Cocoa powder is a flavorful ingredient for baking.

Cocoa Powder

Also known as dried cocoa or cacao

What is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is the fine ground brown powder obtained from the partially or completely defatted portion of cocoa liquor or mass of fermented cocoa beans.1 Commonly used in baking, cocoa powder adds chocolate flavor and a brownish to red color.2 Commercially, it’s available as regular, alkaline or dutch cocoa.2

Based on cocoa butter content, cocoa powder can also be classified into: 2

  • Regular medium fat cocoa (10-12% cocoa butter)
  • Low fat cocoa (<10% cocoa butter)
  • Fat free cocoa (0.5% cocoa butter)
  • High fat cocoa (>22% of cocoa butter)


Cocoa (Theobroma cacao ) is an ancient crop from the Amazon basin. In the 16th century, Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, found that Mexican indigenous peoples use cocoa beans for the preparation of drink by the name of xocolatl. 1

The earliest development of cocoa powder was in 1828 when Van Houten a dutch chemist, pressed cocoa liquor through a press and partially removed cocoa butter from the liquor producing a powder. 1 Today, cocoa is consumed worldwide as a drink or as a staple ingredient for several baked goods.


Cocoa has several functions in baked goods:2

  • Flavor: imparts a rich sweet chocolate flavor.
  • Color: provides a brownish to reddish color.
  • Water absorption: provides a higher water absorption than an equal weight of flour.
  • Bulking agent: allows for the use of a reduced amount of flour.
  • Pleasant mouthfeel: especially high fat cocoa powders.
  • Nutrition: due to high levels of dietary fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals and several polyphenolic compounds.


A commercially available cocoa provides the following nutritional value per 100 g:2

Component Grams
Carbohydrate 58
Protein 20
Fat 11
Ash 6
Water 3
Theobromine 2

Cocoa is rich in dietary fiber and several polyphenolic compounds with unique antioxidant properties.2

Commercial production

Cocoa powder is commercially produced through the following process:1

  • Cleaning: leaves, stalks and stones are removed from the cocoa beans using classic seed cleaners.
  • Roasting: beans are roasted at 100 – 120 oC (212 – 248 oF) for 45 – 70 minutes. Temperature – time combination depends on the roaster and bean type used.
  • Kibbling and winnowing: cocoa beans are broken up to separate the nib from the cocoa shells or husk, then they are passed through a series of vibrating sieves and the shell is removed by pneumatic suction.
  • Grinding: nibs are milled using a series of roller mills to produce cocoa liquor or cocoa mass.
  • Pressing: cocoa liquor is pressed with an extrusion press to produce cocoa cake by partially removing cocoa butter. For the manufacture of dutch or alkalized cocoa the cocoa cake is treated with an alkali like potassium carbonate.
  • Milling: the cocoa cake is milled to the appropriate particle size.
  • Sieving: cocoa is separated to provide a standard particle size powder.
  • Packaging


Cocoa powder is used in a variety of baked goods such as cakes, cookies, croissants, bread and brownies.

Some considerations when using cocoa in baked goods:2

  • Unsweetened cocoa is preferred over sweetened cocoa.
  • Natural cocoa may react with sodium bicarbonate due to its slightly acidic nature (pH 5-6).
  • Liquid and fat proportions may have to be adjusted in formulations without cocoa.
  • Dutched and natural cocoa can be used interchangeably without major technical changes except for color and flavor.
  • When using alkaline cocoa, baking soda or acidic ingredients may have to be adjusted.

When substituting unsweetened chocolate for cocoa, consider the following: 2


Cocoa powder is considered to be safe by the FDA, and its product identity is defined in the CFR Title 21 Part 163.3

In the EU, cocoa powder is considered to be safe and its product identity is defined by the EU Commission Regulation 2000/36/EC.4


  1. Wood, G.A, and Lass, R.A. Cocoa. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
  2. Figoni, P. How Baking Works: Exploring The Fundamentals Of Baking Science. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.
  3. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). US Department of Health and Human Services. CFR Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 163 Cacao Products, , Accessed 20 November 2021.
  4. European Commission (EC). European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 June 2000 . Official Journal Of European Communities, 23 June 2000.

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