Yes, the Amount of Fat in Your Cocoa Powder Makes a Difference

Different fat contents in the cocoa powders found on supermarket shelves can make a big difference to your baked goods. Here’s how.

Published Mar. 23, 2022.

When was the last time you looked at your cocoa powder’s nutritional info?

You might not be in the habit of checking your baking ingredients’ labels, but when it comes to cocoa powder, it could mean the difference between moist, fudgy brownies and drier, crumbly ones.

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There are two things that you’re looking for when it comes to cocoa powder. The first is the label “Dutch-processed.” This means that it’s been treated with an alkali solution, which mellows the powder's astringency for a richer and earthier chocolate flavor.

For years we thought that the Dutched versus natural debate was the key to choosing the best cocoa powder. But after our last cocoa powder tasting, we realized that wasn’t the whole story. 

The other consideration? Fat content.

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We know that fat adds richness and flavor to our baked goods, and most cocoa powders that you’ll find in the supermarket contain between 10 and 24 percent fat due to their respective cocoa butter content. That’s quite a range! Choosing the right number can make or break your baked goods’ texture.

If you’re looking for a magic number when it comes to fat, America’s Test Kitchen recommends around 20 percent fat to ensure a moist and tender chocolate dessert, as specified in our Everything Chocolate cookbook. That means that you should seek out a product with at least 1 gram of fat per 5-gram serving. (And yes, you should still look at the fat content for cocoa powders labeled Dutch-processed. Not all Dutched cocoa powders are high in fat.)

So why does more fat equal better baked goods? Without getting too bogged down in science, the reason is that the less fat a cocoa powder has, the more starch it contains. Since starch is very absorbent—able to soak up 100% of its weight in water—you can imagine what this means for the moisture in your chocolate cake.

a side by side comparison of high starch and high fat cocoa powder
The lower the fat content, the more starch cocoa powder contains. In this side-by-side comparison of cocoa powder–water mixtures that were cooked to the same temperature, you can see what that could mean for the texture of your baked goods.

Ensuring that the fat content of your cocoa powder is higher (and therefore the starch content lower) will allow your cakes, cookies, and pastries to retain their moisture and that sumptuous, cakey texture.

So check your cocoa powder and make sure that it has two things: 

  1. “Dutch-processed” on the label 
  2. At least 1 gram of fat per 5-gram serving 

If you learn that you’re in the market for a new container of the stuff, you can read more about our favorite products in our in-depth cocoa powder review.

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