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 cocoa 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. One famous brand of Dutch cocoa is Droste, 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.
There is one distinct disadvantage to Dutch cocoa. When the cocoa is processed, it loses some of the chemical compounds which are retained in unprocessed cocoa, including some of the natural antioxidants in the chocolate. As a result, the already debatable health benefits of chocolate are rendered virtually nonexistent. Some people also prefer the richer, darker flavor of less heavily processed cocoa, and they get around the solubility issue by dissolving it in hot water or alcohol before using it.