Filed Under: Baking Science | Chocolate

The Most Important Thing to Know About Cocoa Powder

Recipe By Tessa Arias
  |  
January 21st, 2021

I’m sharing the secret behind the BEST cocoa powder! This secret will help you achieve the perfect texture and flavor for your cookies, cakes, cupcakes, brownies, you name it! Plus, my favorite brands to buy cocoa powder from.

When buying cocoa powder, a lot of people focus only on the brand name, color, or if it’s Dutch process or natural.

Although two of those things are actually important, one thing matters the most. And this one thing is what’s most often overlooked. In fact, most people aren’t aware of it at all!

cocoa powder and dutch processed cocoa powder in measuring cups

The SECRET behind the BEST cocoa? FAT!

The FDA stipulates that cocoa powder must contain at least 10% cocoa butter. However, cocoa butter is pricey so you’ll find most grocery store brands contain just that amount. This leads to powder that tends to be starchy and chalky. Those starches zap moisture. In fact, they can absorb up to 100 percent of their weight in moisture!

This can lead to dry cakes, cakey brownies, crumbly cookies, and chalky or bland chocolate frosting. Overall, the less fat the less chocolate flavor.

What should you buy instead?

HIGH FAT COCOA POWDER IS MAGIC!

High fat cocoa powder contains at least 22% cocoa butter, double the amount of most grocery store cocoa products!

This results in a richer chocolate flavor with cakes that are ultra moist and tender in texture, brownies and cookies that are chewy and fudgy, and ultra smooth buttercream frosting. In fact, one of the secrets to my Best Chocolate American Buttercream recipe is high fat cocoa powder!

cupcake comparison of cupcakes baked with different types of cocoa powder
brownie comparison of brownies baked with different types of cocoa powder
How to tell if a cocoa powder is high fat?

High fat cocoa powder is often labeled as such and comes at a higher price point. Look at the nutrition label on the packaging to be sure:

Look for 1 gram of fat or more (instead of .5 grams) per tablespoon (5 to 6 gram) serving.

Where to buy high fat cocoa powder?

Amazon or King Arthur Flour, Penzey’s, and I’ve seen Ghirardelli and E. Guittard found at Whole Foods & Target. Links below.

What are the best brands of cocoa powder?

This depends on a lot on personal taste preferences! Below are some of my favorites including some of the cocoa powder products used in the photos throughout this article. As you’ll see, most Dutch process cocoa has far more fat content than natural! It’s not just about pH levels.

comparison of Penzey's dutch processed vs natural cocoa powder
comparison of Penzey's vs Hershey's cocoa powder
DUTCH PROCESS:
  • Bensdorp (24-26% fat)
    I just love this cocoa! It makes amazingly rich, dark, and tender cakes, fudgy and moist brownies and cookies, and incredibly luscious frosting.
  • Penzeys (22% fat)
    When I can’t wait for Bensdorp to be delivered, I’ll usually stock up on cocoa at Penzey’s because this particular one as well as the Natural version (listed below) are both great. Though I will say the Dutch process Penzey’s seems to have less chocolate flavor.
  • E. Guittard (22% fat)
    This is one of the more easy-to-find Dutch cocoa powders. I usually see it at Whole Foods, Sprouts, or even Target. It makes for really chewy brownies with a slightly less sweet more refined chocolate flavor for adult palettes. Not to mention very tender and fudgy cake!
  • Droste (20% fat)
    I have not been able to use this brand, but it’s Cooks Illustrated pick so I’m sure it’s fantastic!
  • Valrohna (20% fat)
    More difficult to source, but an amazing chocolate company used in many high end professional kitchens and bakeries.
NATURAL:
  • Penzeys (22% fat)
    I find Penzey’s Natural High Fat Unsweetened Cocoa Powder to provide a classic clean and pure chocolate flavor and ultra moist texture. Kind of like the classic Hershey’s below but without the drying properties. That added fat lends richness that can reduce chewiness in recipes like brownies but it lends fudginess instead. I’d use this for just about anything, especially special occasion treats since it’s more expensive.
  • Ghirardelli (20% fat)
    This is one of my favorite grocery store brands of natural cocoa powder. As you can see, it has a surprisingly high fat content and bold chocolate flavor. Stock up on this one when you see it! I’d use it for everything.
  • Nestle Toll House (11% fat)
    Nestle is actually what I typically test my blog recipes with when I want to make sure they’re work with basic and easily accessible ingredients. I don’t want to give myself a leg up when I test recipes for publication. That doesn’t seem fair to expect everyone must use difficult to find or expensive ingredients. Nestle is a great basic product, but if I’m struggling with dry cakes or cakey cookies, I’ll use one of the above options instead.
  • Hershey’s (10% fat)
    Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder to many is the quintessential mild chocolate flavor of American childhoods. It’s homey and familiar, but can result in brownies and cookies that are a little more crumbly than moist but still chewy. I would not use it for cake or frosting.
Mixing bowl with smooth chocolate buttercream frosting

Best cocoa powder recipes:

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

Leave a Comment & Rating

Add a Review or Question

*Please select a rating to complete your comment.

  1. #
    Long — January 21, 2021 at 9:20 pm

    It was so delicious that I think I want to make it again tomorrow. Thanks you so much for sharing.

  2. #
    Mary — January 21, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    I’m a Big Ghirardelli fan! It’s just about the only chocolate/cocoa powder I use. My absolute favorite Dutch process cocoa is their Majesty cocoa. It has at least 20% butter fat. Now I know why I love it so much after reading this article!
    Thanks for the info Tessa! You’re the best!
    I do have a question though. Are cocoa interchangeable (Dutch versus natural cocoa) in a recipe? I still get confused about that.

  3. #
    Kathy Molitor — January 22, 2021 at 5:23 am

    I noticed a lot of bar recipes. Do you think your next cookbook will have more of those in it?

  4. #
    Kelly — January 22, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Great to know this!! Thank you

    • #
      Handle the Heat — January 25, 2021 at 2:42 pm

      So glad you found this post helpful!

  5. #
    Karen Selznick — February 6, 2021 at 10:20 pm

    Yesterday I made an incredible zucchini chocolate chip bread. It was out of this world!!
    I wrapped It well and tonight I served It for dessert and it was dry and crumbly.
    What could I have done differently?

  6. #
    April James — February 10, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Are cocoa powder and cacao powder interchangeable? Will using cacao powder in a recipe yield the same results as cocoa powder?

  7. #
    Terri C. — March 2, 2021 at 8:31 am

    If you want to avoid dryness with using a less fat content cocoa, could you simply add more fat, like butter or oil to the recipe?

    • #
      Handle the Heat — March 2, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Hi Terri! I wouldn’t suggest doing that as that would start altering the proportions and science of the recipe. It’s best to stick to a recipe as close as possible. Hope that makes sense!

Join the Handle the Heat Community

Cookie Customization Chart
Do you want a more delicious life?
Instead of digging through cookbooks and magazines and searching the internet for amazing recipes, subscribe to Handle the Heat to receive new recipe posts delivered straight to your email inbox. You’ll get all the latest recipes, videos, kitchen tips and tricks AND my *free* Cookie Customization Guide (because I am the Cookie Queen)!
As Seen On....
NPR People Time Glamour Readers Digest The Huffington Post BuzzFeed