Cocoa Powder vs Baking Cocoa: The Distinct Differences (to End Your Confusion)

Published Categorized as Ingredients

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As the world continues to spin on its tilted axis, our food and ingredients are constantly evolving. While this can be positive, sometimes the confusion between distinctive foods can be a bit of a problem, not to mention incredibly confusing! If you’re a fan of chocolate, then you may have heard of cocoa powder and baking cocoa. But are they the same? And if not what are their distinct differences? Well, let’s find out!

Table of Contents

What is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is made from ground cocoa beans. To make cocoa powder, you first need to turn raw cacao beans into chocolate liquor. This process begins with fermentation followed by drying, then roasting and cracking the nibs into smaller pieces before pressing them to remove 75% of their cocoa butter. This leaves us with chocolate liquor.

The pasty liquor is dried further and then ground into unsweetened cocoa powder. The natural texture and bitter flavour often mean that cocoa powder is not used for typical sweet desserts unless you want them to be very bitter.

The most common use for natural unsweetened cocoa powder is for baking brownies or cakes — although it can also be used in savoury dishes like mole sauce or barbecue rubs if they require a darker colour.

cocoa powder vs baking cocoa

What is Baking Cocoa?

Baking Cocoa is a more processed form of cocoa powder that has been alkalised by washing it in a potassium carbonate solution. This process neutralises the acidity of the natural cocoa and creates a sweet, rich flavour. The overall effect is smoother than its unprocessed counterpart, which means that it’s often used in baking because of its smoothness and innate ability to overpower the sharpness of the natural cocoa.

This smoothness also makes it easier to dissolve into liquids, like milk or water, so you can enjoy hot chocolate or even chocolate fondant without acquiring any other ingredients for sweetness or texture.

However, one thing to be careful about when using Baking cocoa, is that since it has been washed with an alkaline solution to remove its acidity, you cannot use it with baking soda/bicarbonate, as this would counteract the other’s effects, consequently preventing your batter from rising! You will need some sort of leavening agent like baking powder if you want to bake cakes or muffins made with Baking Cocoa.

Cocoa Powder vs Baking Cocoa

The main difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa is their alkalisation level. Cocoa powder is made from raw cacao beans that are ground into a fine powder, while baking cocoa is treated with an alkali solution to neutralise its acidity.

This process changes the colour of the cocoa powder to a darker brown hue and enhances its flavour by making it less bitter than non-alkalised cocoa powder. The alkaline treatment also helps stabilise the vanilla flavour in baked goods, helping them taste fresher despite being stored at room temperature for longer periods of time than many other baked goods. They may be able to withstand these conditions before going stale, which is why many recipes call for substituting 1 tsp baking soda per cup of flour.

Natural cocoa powders or Dutch-processed cocoas are not treated with an alkali solution during manufacturing; instead, they’re produced through similar methods used for making pure chocolate bars: pressing out about three-quarters of their fat content in order for one quarter to be left behind, providing us with our dark brown substance known as unsweetened chocolate.

Can You Substitute Baking Cocoa for Cocoa Powder?

Let’s start with the basics. The difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa is simple: cocoa powder is pressed into fat-free granules, while baking cocoa is a more concentrated form of chocolate that contains minimal amounts of oil and fat. Since there’s no fat in either one, they can be used interchangeably in cakes or brownies recipes that require some sort of chocolate flavouring.

But when it comes to leavening agents (like baking soda or baking powder), things get tricky. If you’re substituting for recipes that normally require baking soda or baking powder, and those that don’t contain any other rising agents, you should stick with natural cocoa; otherwise, your dish will end up tasting bitter due to the increased amount of acidity from adding less flour.

When to Use Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is used in baking. It’s an important ingredient in brownies, cakes, cookies, and muffins. In combination with sugar and milk or cream, it can be used to make homemade hot chocolate or fudgesicles. Cocoa powder can also be sprinkled over ice cream for a decadent dessert treat!

Cocoa powder is also great for adding texture and flavour to savoury dishes like chilli con carne which is basically chilli with meat. This is because cocoa has been shown to help reduce inflammation levels in the body by lowering blood pressure while simultaneously increasing good cholesterol levels too.

cocoa powder vs baking cocoa

Types of Cocoa Powder

Unsweetened cocoa powders come in two varieties:

  • Dutch-Processed
  • Natural

The main difference between these types of cocoa is how they were processed. Dutch-processed/alkalised and unsweetened cocoa have been treated with an alkali to neutralise its acids, while natural unsweetened cocoa powder has not been treated with an alkali. Alkalised unsweetened cocoa powder has a reddish-brown colour and mild flavour. Because it is neutral and does not react with baking soda, it must be used in recipes that call for baking soda. It has a delicate flavour that makes it ideal for European cakes as well as pastries where its subtle flavour complements other ingredients instead of dominating them as some other types might do.

The natural unsweetened cocoa powder tastes very bitter and provides a deep, rich, chocolate flavour to baked goods like brownies or cookies where its intense flavours work best on their own. It doesn’t necessarily require any assistance from other flavours that are readily available, such as vanilla extract.

Cocoa Powder Recipes

The first and most obvious difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa is that the former is a fine powder made from cacao beans, while the latter is a combination of ground cacao beans and sugar. Cocoa powder has a more intense flavour than baking cocoa does, which means you can use less of it for similar amounts of sweetness.

Cocoa powder also has less fat content than its sweetened counterpart, so you can use it in recipes where butter or oil are called for but not both (like brownies). It’s also worth noting that unsweetened cocoa always contains 100% pure chocolate liquor (the most concentrated form of chocolate) while baking cocoa often does not.

Here are some for you to try:

  • Chocolate Cake
  • Double Chocolate Cookies
  • Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake recipe is perfect for birthdays. Made with fine cocoa powder, for its moist and fudgy deliciousness that won’t weigh you down. Plus there are lots of different ways to make this easy chocolate cake recipe on your own, from adding fruit in the batter or layering it on top, to changing up the type of chocolate used. These incredible chocolate cakes make for a terrific dessert to have at the end of your meal.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Cocoa powder combined with the batter will give your cookies a deep, rich chocolate flavour without leaving them feeling dry or hard. Add a touch of cinnamon to enhance the sweetness and you have yourself some perfect double chocolate cookies! These are beautiful symmetrical cookies with just the right amount of chewiness. The key to their perfection? Cocoa powder! Because cocoa powder has more fat in it than baking cocoa, these cookies don’t spread out too much while they bake but still get crispy around the edges while remaining chewy in the center.

Chocolate Brownies

For a chocolate lover, there’s something that just feels right about the combination of a brownie and a glass of milk. These brownies are everything you want in a brownie — fudgy, dark, and chocolatey. However, they’re also super easy to make! Simply combine all ingredients together and bake for 35 minutes. Serve these warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

cocoa powder vs baking cocoa

Baking Cocoa Recipes

Baking cocoa is used as a substitute for regular cocoa powder in recipes that call for a chocolate flavour with added sweetness. Essentially it is a combination of unsweetened chocolate and sugar, while regular cocoa powder contains no sweetener at all. Here are some delicious baking cocoa recipes for you to try:

  • Chocolate Buttermilk Squares
  • Chocolate Truffle Cookies
  • Layered Brownie

Chocolate Buttermilk Squares

The sweet and rich flavour of baking cocoa is the perfect addition to desserts that call for chocolate. These Buttermilk Chocolate Squares are a great example of how easy it is to incorporate this ingredient into your favourite recipes, and they’ll vanish before your eyes!

Next time you’re looking for an easy dessert recipe, try these delicious buttermilk squares out! They’re perfect as an afternoon snack or a quick breakfast treat, or serve with a tall glass of milk or your favourite milkshake for dessert – add a dollop of whipped cream for good measure!

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

These crispy, fudgy cookies are the perfect dessert for any chocolate lover. The truffles have a gooey centre and crisp outer shell, with a subtly sweet cocoa flavour that complements the rich taste of dark chocolate.

Layered Brownie

This brownie has a base of cocoa powder, eggs, and flour. To make it extra special, try layering in some cream cheese and chocolate pudding! A delicious snack that’s great for parties or just as an afternoon treat.

Cocoa Powder, Baking Cocoa

If you’ve been confused about the difference between cocoa powder and baking cocoa, keep in mind that while the two are similar they also have distinct differences that make them ideal for different uses in your kitchen.

While cocoa powder is made from roasted cacao beans, baking cocoa is not. Instead, it’s a mixture of natural ingredients like sugar which makes it more like regular cocoa powder or hot chocolate mix than pure cacao beans. When planning to substitute one for the other (like when making cookies), try using half as much baking cocoa as you would cocoa powder so they don’t taste too bitter!

cocoa powder vs baking cocoa


Can I Substitute Baking Cocoa for Cocoa Powder?

You can substitute baking cocoa for natural cocoa powder, simply swap 1 ounce of unsweetened baking cocoa for 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. Then remove 1 tablespoon of butter, oil, or shortening from the recipe for the baking cocoa.

Is There a Difference Between Cocoa and Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder and cacao powder are quite similar, the only difference being that cocoa is processed at a much higher temperature, while packaged cocoa contains added sugars and dairy.

Is There a Difference Between Baking Cocoa and Unsweetened Cocoa?

Baking cocoa is treated with an alkali solution that neutralises its acidity, resulting in its change of colour and flavour.