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Feel the pow(d)er

Feel the pow(d)er

With so many options available, choosing the right cocoa powder for your application will make a huge difference to the finished product, be that a drink, meal, ice cream or bakery item.

Cocoa powders come in a range of flavours, colours and technical characteristics. The two chief technical characteristics in cocoa powder are the amount of fat remaining (the cocoa butter content) and the level (or absence) of alkalisation involved in the ‘dutching’ process. Here, the experts at deZaan explain how the components work – and how you can get the most out of their cocoa powders . . .

What is the difference between extrinsic (dry) and intrinsic colour?

Extrinsic (or dry) colour = the colour you see when you look at dry cocoa powder, before combining with any other substance.

Intrinsic colour = the colour you see after combining it with a wet substance such as water, dairy or fat. This visual demonstrates how the colour can vary between the intrinsic and extrinsic, with the intrinsic cocoa powders being mixed in water. The colour can vary quite dramatically between the different forms, and the extrinsic (dry) form is not always a good guide to what colour the cocoa powder will look like in application.


In the 19th century, Dutch chemist and chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten introduced the process of dutching (or alkalisation) to improve cocoa powders’ dispersibility in drinks. This resulted in a less bitter and milder taste, as well as a more intense colour.

The dutching process involves treating the cocoa nibs (or in some cases the cocoa cake) with an alkaline solution such as potassium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. Consequently dutched cocoa powders have a higher pH than natural (non-dutched) cocoa powders.

How does dutching affect colour and taste? Dutched cocoa powders tend to be darker in colour with a milder flavour, while natural cocoa powders tend to be lighter in colour with a fruitier flavour.

This darker colour is a result of a number of different factors (including dutching, fat content, bean origin, roasting time etc), but it should be clear that there is a strong link between dark colour and pH.

However, this is only a general rule, the best way to find out a cocoa powder’s exact flavour and colour is by trying it in a recipe.

Fat content

Fat content is the amount of residual cocoa butter in a cocoa powder. A low fat cocoa powder is typically 10-12% fat, while a high-fat cocoa powder is typically 20-22% or 22-24% fat.

When dry, high-fat cocoa powders appear brighter and darker than low-fat cocoa powders. This optical effect is linked to the way fat crystals are absorbing the light.

When put in application, as fat crystals are dissolving into the medium, high-fat cocoa powders appear lighter than low-fat cocoa powders. The latter have 10% more cocoa solids and therefore appear darker in solution.

Putting powders into practice

Ice cream

High-fat cocoa powders, like deZaan Crimson Red, are the ideal base for ice creams. When combined with dairy the soft fats of these cocoa powders create a pleasingly premium texture that is delectably creamy, rounded in taste and satisfying in mouthfeel. Its high pH attracts more water in the ice cream making process, creating a thicker structure with a slower melting time and premium texture.


When choosing a cocoa powder for a dessert, opt for a low/medium alkalized powder. Cocoa powders with a pH above 7.5 will give desserts a thinner texture as the high pH damages the stability of the internal structure that combines the fats and proteins. As with ice creams, the dairy in many desserts combines with high-fat cocoa powders to create a melt-in-your-mouth, creamy texture. If you want to enjoy a cocoa powder with higher pH, such as Carbon Black, consider adding a thickener, such as cornstarch or locust bean gum to your recipes.

Chocolate milk

When it comes to chocolate milk, choose a high-fat cocoa powder like Terra Rossa or Rich Terracotta for stability. A highly alkalised cocoa powder will curdle chocolate milk over time because milk has a pH of 6.4. Any cocoa powder that is too far away from this pH (i.e. any cocoa powder that is above 7.4 or below 6) will destabilise the milk, separating it in two phases. However, if you want to use a low-fat cocoa powder with a specific taste, like True Dark, you can add a stabiliser like carrageenan to strengthen the drink’s network.

Cakes & bread

Dutching improves the solubility and water binding properties of a cocoa powder, meaning that cocoa powders with a high pH (7.5 and above) attract more water and create a stiffer dough. This stiffness can be addressed by increasing water content or reducing the amount of flour in a dough. When following a recipe containing baking soda, consider the pH of the cocoa powder you’re using. A natural cocoa powder (which has a low pH) will react with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide, resulting in an airy and drier creation. A dutched cocoa powder (which has a higher pH) will not cause this same reaction, resulting in something dense and fudgier. As baking powder is already balanced (both base and acid), it won’t react with any acidity in the cocoa powder. You are, therefore, free to choose whatever type of cocoa powder you like without it affecting the rising process.

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