Cocoa Powder vs Baking Cocoa EXPLAINED

Published Categorized as Journal, Ingredients Tagged

As time goes on and the world evolves, luckily, so does the food and ingredients available to us! Is this a positive? Yes! It means we are constantly exposed to new flavours, recipes and cooking methods. Does this make things all the more confusing? Again, yes! But have no fear, today I am going to tackle a question that may leave you feeling unsure – should I be using cocoa powder or baking cocoa?

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Now, you may not have even realised that these were two separate things. That’s completely understandable and probably very common, but if you want to really enrich the flavours of your chocolaty goods then distinguishing between the two can bring you one step closer to that yummy, desired dessert.

Let’s start with the basics.

Cocoa Powder vs Baking Cocoa EXPLAINED_Cooks Dream

Table of Contents

What is cocoa powder?

Cocoa powder is a bitter, flavourful powder that comes from ground cocoa beans – derived from cocoa butter found in the cacao plant. You’ll often find it in the shops labelled as “natural cocoa”, “unsweetened cocoa” or simply, “cocoa”.

The beans are fermented and ground at an extremely high temperature which causes them to be roasted – resulting in a very acidic and bitter flavour. This flavour means that, quite often, the recipes calling for cocoa powder often call for bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to balance the acidity. The use of the baking soda reacts with the acidity of the cocoa powder and this encourages the baked goods to rise.

The natural texture and bitter flavour also often means that cocoa powder is not used for typical, sweet desserts or instant chocolaty goodness such as hot chocolate, as it would require a lot of sugar to make the flavour more enjoyable.

A lot of the time, recipes may call for “cocoa” and will not clarify the type. In these instances, they would usually be referring to regular, natural cocoa powder. Traditionally this was the only form of cocoa powder available and so many older recipes do not specify, but again, they often require more sugar to boost the sweetness.

Cocoa Powder vs Baking Cocoa EXPLAINED_Cooks Dream

What is baking cocoa?

Over time, like much else, we have developed a more processed version of cocoa powder known as “baking cocoa”. This is often referred to as “Dutch Process Cocoa” and it means that the cocoa powder has been alkalised by washing it in a potassium carbonate solution. Without getting too scientific, the key point to this is that the process neutralises the acidity and creates a sweet, rich flavour and the smoothness overpowers the sharpness of the natural cocoa.

This is often used in baking, hence the name “baking cocoa” because it brings more flavour. As a result, the powder is a lot more dissolvable and enjoyable, so it is used for the likes of hot chocolate, icing and fondants.

However, this does remove the rising agent and so it needs to be used alongside baking powder for cakes but can work perfectly in some dessert recipes that don’t require much rising, such as brownies and chocolate pudding – yum!

Wondering what happens if you use baking soda instead of baking powder in a cake? Read more here!

Can I substitute baking cocoa for cocoa powder?

So, I’m sure you’re dying to know – can you substitute baking cocoa for cocoa powder? The answer is yes, but you may need to do some altering with your leavening and sweetening agents.

To substitute in natural cocoa instead of baking cocoa:

For recipes that usually require baking cocoa and baking powder, you can substitute natural cocoa but ensure you add in 1/8tsp bicarbonate soda for every 3tbs of cocoa powder.

To substitute in baking cocoa instead of natural coca:

For recipes that do not require a rising agent, you can swap from baking to natural, but just be cautious of the bitter flavour.

Baking Cocoa vs Cocoa Powder – The Bitter Sweet Symphony

To wrap it up, both are delicious, both have their benefits but both are pretty different. Remember, if a recipe calls for baking powder, aim to use dutch process cocoa. If a recipe calls for bicarbonate of soda, aim to use natural cocoa. Follow these simple steps and your gooey, chocolaty treats can’t go far wrong!

By Shay

Hey, I’m Shay - an amateur, yet unforgivingly enthusiastic, cook who loves to develop and grow recipes that are easy and accessible for all. For as long as I can remember, food has been a massive part of my life and it goes without saying that I have my mother to thank for this. From baking scones with her at the age of four, to learning how to knead my own bread at the age of eight, I finally developed a deep passion for healthy, vegetarian cooking with a side of extraordinary cake decorating too! My love for food and my desire to continue learning about food is something I will never bore off, and so to be able to share my experience with others and continue creating new skills and recipes for people to learn and practice with me is a real dream come true. Writing and editing a food blog not only allows me to continue to grow my interest in food, but it is also teaching me so much everyday. I have come to realize that food really is a never ending venture of excitement and new trends and so if there is anything you believe you can teach me in return then please do get in touch - I would love to hear from you! The world of cooking really is a world like no other, so what are you waiting for? Let's get cooking!


  1. What if the cookie recipe calls for both cacao powder and cocoa powder. Which cocoa/cacao would be used? Either one?

  2. One of the best reasons to use cocoa is for the polyphenol activity (high ORAC value), but that is not what you get much of if the cocoa has been cooked or roasted, as you mentioned. Otherwise, good discussion. I use Hershey’s cocoa all the time with just two packets of stevia for a drink and it is okay, except I combine it with whey powder–otherwise for a hot drink it won’t mix. I think now I’ll look for cocoa that has not been heated up.

  3. On dark chocolate bars, it says if it is 70% cocoa, 80% cocoa, etc. In cocoa powder or baking cocoa, I do not see a percentage of cocoa. Can I assume it is always 100% cocoa, even though it does not say 100% on the package? I hear that a little bit of dark chocolate bar each day is good for your heart. Does that mean that hot chocolate with cocoa powder or baking cocoa (with Stevia) is even healthier?

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