Cocoa Powder Substitute – What Should You Use Instead?

Published Categorized as Ingredients, Journal Tagged

Cocoa powder is an important ingredient in many different recipes, including cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, and more.  I love baking and regularly use cocoa powder in my treats.  However, the other day, I started to reach for the cocoa powder for a brownie recipe. Then, I remembered that I forgot to buy a new jar after using up the last of the powder.  I didn’t want to go to the store and already had all the other ingredients out and ready.  So, I did some quick research to see what I could use as a cocoa powder substitute. 

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Long story short, my brownies tasted amazing and everyone in the house loved them.  I’d love to share what I learned about substituting cocoa powder in a recipe with you. I’ll also share some of the best alternatives you could use if you don’t have cocoa powder handy.

Table of Contents

cocoa powder substitute

What is cocoa powder?

Cocoa powder delivers a deep, rich, and delicious chocolate flavor to cakes, brownies, pies, and other delectable desserts.  It can also flavor beverages.  Cocoa powder comes from the beans of the cacao tree.  

During the production process, the cacao beans are roasted at very high temperatures.  Cocoa butter (or the fat) is removed during this process.  The result is a very concentrated solid. In fact, cocoa powder has the highest solid percentage of any other chocolate products.  

When making desserts with cocoa powder, you don’t need much.  Its high concentration means just a little bit of cocoa powder will deliver plenty of flavor to your recipe.  Most recipes only call for a few tablespoons at a time, and that is plenty.

As soon as you add cocoa powder to a recipe or batter, you’ll immediately see and smell the results.  The batter will change to a darker brown color and your nose will pick up the pleasant chocolate aroma.

Cocoa Powder vs Other Types of Chocolate

Before we get into substitutes for cocoa powder, I want to take a moment to compare it to other types of chocolate, such as chocolate bars or chocolate chips.  Understanding how cocoa powder is similar and different to these other chocolates will help you when selecting the best replacement for it in a recipe.

As we mentioned above, the process of making cocoa powder involves separating and removing most of the fat (cocoa butter).  The result is a more heavily concentrated solid powder.  Cocoa powder typically only contains between 10 and 15% cocoa butter.

Compare this to chocolate bars and chocolate chips that have a much higher concentration of cocoa butter—typically 50% or higher.

substitute for cocoa powder

What does cocoa powder taste like?

Even if you are a chocoholic, you probably don’t want to just eat a spoonful of cocoa powder.  It can be quite bitter or sharp.  Also, cocoa powder won’t be anywhere near as creamy as a tasty chocolate bar due to the lack of cocoa butter.

However, when you add cocoa powder to a recipe that has other sweeteners and fats to counter the more bitter flavor, the result can be down-right delicious.  Now, the deep chocolate flavor is perfect for chocoholics and sweet-lovers alike.

What can you substitute for cocoa powder?

If you’re looking for the best substitute for cocoa powder, you’ve come to the right place.  Below, you’ll find some of my recommendations for what you can use if you don’t have cocoa powder available. 

As you’re considering each option, think about the overall recipe, its consistency, texture, and flavor to help you determine which substitute will work best.

Melted Unsweetened Chocolate

If you’ve been asking, “what can you use instead of cocoa powder,” unsweetened chocolate is one of the best alternatives. 

As we shared above, cocoa powder is derived from cocoa beans, and the same is true for unsweetened chocolate.  Adding unsweetened chocolate to a recipe that calls for cocoa powder shouldn’t have any real negative effect on the taste.  

However, because the consistency and fat content of melted unsweetened chocolate will differ from that of cocoa powder, you may need to make a few modifications to the original recipe.  Simply try to cut the amount of fat you add to the recipe (butter or shortening) a little. This will help to compensate for the additional fat in the chocolate.  So, if you want to add three ounces of unsweetened chocolate, try to use about three tablespoons less butter or shortening than the recipe calls for.

The benefit of using unsweetened chocolate over other types of chocolate is that it doesn’t have any added sugar, same as cocoa powder. 

If you use another type of chocolate that has been sweetened, you’ll also need to modify the amount of sugar you add to the recipe, which can make calculations a bit more complicated.

melted unsweetened chocolate as cocoa powder substitute

Carob Powder

Carob powder is another cocoa powder alternative. 

If you’re not familiar with carob powder, it works as a vegan substitute for chocolate.  The powder comes from a carob tree’s flowering shrub.  

When you look at carob powder, you could mistake it for cocoa powder, as the two look similar.

However, keep in mind that the taste of carob powder is different from that of cocoa powder.  Rather than a chocolatey taste, it has an earthy and nutty taste, almost with a hint of caramel.

In addition to being a good vegan substitute for chocolate, carob powder can also be good for those looking to watch the amount of fat and sugar they consume.  It is also gluten- and caffeine-free.

When substituting carob powder for cocoa powder, use the same quantity that the recipe calls for.  Keep in mind that carob powder isn’t bitter like cocoa powder.

To adjust the taste to reflect this, you could also add about 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of instant coffee.  Also, because carob powder is sweet (naturally so, without any added sugar), you may also find that you want to reduce the amount of sugar called for by the recipe by about 3 tablespoons.

Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder

You could also try using Dutch-process cocoa for recipes that call for cocoa powder. 

Also called alkalized cocoa, it is a less acid alternative to cocoa powder.  An alkaline solution wash helps to neutralize the acidity. 

Dutch-process cocoa will still deliver the delicious chocolatey taste that you’re looking for in a recipe.  

It is important to note, however, that baked goods made with Dutch-process cocoa don’t rise as much as those made with cocoa powder.  You can work around this potential downside, though.

Try adding baking powder or cream of tartar (about ⅛ teaspoon for each 3 tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa).  Alternatively, a drop or so of lemon juice or vinegar can also work.

NuNaturals Premium Organic Cocoa Dutch Process Powder for Baking, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, 1 LB

Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

What can I substitute for cocoa powder?  You can also use semi-sweet chocolate chips if you don’t have any cocoa powder on hand. 

Melt the chocolate chips using a double broiler or in the microwave before adding them to the recipe.  You should add them to the recipe after mixing in the butter and sugar.

As I mentioned when discussing unsweetened chocolate, there is more butter and fat in chocolate or chocolate chips than in cocoa powder.  Because of this, remove 1 or 2 teaspoons of the butter or shortening from the recipe to compensate for the added fat from the chocolate chips. 

Additionally, semi-sweet chocolate chips are not unsweetened.  So, you should also remove a few tablespoons of sugar from the recipe to make sure it isn’t overly sweet.

cocoa powder substitutes

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate can also make a good cocoa powder substitute. 

In addition to working as a cocoa powder substitute, dark chocolate is also a beneficial antioxidant.  It is more bitter than semi-sweet or milk chocolate, making it a good flavor match for cocoa powder.  

Dark chocolate is made using cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and butter.  Depending on the quality of the dark chocolate you’re using, you may or may not need to adjust the amount of sugar that you add to the recipe.  Higher quality dark chocolate doesn’t have much sugar, so you shouldn’t need to remove sugar from the recipe.

Because dark chocolate has more coconut butter than is found in cocoa powder, add a little less dark chocolate than the amount of cocoa powder the recipe calls for.

dark chocolate as cocoa powder substitute

Couverture Chocolate

Couverture chocolate can also make a good cocoa powder replacement. 

This chocolate is often melted and used for candy making or for making chocolate-covered strawberries.  The ingredients found in couverture chocolate are similar to those found in other chocolate bars.  However, it contains more cocoa butter (fat).  With its higher fat content, couverture chocolate has a glossy appearance.  When melted, it is very smooth.

If you plan to use couverture chocolate instead of cocoa powder, you’ll want to decrease the amount of other fats, like butter or shortening, that you add.  When adding couverture chocolate to a recipe that calls for cocoa powder, use a little less than what the recipe states. 

For example, if your recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder, use about 3 tablespoons of couverture chocolate (melted).

Valrhona Professional Signature Range - Satilia Dark Couverture - 62% cocoa 37% sugar 38% fat content - 2Lbs - Feves

Hot Cocoa Mix

Did you know that hot cocoa mix can also be the answer for the question, “what can I use as a substitute for cocoa powder? 

Cocoa powder with sugar, milk, and some seasonings and artificial flavors make hot cocoa mix.  In a pinch, it can work well in recipes that call for cocoa powder.

When you’re using hot cocoa mix as a substitute for cocoa powder, add the same amount that the recipe calls for.  Due to the added sugar and milk in hot cocoa mix, you might decide to reduce the amount of these ingredients that you add to your recipe.

what to use instead of cocoa powder

Raw Cacao Powder

Despite the similarities in their names, raw cacao powder and cocoa powder are not the same thing.  There are a few key differences between raw cacao powder vs cocoa powder that have to deal with the production process.  Raw cacao is actually used to make cocoa powder.  It is roasted at high temperatures.

Raw cacao, on the other hand, is not roasted at these higher temperatures.  It has a bit of a stronger flavor, but can still make an excellent substitute.  You may just want to add a little extra sugar and liquid to your recipe when substituting raw cacao powder for cocoa powder,

Navitas Organics Cacao Powder, 8oz. Bag, 15 Servings — Organic, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, Gluten-Free

Chocolate Syrup

Another option for what to use instead of cocoa powder is chocolate syrup

However, you won’t want to substitute chocolate syrup for cocoa powder in recipes where cocoa powder is the primary (or one of the primary ingredients), such as brownies or cakes.

Chocolate syrup includes a lot of other ingredients and is much more liquidy than cocoa powder.  So, if you’re going to add it to a recipe, be prepared to reduce the amount of other liquids that are called for.

what can i use as a substitute for cocoa powder?

Molasses

You can also use molasses in place of cocoa powder.  However, again, this is only a good substitute option if the recipe you’re making only calls for a little bit of cocoa powder. 

Obviously, molasses isn’t going to add a chocolatey flavor to your recipe, so you may notice a taste difference.  It has a more nutty flavor with a little bit of a caramel aftertaste.

Aim to add approximately 1 ½ or 2 tablespoons of molasses for each tablespoon of cocoa powder the recipe calls for.  Because of how sweet and liquid-y molasses is, you should also reduce the amount of sugar and liquid you add to the recipe.

molasses Cocoa Powder Substitute

Nutella

If you like the chocolate hazelnut flavor of Nutella, it can also work as a substitute when you don’t have any cocoa powder.

Use approximately 4 ounces of Nutella in place for each 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder a recipe calls for.

Additionally, it is important to remember that Nutella is very sweet.  Be sure to use less sugar than the recipe calls for if you plan to substitute Nutella for cocoa powder.

Nutella Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, Perfect Topping for Easter Treats, 26.5 oz (Packaging May Vary)

Espresso Powder

If you’re really in a tight spot and need to find a cocoa powder substitute, you could also try espresso powder. 

Espresso powder is also acidic and bitter, much like cocoa powder.  Just remember, espresso powder has a lot of caffeine.  Because of this, you should add less espresso powder than the recipe calls for. 

Additionally, if you’re planning to make a recipe that will be eaten by children, you probably should not use espresso powder and should opt for one of the other substitute options shared above.

Pure Espresso Powder, (8 oz.) Hoosier Hill Farm

How to choose the best cocoa powder substitute?

So, which cocoa powder substitute is right for you?  The best choice will come down to the specific recipe you are making, the ingredients you have access to, and your taste preferences.  

Start by considering how a particular substitute could change the consistency of the recipe or alter the taste.  Remember to make modifications to the other ingredients each recipe calls for to account for substitutions that are sweeter, fattier, or more liquidy than cocoa powder.  You may need to add less butter or shortening than the recipe calls for, reduce the amount of sugar you add, or decrease the amount of liquid that is added.

what can you use instead of cocoa powder

Substituting Cocoa Powder in Your Recipes

I was really worried when I opened the pantry to find out I didn’t have any cocoa powder left for my brownie recipe.  Thankfully, I discovered that there are plenty of cocoa powder substitutes that can work just fine in creating delectable desserts and other treats. 

If you’re like me, and just realized that you don’t have the cocoa powder you need for a recipe you want to make, don’t panic.  There is probably a suitable substitute sitting in your kitchen right now!

More cocoa on the blog:

FAQs

What can I use instead of cocoa powder?

There are a few different ingredients you can use in place of cocoa powder.  Some of these include:
Unsweetened chocolate
Carob powder
Dutch-process cocoa powder
Raw cacao powder
Hot chocolate mix
Chocolate chips
Chocolate syrup
Nutella
Molasses
Espresso powder

Can I use melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder?

Yes, you can use melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder.  However, depending on the recipe you’re planning to make, the texture difference between cocoa powder and melted chocolate could impact the final result.  Cocoa powder is dry, while melted chocolate is more liquid-y and may contain other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, or vanilla.  You may need to adjust the other ingredients in the recipe to make up for the change in consistency.

Can I substitute flour for cocoa powder?

Flour is not an ideal substitute for cocoa powder.  It doesn’t have as much fat as cocoa powder and is less acidic, so the recipe may not turn out right.  Additionally, flour clearly won’t add any chocolate flavor or darker coloring to your recipe, which is often the point of the cocoa powder.

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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