Ever wonder about the differences between natural vs. dutch process cocoa powder? This post covers everything you need to know about these two common baking ingredients!

A container of Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder and a package of Ghirardelli Dutch process cocoa powder sitting next to each other on a gray surface.

If you’ve ever looked around at the cocoa powder in the grocery store, you’ve probably seen natural and Dutch process cocoa powder sitting right next to each other.

While the packaging may look similar, these two cocoa powders are not quite the same.

So today I’m covering everything you need to know about cocoa powder – from how it’s made, to the differences between these two cocoa powders, and when you can substitute one for the other!

A small glass jar filled with cocoa powder. A spoon is resting inside of the jar.

What Is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder comes from cocoa beans, but it’s quite a process to get from cocoa beans to the powder you can buy at the store.

The cocoa beans are first fermented and dried, then roasted (which helps enhance their flavor and removes some of the moisture). Then, the roasted cocoa beans are cracked open to remove the cocoa nibs which are ground into a paste also known as chocolate liquor.

The chocolate liquor is then pressed to remove the cocoa butter. The remaining solids that are leftover are ground into a fine powder, which turns into cocoa powder.

When it comes to cocoa powder there are two types you will typically see used in recipes – natural and Dutch process.

Natural Cocoa Powder

Natural cocoa powder is the most common one you will find at the store and what people usually have in their pantry. It’s simply the natural powder that comes from the cocoa powder process I explained earlier.

Natural cocoa powder is typically lighter in color and bitter. It’s also acidic, so you will often see it used in recipes that call for baking soda because the baking soda neutralizes the acidity of natural cocoa powder. In other words, the two react with each other and help your baked goods rise in the oven.

If you’re like wait a minute, what does that mean?! I highly recommend reading my post on the difference between baking soda and baking powder. I promise it will make a lot more sense after you read through that!

If your cocoa powder doesn’t state what kind it is on the label, you can actually just look at the ingredients on the back. If it’s natural, the ingredients will just say “cocoa” or “cocoa powder”.

My double chocolate cookies, chocolate cupcakes, and chocolate cake are all recipes where I use natural cocoa powder.

My favorite brands: Ghirardelli, Nestle, and Hershey’s natural cocoa.

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

The other type of cocoa powder that you may see at the grocery store is Dutch process.

Dutch process cocoa powder is made by first washing the beans with an alkaline solution. This not only darkens the color, but it also neutralizes its acidity. It’s much more mellow in flavor than natural cocoa powder as well.

Because it’s not acidic, you will often see it used in recipes that either use baking powder (which already has a dry acid mixed into it) or one that doesn’t use any leaveners.

Just like with natural cocoa powder, you can read the ingredients to see if it’s Dutch process. If you look at the back of the packaging the ingredients should say something like “cocoa processed with alkali”.

My homemade chocolate cream pie and flourless chocolate cake are two recipes where I typically use Dutch process cocoa powder. You could also use it in my homemade brownies or hot chocolate, (since neither requires baking soda/baking powder) or my chocolate sugar cookies (since it only uses baking powder).

My favorite brands: Ghirardelli and Rodelle.

An overhead image of a white bowl filled with natural cocoa powder and another white bowl filled with Dutch process cocoa powder.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can natural and dutch process cocoa powder be used interchangeably?

If your recipe doesn’t use any baking soda or baking powder, then it’s okay to use either natural or Dutch process. If your recipe only uses baking powder, then you can also use either one.

If a recipe calls for Dutch process and you don’t have any on hand, it’s okay to substitute it with natural cocoa powder.

On the other hand, if a recipe calls for baking soda and natural cocoa powder then I don’t recommend using Dutch process. You likely won’t get the same rise as you would with natural cocoa powder.

Where Can You Buy Dutch Process Cocoa Powder?

I’m usually able to find it at my local grocery stores in the baking aisle. It will usually be labeled as “Dutch process” on the packaging, however, that may not always be the case.

If you’re unsure, just take a peek at the ingredients on the back of the package like I mentioned earlier. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa is actually Dutch process, but it doesn’t state it on the label.

If you’re not able to find it in stores you can also find it on Amazon.

How Do You Store Cocoa Powder?

It’s best to store your cocoa powder in a cool, dry place like a pantry or cupboard. I don’t recommend storing cocoa powder in the refrigerator because the humidity of your fridge can actually cause it to spoil faster.

If stored properly, cocoa powder can stay fresh for up to two years, but I always recommend going by the best-by-date on the package.

Hopefully this post helps answer any questions you may have about these two ingredients. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!