic mix some powder in water.
Higher fat cocoa powders appear darker in its extrinsic form vs their low-fat equivalents.
 
What’s the difference between natural and dutched cocoa powders?
In the 19th Century, Dutch chemist and chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten introduced the process of dutching (or alkalisation – these terms are interchangeable) to improve cocoa powders’ dispersibility in drinks, giving a milder taste, and more intense colour. The dutching process involves treating the cocoa with an alkaline solution like potassium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. Dutched cocoa powders have a higher pH than Natural (non-dutched) cocoa powders.

Does dutching affect colour and taste?

Dutched cocoa powders are often darker coloured and milder in flavour, natural cocoa powders are lighter in colour with a fruitier flavour.

You can see below the further you move from left to right the darker, they get and the higher the pH level. This darker colour is a result of a number of different factors (including dutching, fat content, bean origin, roasting time etc) there’s a link between dark colour and pH.

How does dutching affect applications?

Ice Cream

Dutching improves the solubility and water binding properties of a cocoa powder. As a result, a dutched cocoa powder with a high pH (7.5 and above) will attract more water in the ice cream making process, creating a thicker structure with a slower melting time and premium texture. This is true whether you’re creating a sorbet using water only, or a gelato using milk (as milk contains water).

Desserts

Opt for a low/medium alkalized powder. Cocoa powders with a pH above 7.5 will give a thinner texture. high pH damages the stability of the internal structures that combines the fats and proteins.  If your dish needs a cocoa powder with a higher pH, try adding a thickener to your recipes, like cornflour.

Chocolate Milk
Highly alkalised cocoa powder will curdle chocolate milk over time. This is because milk has a pH of 6.4. Any cocoa powder that is too far away from this pH (i.e., any cocoa powder that is above 7.4 or below 6) will destabilise the milk, separating it.
So, choose a cocoa powder with a pH similar to milk you are using.
 
Cakes & Bread

Dutching improves the solubility and water binding properties of a cocoa powder, meaning that cocoa powders with a high pH (7.5 and above) attract more water and create a stiffer dough. This stiffness can be fixed by increasing water or reducing the flour in a dough.

Baking recipes that use leavening agents

Bicarbonate of Soda:

When using a recipe with bicarbonate of soda, use a natural cocoa powder (which has a low pH) and will react with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide, resulting in an airy and drier creation. A dutched cocoa powder (which has a higher pH) will not cause this same reaction, resulting in something dense and fudgier. Depending on how you would like your recipe to turn out think about reducing the amount of baking soda if you are using a high pH, or adding baking soda if you are using a low pH cocoa powder, you shouldn’t need any adjustments to the recipe.

Baking Powder:

Baking powder is already balanced (both base and acid), it won’t react with any acidity in the cocoa powder. Use any type of cocoa powder you like its all about taste and colour.

What is fat content?

Fat content is simply the amount of residual cocoa butter in a cocoa powder. A low-fat cocoa powder is typically 10-12% fat, while a high-fat cocoa powder is typically 20-22% or 22-24% fat.

Does fat content affect colour?

When dry, high-fat cocoa powders appear brighter and darker than low-fat cocoa powders. This optical illusion linked to the way fat crystals absorb light. as fat crystals are dissolving, high-fat cocoa powders look lighter than low-fat cocoa powders. The latter have 10% more cocoa solids and therefore appear darker.

How does fat content affect applications?
Ice Cream

High-fat cocoa powders, are the ideal base for ice creams. When combined with dairy the soft fats of these cocoa powders create a melt-in-the-mouth, premium texture and a satisfying in mouthfeel.

Desserts

As with ice creams, the dairy in many desserts combines with high-fat cocoa powders to create a melt-in-the-mouth, creamy texture.

Chocolate Milk

When it comes to chocolate milk, choose a high-fat cocoa powder for stability. In industrial production, the homogenization process will disperse fat from milk and high-fat cocoa powder, resulting in very small fat particles that create a strong network and a long-lasting drink.

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