Baking Cocoa Vs Cocoa Powder – Are They The Same Thing?

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For many, baking is very intimidating. And to our surprise, more people are more stressed out about choosing the right ingredients than about anything else. We kind of get it though.

Baking is a chemical reaction, so choosing something inappropriate for the recipe could end in disaster.

Baking cocoa and cocoa powder are arguably two of the most talked-about and debated ingredients. But, even the so-called “pros” don’t write about them accurately. It is important to understand all of the differences in order to choose the best option for your recipe.

So, what is the difference between baking cocoa and cocoa powder? Baking cocoa has been neutralized with an alkaline. This makes it darker, less bitter, and sweeter, which makes it unable to act as a leavening agent. Cocoa powder on the other hand is unprocessed. It has a more chocolate-like flavor, has a reddish-brown color, and requires an alkaline like baking soda in order to use for baking.

But, there are a lot more involved than these basic differences. In today’s article, we will be looking at exactly what each of these is, how they are made, their physical and chemical characteristics, and how they should be used in recipes.

What Is Cocoa Powder?

Today we will start with the ingredient that more people will instantly recognize, cocoa powder.

This delicious powder is also referred to as “unsweetened cocoa powder”, “natural cocoa”, “pure ground cocoa powder”, or “natural unsweetened cocoa”.

There are so many names that refer to one product, it’s no wonder people get confused!

How Cocoa Powder Is Made

Cocoa Powder is made from fermented, roasted, and pressed cocoa beans. This process aims to remove all of the cocoa butter (fat) from the beans.

Once you are left with only the cocoa liquor, it is dried and ground into a fine powder. Naturally, this unprocessed technique gives the powder its unique characteristics.

Characteristics of Cocoa Powder

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder has a reddish-brown color to it. It is considerably lighter than other types of cocoa or chocolate powders, making it much easier to recognize.

The name “natural cocoa powder” refers to the entire production process and the result of this ingredient. Because it doesn’t undergo much processing, it has a very strong and concentrated chocolate flavor. Many also consider it to be richer in flavor.

Because the cocoa butter has been removed, you don’t have the creaminess other powders will give you. This isn’t crucial for some recipes, but for something like custard, ice cream, or pudding, it may make a big difference.

The acidity of this powder is very high, having an average pH between 5.3 and 5.8. This means that cocoa powder (unsweetened or natural cocoa powder) will have a more acidic flavor to it.

How To Use Cocoa Powder

Now, because of this powder’s naturally high acidity level, it can be used as a type of leavening agent. When combined with an alkaline, it creates a chemical reaction that will give certain products rise.

Cocoa powder is often used in recipes that contain baking soda (an alkaline). This is also a way to tell which type of chocolate powder you should buy.

This type of cocoa powder also tends not to dissolve as easily. This doesn’t affect how it can be used. It would be easier to use another product in recipes like smoothies, milkshakes, or cocktails – anywhere where you don’t melt down the powder.

In our opinion, cocoa powder works better for savory recipes or very specific pastry recipes. Because it is acidic and not creamy, it won’t make as good creamy desserts as other available options. But, it can still be used if it has to be.

What Is Baking Cocoa?

Baking Cocoa

Now, baking cocoa is a term that not as many people are familiar with. This is because, again, it goes by many other names.

Baking cocoa is the same product as “Dutch-processed cocoa powder.” Another name you may find on products is “alkalized cocoa” or “processed cocoa.”

So first, know that baking cocoa is still a type of cocoa powder, but it does differ from real cocoa powder.

How Baking Cocoa (Dutch-processed Cocoa) Is Made

The most important element to know about when it comes to how baking cocoa is made is that the beans are washed in an alkalizing agent. This is often potassium carbonate. 

By washing the beans with an alkaline, they are ultimately neutralizing the beans. This in turn creates some major changes in the powder itself and how it should be used.

Once the beans have been neutralized, they are roasted and crushed, just like regular cocoa powder is made.

Another thing that we have to mention is that many people believe this process of Dutching is done to low-quality beans to hide their impurities.

These cocoa powders often contain a ton of additives like sugar and flavorings to further hide less-than-optimal flavors. So, all-in-all, these cocoa powders are considered to be lower in quality.

Characteristics of Baking Cocoa

First things first, because the beans have now been neutralized, their physical appearance is different. Baking cocoa has a much darker color to it and is a much richer brown (so less red).

It also has a less chocolate flavor and is generally considered neutral. But, because of additives, some products will have a better flavor. So we don’t put much thought into this point when choosing our chocolate powder.

Furthermore, their chemical structure, because of all the processing, has changed too. Baking cocoa is less acidic than cocoa powder. This gives it a pH closer to 7. Because it has less acidity, it will naturally have a less acidic flavor to it.

Baking cocoa also often contains additives. This mostly includes sugars and flavorings. This makes it a much sweeter powder, more suited to sweet recipes. And, the flavorings will usually add a more vanilla or chocolate flavor.

How To Use Dutch-Processed Baking Cocoa

Now, just because some people consider baking cocoa to be of lower quality doesn’t mean it isn’t best suited for some recipes.

Baking cocoa is always best used for sweet baked goods. It has a sweeter flavor and less acidic undertone to it. 

This powder also dissolves much easier than cocoa powder, meaning it is better suited to milkshakes and smoothies. It can dissolve and integrate into any recipe effortlessly.

For baked goods, you can use baking cocoa with baking powder. Sometimes, in addition to the baking powder, the recipe will also contain baking soda. But, never just baking soda.

Remember, for a chemical reaction, you need an alkaline and acid to react. And because baking cocoa has been neutralized, no reaction will take place if you just add baking soda.

What’s The Difference Between Baking Cocoa And Cocoa Powder?

Okay, so we think we have made it pretty clear already that there is a big difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa.

If you haven’t read any of the above-mentioned info and you just look at the two products, you will probably not even notice that there is a difference.

After all, the companies simply put the names on the products. No information (more often than not) is provided on the acidity level, additives, or flavor. You will likely have to check the ingredients list for some of that information. 

So, we have made a comprehensive comparison list for you to better understand the difference between cocoa powder and baking powder. And, we’ve included a handy chart!

Cocoa Powder Vs Baking PowderCocoa PowderBaking Cocoa
Other NamesUnsweetened cocoa powder, Natural cocoa powder, Natural unsweetened cocoa powder, Pure ground cocoa powderDutch-processed, Cocoa Processed, Cocoa powder, Sweetened cocoa powder, Alkalized cocoa powder
AppearanceReddish-brown color, Very light color in contrast to other chocolate powdersDeep brown color, A much darker shade than other types
pH Levels5.3 to 5.8Neutral
FlavorAcidic, Not very sweet, A more chocolate-like flavor that is also very richMilder chocolate flavor, Not acidic, Often sweet because of added sugar
Production ProcessBeans are fermented, roasted, pressed, and powderedBeans are neutralized with an alkaline wash to remove the acidic qualities, then the beans are dried and powdered
How To UseBaking and savory dishesSmoothies and ice creams (dissolves easily), sweet recipes

So, it all comes down to how these two ingredients are made. Cocoa powder is unprocessed and only undergoes drying and grinding. Baking cocoa on the other hand has been neutralized by a wash.

This is what ultimately changes the two products. Baking cocoa is dark in color and has a very sweet flavor with no acidity. Cocoa powder has more of a red-brown color and is less sweet with noticeable acidic undertones.

Because cocoa powder is more acidic, it should be used with baking soda in recipes to act as a leavening agent. It also doesn’t dissolve easily, so stay away from cold recipes where the powder isn’t dissolved by heat.

Baking cocoa on the other hand is less acidic so is often used in recipes that contain baking powder. It also works great for virtually all types of sweet recipes. But, don’t use it for savory ones. Its sweetness may be overwhelming.

And finally, when it comes to the nutritional value of these two, neither is healthier than the other. In fact, the differences between them are minimal.

Is Baking Cocoa And Cocoa Powder Interchangeable?

It would naturally make sense that people think these two products are interchangeable. And they are not entirely wrong.

Both powders have a chocolate flavor and both have the same form. So, they can function in the same manner in that regard.

However, when it comes to using these interchangeably, it isn’t always possible. They have different chemical structures and flavors. So, not only will you have different flavor outcomes (being more or less sweet or acidic), your recipe may not work.

Cocoa powder must have a strong alkaline reaction to become a leavening agent.

So, you can substitute baking cocoa (less acidic) with cocoa powder. But not the other way around.

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Cocoa For Baking – How It Differs From Other Powdered Chocolates

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