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Cocoa Powder for Baking

Cocoa powder used for baking has only been a modern development. It wasn’t until 1886 chocolate started being added to the cake batter.

However, cocoa has been used for over 2,000 years, but mostly as a drink.  Cocoa was discovered in the New World and brought back to Spain by Cortés.

It became a popular with the Spanish upper class.  In fact, cocoa was given as a dowry when members of the Spanish Royal Family married other European aristocrats. 

It wasn’t long before it was considered a luxury item among the European nobility.  Cocoa was expensive because the cocoa beans only grew in South America. 

The drink was so expensive and exclusive that it began being referred to as “the drink of the gods”

Cocoa was transformed chocolate from an exclusive luxury to an inexpensive baking product and snack over a 100-year process.

First, with discovery of how to make chocolate by grinding cocoa beans, then with a method for extracting the fat from cacao liquor which left solids that could be ground into powder, and finally, with Rodolphe Lindt creating a process for making silkier and smoother chocolate.

Lindt’s discovery  made it easier to bake with chocolate.  Until this point, chocolate recipes were mostly for hot chocolate, and it’s was only used in baking as fillings and glazes.


When baking, and for most other recipes, always use unsweetened cocoa powder. 

This allows you to have better control of the sweetness of what you’re making.  There are three basic forms of unsweetened cocoa powder. 


Natural powder from roasted cocoa beans. It’s acidic and bitter, with a very strong and concentrated chocolate flavor.  

Natural cocoa powder is acidic and is often used in recipes calling for baking soda because the two react with each other to allow your baked good to rise.


Dutch-process cocoa powder starts with cocoa beans that have been washed in potassium carbonate which neutralizes their acidity.  Because Dutch-processed cocoa powder is neutral, it does not react with baking soda.

Baked goods that call for Dutch-process cocoa powder is often paired with baking powder instead.  It can also be used in place of natural cocoa powder in recipes that don’t require leavening such as sauces, hot cocoa, frostings, ice cream, pudding, etc.


Raw cacao powder is different from natural and Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder. It’s pure powder from the cacao bean and isn’t nearly as processed as both natural and Dutch-process.

You can use raw cacao powder in recipes that don’t specify Dutch-process cocoa powder.  However, Raw cacao powder and natural cocoa powder both taste very different from Dutch-process and will change the flavor of the recipes.

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