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Cocoa Powder

The big debate in cocoa powder has always been Dutch-processed versus natural. Is that really the most important factor?

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Winner

Droste Cacao

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What We Learned

When we want big chocolate flavor in everything from cookies and cakes to puddings and pies, we turn to cocoa powder. It has a higher proportion of flavorful cocoa solids than any other form of chocolate, so ounce for ounce, it tastes more intensely chocolaty. It's made in two styles—Dutch-processed and natural—and there's fierce debate in the baking world about which is best. Both styles have staunch supporters who are convinced that using the wrong type will ruin a dessert. For years, we also viewed Dutched and natural cocoa powders as distinctly different products. But when we last evaluated cocoa powder, something surprising happened: A natural powder won, a Dutched powder came in second, and the rest of the lineup was a jumble.

In the years since, we've remained curious about cocoa powder. Some of our test cooks prefer the dark color of Dutched powder and swear that it has richer, deeper chocolate flavor to match. Are they onto something? Is choosing between Dutched and natural the most important decision you can make when buying cocoa powder, or is there more to it than that?

To find out, we sampled eight nationally available cocoa powders (priced from $0.34 to $1.70 per ounce): four Dutched and four natural. To zero in on how much Dutch processing matters, we carefully selected recipes for testing: two different sheet cake recipes—one that calls for natural cocoa powder and another that uses Dutched—and a cookie recipe that doesn't specify which style to use.

The results were mixed. While some desserts were simply acceptable, others were excellent. The good-enough cakes and cookies were tall and “airy” with a “crumbly” structure but a little “dry.” Across the board, we preferred “moist” and “fudgy” desserts. Our favorite cakes had a “plush” texture, and cookies toed the line between chewy and tender. As for flavor, samples ranged from “mild” and “slightly fruity” to “intense,” “complex,” and “earthy,” with the slight bitterness of good espresso or dark chocolate. Why had some desserts been dry, mild, and lean, while others were so rich, flavorful, and decadent?

From Pod to Powder

Cocoa powder—and all real chocolate—starts with cacao pods, the fruit of the tropical evergreen tree Theobroma cacao. Each pod contains between 20 and 50 beans (also called seeds). The beans generally taste bitter and are surrounded by a fruity-tasting, milky-white pulp, according to Gregory Ziegler, a chocolate expert and professor of food science at Penn State University. The beans are fermented, a critical process that develops their dark brown color, before being roasted. The fermented beans are either roasted whole or are shelled and roas...

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*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.

Reviews you can trust

The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.

Kate Shannon

Kate is Deputy Editor of ATK Reviews. She attended BU's culinary program and has worked as a cheesemonger and line cook.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.