What is Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa powder is a powder which is obtained from cocoa solids, one of the two components of chocolate liquor. chocolate liquor is a substance which is obtained during the manufacturing process which turns cacao beans into chocolate products. Cocoa powder can be added to baked goods for a chocolatey flavor, whisked with hot milk or water for hot chocolate, and used in a variety of other ways, depending on the taste of the cook. Most markets carry cocoa powder, often with several options available.
Before delving into the specifics of cocoa powder, it may help to explain the process through which cacao beans are turned into chocolate. These beans are harvested in large pods which are split open and then allowed to ferment, mellowing the natural bitterness of the beans. After fermentation, cacao beans are roasted and then hulled to expose the cacao nibs, which are then ground to produce chocolate liquor, a gritty, runny paste which is the first step in creating a dizzying array of chocolate products.
Once cacao nibs have been ground into chocolate liquor, the chocolate liquor is pressed to squeeze out the rich cocoa butter. Without pressing, the chocolate liquor would be greasy, fatty, and very unpleasant, even with the addition of sugar and spices. The pressing separates the chocolate liquor into two components: cocoa butter, and cocoa solids. To produce cocoa powder, the cocoa solids are pressed again, ensuring that around 75% of the original cocoa butter has been removed, and creating a substance called press cake. The press cake is dried, and then ground into cocoa powder.
There are two main types of cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder is produced using the process detailed above, and it is naturally very strong, slightly acidic, and very dark. Dutched cocoa powder or Dutch cocoa is produced by adding an alkali to the press cake to mellow the flavor and make the color less intense. Because Dutch cocoa is alkalized to remove the natural acidity, it is important to read baking recipes which call for cocoa carefully, as replacing natural with Dutch cocoa can cause a baked good to rise poorly or unevenly.
What is Dutch Cocoa?
Dutch cocoa is a type of cocoa powder which has been treated with an alkali to neutralize the natural acids present in cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa is also sometimes referred to as Dutched cocoa, as the process of making Dutch cocoa is known as “Dutching.” Many markets carry Dutch cocoa along with untreated forms of cocoa powder, and it is important to pay attention to which kind of cocoa a recipe calls for.
The process for making Dutch cocoa was developed in 1828 by Coenraad Johanness van Houten, the same man who developed a hydraulic press for separating cocoa solids and ccocoa butter. The development of the hydraulic press revolutionized chocolate production, allowing chocolate companies to re-blend various amounts of cocoa butter and cocoa solids to create things like eating chocolate. This Dutch inventor realized that the fundamental character of cocoa changed in several ways when an alkali was produced, and the resulting cocoa could be used to make chocolate or sold as cocoa for drinking and baking.
In addition to lowering the acidity of the cocoa, Dutching also makes it much more soluble, which is a great advantage for cooks. In addition, Dutched cocoa tends to be much darker in color, with a milder flavor. A few famous brands of Dutch cocoa is Callebaut and Valrhona, although several other producers make their own versions, and in all cases, their products have a distinctive mild flavor which some people greatly enjoy.
Because Dutch cocoa has been neutralized, it will not react with baking soda in recipes. As a result, when it is used instead of unprocessed cocoa in a recipe, the recipe will fail to form as expected, and the resulting product may be flat or very dry. If a recipe does not specify which kind of cocoa should be used, look for the presence of other acidic ingredients; if there are no other sources of acidity, the recipe needs unprocessed cocoa.