All About Cocoa Powder
The history of chocolate is almost as rich as its flavor. While chocolate is one of the most popular and common flavors today, it was once reserved for the most elite members of Aztec society. Let's explore this "food of the gods."
First, a very brief history of cocoa. (For a little bit more history, we suggest reading this article.) The first known use dates to at least as far back as the year 300, when the Mayan civilization was known to have domesticated this delicious plant. The cacao tree (or Theobroma Cacao) is native to the Americas. The Maya and Aztec people drank xocolatl (meaning "bitter water") which was a blend of cacao, chili peppers, and other spices. This tempting treat was brought back to Europe in the 1500s and quickly became a version of modern hot chocolate, sweetened with sugar.
What is the difference between cocoa powder and cacao powder?
You will sometimes hear cocoa and cacao used interchangeably but most commonly, cacao refers to the natural, unprocessed product. Even then, while we say 'unprocessed' there is some minimal processing that takes place when harvesting cacao. Cacao pods (the fruit of the tree) are picked and cracked open to reveal the cacao beans. The beans are fermented and dried before harvesting the nibs that are inside.
Cacao nibs can be ground into cacao powder. More often, they are roasted before being ground. This treatment or processing creates cocoa powder. While milk or sugar is sometimes added, Natural Cocoa Powder is minimally processed with a naturally bittersweet "baking cocoa" flavor.
What is the best chocolate to use for baking?
While we always advocate checking your recipe (and your pantry) ahead of time to make sure you have all of your ingredients, you might stumble across a recipe that calls for "baking chocolate" or "Baker's chocolate".
Yes, this is different from a regular chocolate bar. Baking chocolate, like cocoa powder, is unsweetened and has a much more bittersweet flavor than even a dark chocolate bar. Unlike brown sugar or baking soda, unless you bake all the time, this might not be something you keep in your pantry.
Fear not! Natural cocoa powder is widely available and is a super easy and ideal substitute for baking chocolate. The standard measure for baking chocolate is in ounces or squares (1 ounce = 1 square).
Use 3 tbsp. Natural Cocoa to replace a 1 ounce square of unsweetened chocolate.
What are the different types of cocoa powder?
We carry three different types of cocoa powder. Unlike cinnamon, where "the best kind" is really all about personal preference, there are some things that you need to keep in mind when using cocoa powder in recipes.
Dutch Cocoa Powder
The name of this doesn't mean that the cacao plants come from the Netherlands. Dutch Cocoa can more accurately be called Dutch process cocoa. The process of alkalizing the cocoa, or neutralizing the natural acidity of cocoa, was invented by a Dutch chocolatier in the 1800s. This process results in a slightly darker color and richer flavor.
Baking Tip: Dutch process cocoa is not acidic like its natural counterpart. So if your recipe calls for baking soda (which relies on the slight acidity of natural cocoa to activate it) and you want to use Dutch cocoa, you'll need to add an acid for best results (an easy solution is to swap your milk for buttermilk).
Dutch Cocoa Powder is ideal for hot chocolate or in recipes that use baking powder instead of baking soda.
Black Onyx Cocoa Powder
This dark cocoa powder has been alkalized even further, resulting in an extremely dark almost purplish-black color and incredibly rich flavor. This extreme alkalization neutralizes the natural bitterness but also removes a lot of its butter fat (10-12%). If needed, when using Black Onyx Cocoa Powder you can increase the fat in your recipe by adding more butter, egg yolk or changing to a heavier milk; whichever applies to your recipe.
Baking Tip: We recommend replacing 25-50% of the cocoa in a recipe with black onyx. Using this ratio will produce darker, rich tasting baked goods without needing to make any changes to the recipe.
Black Onyx Cocoa Powder is ideal when used in combination with other cocoa powder for added richness.
Are there flavored cocoa powders?
If you like a little spice, you (obviously) came to the right place. We have two signature cocoa powders that are unsweetened but have some spices added for a little extra flavor. Either of these can be used in place of or in combination with Dutch Cocoa Powder.
Mexican Cocoa Powder
Inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate, a popular warm beverage that combines the flavors of chocolate and cinnamon, this Mexican Cocoa powder combines traditional Dutch cocoa powder with two types of cinnamon and vanilla powder for a sweet, warming blend.
What is cocoa powder used for?
Texas Sheet Cake
This classic no-fuss cake takes no time to make and it feeds a crowd - which makes it the perfect dessert to contribute to a potluck or party.
Chewy, chocolatey, and easy—what more could you ask for? Frost with chocolate or peanut butter frosting for an even more delicious brownie.
This sandwich cookies are a favorite. Black cocoa cookies and a creamy vanilla filling. These taste like the real deal! Perfect with a glass of milk and a youthful attitude.
Triple Chocolate S'mores
Pictured at the top of this article, if your favorite part of s'mores is the chocolate, this one's for you. Chocolate graham crackers, your choice of dark or milk chocolate bar, and homemade chocolate marshmallows make this a decadent dessert!
Donut Holes with Chocolate Sauce
Both the cinnamon sugar donuts and the Mexican Cocoa spiced chocolate sauce come together quickly, so this recipe makes a great weekend brunch treat or weeknight dessert.
For vanilla, cinnamon, and more, Browse Baking Spices. Have a favorite recipe with cocoa powder? Tell us about it in the comments below!