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Cocoa For Baking – How It Differs From Other Powdered Chocolates

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When you make certain recipes, they might call for different things like baking cocoa, cocoa powder, or even just chocolate.

In the world of baking, each of these things has different uses and if you use the wrong thing by mistake, it could completely ruin whatever it is you are making. It seems like such a simple thing but it has a big impact in the end. 

It’s pretty important to know and understand these ingredients and their differences. Otherwise, you might find yourself shaking your head at the results of your baking attempt.

Chances are, you really will notice the difference when you taste your item and there is something off from your expectations. 

This is particularly true of cocoa for baking. Many people see this term, or the term baking cocoa, and automatically assume that it’s referring to cocoa powder.

The truth is, that isn’t true. Cocoa for baking is different from other types of powdered chocolates and processed completely differently.

So, what is cocoa for baking? Baking cocoa is cocoa powder that has been processed to remove the natural acidity, leaving a sweet and rich product behind rather than its original sharp and bitter taste.

In this guide, we will talk about cocoa for baking and break down just how it is different from those other powdered chocolates you find out there.

In the end, you will fully understand how baking cocoa is different from many of those other powders and just why it matters. 

Keep reading to learn more about cocoa for baking. 

What Exactly Is Baking Cocoa? 

Let’s start at the beginning. Have you ever heard of Dutch process cocoa? If you have, you can tie that term to baking cocoa. It is the same thing. 

What this means is that the cocoa powder has been taken and adjusted to change the entire makeup of it.

They basically processed it more by adding things like potassium carbonate to help neutralize some of the natural acidity that you would find in cocoa powder. 

The end result is something that tastes more sweet and rich rather than slightly sharp and possibly even bitter. Baking cocoa is very common for baked goods. It’s pretty popular in brownies and other similar chocolate baked goods as well. 

Baking cocoa is, of course, popular for baking purposes. It comes to you in powder form so it’s mixed into baking recipes much like flour or sugar might be. It will dissolve and mix into the recipe just like other parts of it do. 

Baking cocoa has no leavening agent in it. This means that when you use baking cocoa, you either have to use it in conjunction with some sort of leavening agent or use it in a recipe that doesn’t need a leavening agent – like brownies. 

Cocoa Powder Vs. Baking Cocoa

One of the biggest misconceptions is that cocoa powder and baking cocoa are interchangeable. That simply isn’t true.

If you see the term cocoa powder, they typically means real, authentic cocoa powder for that recipe. Now, don’t get too worried if you simply don’t have any. There are times you might be able to substitute. 

Cocoa powder and baking cocoa are not the same things. Learn to recognize the terminology and understand the basic differences between them. 

Cocoa Powder

The biggest difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa is that cocoa powder is typically natural cocoa that has not been sweetened.

It comes almost straight from the cacao plant. When you read labels, it will most likely say unsweetened but it might also have that natural cocoa terminology. 

This is cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is also known for having a strong flavor and it isn’t sweet. In fact, if you taste it by itself it will actually probably taste a little bit bitter to you. 

Since cocoa powder is made from the cocoa beans directly, this is where the flavor stands out. The cocoa beans are allowed to ferment and then they are ground and roasted.

This isn’t your normal roasting process, as the beans are subjected to very high temperatures when they are ground, which roasts them. 

That entire process leads to high levels of acidity and a strong bitter flavor. The interesting thing about using cocoa powder in a recipe is you will probably never even know it’s bitter by nature.

Most recipes that use cocoa powder also use something like baking soda to balance out the bitterness and the acidity in the powder. 

With that in mind, most desserts that are designed to be sweet or rich will not call for cocoa powder because that bitterness does make a difference in the sweetness.

Cocoa powder remains unsweetened so the recipes that use it will often have some sort of addition to sweeten the dish a bit. However, it’s used in dishes where this won’t be so noticeable. 

When you look at a recipe and it just says cocoa, it can be hard to discern what type of cocoa it’s talking about.

So first think about whether that recipe is old or new. Older recipes always used cocoa powder because baking cocoa simply was non-existent. 

However, there are also people out there that are simply careless with the terminology and that’s just because they really don’t know any better. To them, the titles mean the same thing, so be mindful of that as well. 

Baking Cocoa

Now, when you compare cocoa powder to baking cocoa, it’s a whole different story.

You know from our overview earlier that baking cocoa is sweetened and goes through a process to reduce the acidity. So, rather than get a strong bitter flavor, you get a rich, sweet flavor instead. 

We went into some detail earlier about baking cocoa but now we want to compare it to cocoa powder. Remember that baking cocoa is also sometimes referred to as Dutch process cocoa.  

The process is used to make the powder sweeter than traditional cocoa powder and to get rid of some of that acidity that we mentioned earlier happens naturally with cocoa powder. 

The end result is that baking cocoa is much more friendly to the flavor palette. It’s sweet and just slightly rich and you won’t have the aftertaste or the bitterness that cocoa powder tends to have. 

Baking cocoa is sweetened in the processing. Sometimes the companies do actually add sugars and additives but it is also sweetened just by going through the Dutch process and using a potassium carbonate solution on the cocoa powder. 

It is cocoa powder but it is processed to become something sweeter and more palatable. The foundation is still cocoa powder but the processing sets them apart from one another. 

In the end, you have the original cocoa powder that is bitter and strong and the processed baking cocoa that is sweet and rich.

As we mentioned earlier, the processing of cocoa powder into baking cocoa also removes the rising agent that is naturally in cocoa powder. Cocoa powder can rise in a recipe, or at least contribute to rising. However, baking cocoa cannot. 

Can Baking Cocoa Be A Substitute For Cocoa Powder? 

It is possible to substitute the two different chocolate powders for each other but you won’t be able to just substitute it straight across and call it good. 

Since there are differences in flavor and rising ability, you will need to make some other adjustments to accommodate the substitution. Those adjustments will depend on what you are making and what you are substituting. 

So let’s say you’re making something delicious and you have baking cocoa in your cabinet but you need cocoa powder. You can use your baking cocoa instead as a substitute. However, you need to battle the missing leavening agent in the mix.  

In most cases, you can assume that adding 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda to every 3 tablespoons of baking cocoa will take care of this particular challenge.

This dish will be naturally sweeter with the addition of baking cocoa, so keep that in mind. Most people don’t notice or mind the sweetness difference but some people adjust the sweetener just slightly. 

Then, you can substitute the other way around too. You can use cocoa powder in place of baking cocoa if you want to.

You just have to be careful here because you will definitely notice the difference in the flavor. Remember that cocoa powder has a fairly bitter taste to it. 

If your dish already contains sugar or sweetener, you could add just a small amount. It’s really up to you.

You may or may not notice the bitterness if you’re creating something that has a lot of sugar in it already or is sweet and rich. The bitter flavor might not even come through in those instances. 

As far as a ratio, you still substitute 1:1 for the actual cocoa or powder but you just need to keep in mind the other potential alterations to accommodate the differences in the products.

Here’s the thing though – baking cocoa always needs to be used in a dish that also uses baking powder in order for it to rise properly. 

What Is Dutch Processed Cocoa?

We’ve mentioned this term a few times. Bakers, particularly bakers that remember when the only option was true cocoa powder, will be familiar with this term.

Dutch processed cocoa refers specifically to the process that takes place to transform cocoa powder into baking cocoa. 

The labels might say something like alkalized cocoa powder. The intent here is still baking cocoa.

“Alkalized” simply means they worked against the natural acidity, even if the label still says “cocoa powder”. This is not your original style cocoa powder. 

While you are trying to grasp the difference in cocoa powder and baking cocoa, it probably isn’t a terrible idea to also brush up on baking powder vs. baking soda. 

Baking cocoa, which is Dutch processed cocoa, will usually be in baking recipes that call for baking soda. We see this so often in the baking aisle. Hershey’s is a common brand, as are Ghirardelli and Toll House. 

So Which One Do I Use?

We know this can be a bit overwhelming and even confusing. Figuring out which one to use can be a challenge.

If you’re following a recipe, try to discern from that recipe. A good rule of thumb is that if the recipe uses baking soda, it is probably meant to be used with traditional cocoa powder. 

If it uses baking powder, it might be calling for baking cocoa instead because backing cocoa will not react with baking soda so they shouldn’t even be used together. 

Most baked goods are looking for baking cocoa, but if it’s something like brownies that don’t require leavening or a lot of rise, it could quite possibly be talking about baking cocoa. 

Most of the time, it is much harder to substitute baking cocoa for natural cocoa powder and actually make it work in the recipe. You can try doing so by referring to our tips above for that though. 

Related Questions

We hope that this guide to understanding the difference between baking cocoa and other types of chocolate powders is helpful.

Understanding the terms and when to use what can be quite confusing. Unfortunately, many people use the terms interchangeably, so you have to learn to discern when they mean which type of cocoa is best.

We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional details that could be useful for you. 

What Is Raw Cocoa Powder? 

Raw cocoa powder will probably be labeled as raw cacao powder or just cacao powder. Notice the difference in the spelling of cacao rather than cocoa. This powder is truly pure powder from the cacao bean.

Where cocoa powder comes from butter from the bean and then baking cocoa is processed even more, raw cacao powder is straight from the bean itself!

What Is Hershey’s Cocoa Powder? 

If you’re in the baking aisle and just trying to figure out what these things truly are, Hershey’s and most of the other similar powders like this are all baking cocoa.

They might be sweetened or unsweetened but they have been processed to remove the acidity that is in natural cocoa powder.

It’s a little challenging because the labels refer to it as cocoa powder sometimes but for the purpose of this guide, it falls into baking cocoa. 

Could I Substitute Baking Chocolate? 

Baking chocolate can likely be used as a substitute for baking cocoa or even cocoa powder.

It comes in a solid form rather than a powder so you will need to melt it down in order to make it work. There are times where it might not have the effect you are after. 

If you decide to try this, we recommend using 1 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate to replace every 3 tablespoons of baking cocoa in the recipe.

You can add the melted baking chocolate at the same point that you would be adding sugar and butter to your recipe. Remember is it liquid so don’t add it with strictly powder ingredients. 

Can I Substitute Nutella For Baking Cocoa? 

This has become pretty common and it should work fine if you can get your ratios right. The general recommendation is to use 4 ounces of Nutella for every 3 tablespoons of baking cocoa that your recipe calls for. 

Up Next: Can You Make Cocoa Powder From Chocolate? – Do This Instead

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