I have just returned from a teaching trip to Sao tome in Africa and one of the things I was training the team to produce was cocoa powder.
What is Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder is the dry solid remains of fermented, dried, and roasted cacao beans. The beans are cracked into nibs, winnowed, then ground into a paste made of cocoa solids suspended in almost flavour free cocoa butter.
Once we extract the butter we're left with the crumbly solids, (fibres) which are then ground into a fine powder. Meaning that cocoa powder is the base of a chocolate's flavour, without any extra fat, sugar, or milk.
Up until the mid-1800s, there was only one type of cocoa powder.
Natural Cocoa Powder
If you're making natural cocoa powder, that's all you need to do.
Chocolate is naturally acidic, so natural cocoa powder typically has a pH between 5 -6 That acidity bears out in natural cocoa's flavour, which gives the cocoa a sharp, almost citrus fruit finish.
Then a Dutch chocolate maker named Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered a way of processing the nibs to reduce the acidic taste of cocoa.
He washed the nibs with an alkaline solution. This lowered the acidity of the cocoa powder, increased its solubility, made the colour darker and gave it a smoother flavour. This process is now known as the ‘Dutch-process’ or ‘Dutching’.
I often get asked, if you can you swap natural cocoa powder for Dutched cocoa powder and vice versa?
It depends what you're making, natural cocoa powder hasn’t had its acidity changed,so it’s generally paired with bicarbonate of soda (which is alkali) in recipes.
Dutch process cocoa isn't acidic, is often used in recipes with baking powder,it doesn't react with alkaline leaveners like bicarbonate of soda to produce carbon dioxide like natural cocoa does
That's why recipes that use Dutch process cocoa are usually raised by baking powder, which has a neutral pH.
For sauces, custards, ice cream, puddings, it come down to personal taste.
Dutch process cocoa has a
more intense "chocolatey" flavour and natural cocoa is a lighter colour and tastes a little astringent.
How can we Tell Good Cocoa Powder from the not so good cocoa powder
When we are buying cocoa powder, whether it's natural or Dutched, your baking always deserves the best not some flavourless sweet brown dust.
As you’d expect quality cocoa powder will probably cost more, but price isn't always the best indicator of quality; fat (cocoa butter) content is. Turn the tin around and check the label.
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are at making ganache if the cocoa powder that you roll your truffles in isn’t good the then your truffles won’t be good too.
Normal cocoa powder is about 12% fat but good quality cocoa powder is most often around 22% to 24% fat. In most recipes, we use so little cocoa the fat difference is negligible and it is always worth buying the higher fat cocoa for its quality. your taste buds will thank you for making the right choice.
The fat percentage isn’t on the cocoa powder labels, but look at the nutritional panel on the back: buy cocoa with 1 gram of fat per 6 gram serving.