“1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder” is a phrase that strikes to the core of any baker who hasn’t yet spent hours of their time figuring out what that means.

Read on for a possibly oversimplified but perfectly
digestible guide to cocoa powder for your everyday baking needs.

1. There are two main varieties of cocoa powder: natural
cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder. Most of the cocoa powder you can
buy at the grocery store is natural cocoa powder.

2. The difference between natural cocoa powder and
Dutch-process cocoa powder is acidity. Natural cocoa powder contains the
natural acids found in chocolate. Dutch-process cocoa has been treated with an
alkaline solution to neutralize that acidity. This is the most important thing
to keep in mind (oversimplification alert!): natural cocoa powder is acidic;
Dutch-process cocoa powder is not acidic (it’s neutral).

3. Dutch-process cocoa powder is generally darker in color
and richer in flavor, but that’s not the only thing to keep in mind when
choosing between the two. Because Dutch-process cocoa isn’t acidic, it won’t
react with baking soda. That’s why most recipes that call for Dutch-process
cocoa use baking powder as a leavener.

Most American recipes will use natural cocoa powder, because
that is what is most readily available in the U.S. If a recipe doesn’t specify,
use the leavener as a guide. Baking soda only: use natural cocoa powder. Baking
powder only: use Dutch-process cocoa powder. If a recipe includes both baking
soda and baking powder, use either (unless the recipe specifies, in which case
follow the recipe).

4. For recipes that don’t include any leavening, like hot
chocolate or cake frosting, use whichever cocoa powder you like best. Even
between natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process, every brand will vary in
richness, acidity, and overall flavor. Dutch-process does tend to be a bit more
chocolate-y than natural cocoa powders, but that isn’t always the best thing
for a finished product, so use your best judgement.