Cocoa powder

Today’s post is about a very versatile and essential chocolate product, cocoa powder.

To understand where cocoa powder comes from, let’s briefly examine the manufacturing of chocolate.  I won’t get into too much detail here, because my classmate Monoara and I plan to describe manufacturing information in a separate, detailed post.

Raw cocoa nibs are ground into chocolate liquor.  During the grinding process, the cell walls of the nibs are broken and the frictional heat liquefies the cocoa fat, which makes up 52 percent of the chocolate liquor.

Cocoa fruit, cocoa beans and cocoa powder

Cocoa butter is extracted from chocolate liquor by way of hydraulic pressing.  It is filtered into channels around pots that hold the chocolate liquor.

Cocoa powder is the substance left when chocolate liquor is pressed and most of its cocoa butter is removed.  The resulting cocoa cake (from zero to 24 percent fat content) is ground into a fine powder.  The concentrated, unsweetened cocoa left behind has a distinctive chocolate taste, but since it retains only 10 to 22 percent of its cocoa butter, it usually lacks some of the full, rounded flavour of good-quality chocolate.  Don’t confuse cocoa with instant hot chocolate mix, which is a mixture of milk powder, sugar, cocoa and flavourings.

There are two popular and quite different styles of cocoa powder:

Natural/American/breakfast non-alkalized cocoa, such as Hershey’s.

Dutch processed/European style, such as Droste.

In natural cocoa, the chocolate’s natural acid is left untreated, giving the finished product a robust, slightly sharp taste.  This cocoa is often made by way of the Broma process, invented by Ghirardelli in the 1800’s.  It employs heat to allow cocoa butter to drip away from cocoa solids (the residue that becomes cocoa powder).  More cocoa butter (fat) is extracted by using the Broma process than using a hydraulic press, and less fat remaining in the cocoa (powder) makes it easier to dissolve the cocoa into liquids.  Broma process cocoa also has a more intense flavor than Dutch process cocoa, as no alkalis are added to the cocoa.

In Dutch process or “Dutched” cocoa, the acid is neutralized with an alkali, giving the cocoa power a milder taste but a darker, noticeably reddish colour.  This is often the chef or discerning home baker’s cocoa of choice.  I personally find its flavour superior to regular, natural cocoa.

You can also buy black cocoa, which is heavily-dutched cocoa powder.  Oreo cookies are a great example of black cocoa.  Because of its strong flavor, it is normally used in conjunction with other cocoa powsers, more as a colour booster.  Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder is heavily Dutched, and is close to black cocoa powder.  King Arthur sells true black cocoa.  Neither of these brands is for sale in Canada that I know of, but you can buy them online or at many U.S. grocery stores, if you happen to be passing through.

Because natural cocoa powder hasn’t had its acidity tempered, it is generally paired with baking soda (alkali) in recipes.  Dutch-process cocoa is frequently used in recipes with baking powder, as it doesn’t react to baking soda the same way as natural cocoa.

You can swap either type of cocoa powder in recipes calling for small amounts, especially in sauces or ice creams.  However, in general, if a batter-based recipe calls for natural cocoa powder, only use natural, or your results might not be what you expect.  The main difference will be a darker colour and more complex flavor versus a lighter colou and flavour.  It may not actually ruin your recipe, but just be aware of the differences.

If you’re interested in purchasing higher-end and/or organic cocoa powders, then here are some great on-line sources.  I especially love the aroma and flavour of Valrhona. (this one is only moderately alkalized) (Valrhona, Callebaut and other high-end brands of cocoa powder and chocolate in general)

If you’re watching your fat intake, then cocoa powder is a great alternative to other types of chocolate.  Hershey’s even offers it in a completely fat-free form.  While 0% cocoa isn’t ideal for all types of baking, it makes a decent cup of hot cocoa or brownies.  Dutched cocoa in particular is great for drinks because it dissolves so easily.

Cocoa powder is also a key ingredient in most brownie recipes.

As previously promised, here are some cocoa recipes that I hope will inspire you.  Happy eating and drinking!

Hot Cocoa with Marshmallows

Hot cocoa with marshmallows:  try adding some cayenne pepper or rum!

Best Cocoa Brownies

Best cocoa brownies:  use the best cocoa you can afford as it is the star ingredient!

Suggested wine pairing:  Ruby port or Banyuls, a sweet Southern French dessert wine

Dark Chocolate Truffles

Marcel Desaulniers’ chocolate truffles (one of my favourite chocolate chefs in the world – I have all of his books and watched his show, Death by Chocolate

Suggested wine pairing: Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon


Cocoa Nibs – healthy and delicious!

Since my blog posts will deal primarily with different types of chocolate and chocolate products, I thought I’d start by delving into the sea of information on the latest “superfood”, theobroma cacao, or cocoa nibs.

Cocoa nibs are the part of the cocoa bean used in the manufacture of chocolate – the fermented, peeled, dried, roasted and crushed kernel of the cocoa bean that remains after the husk is removed.  They are becoming popular as a “superfood”, not least due to their antioxidant qualities.  They are available from several manufacturers of high-end chocolate as well as “healthy”, “raw” and “organic” purveyors, many located in the U.S.  Much of this product is sourced from Peru, Ghana, Indonesia, Brazil, Ecuador, Togo, Mexico and even Papua New Guinea.  Nibs can be purchased in packages or in bulk at most organic or health food stores, and are even starting to appear in mainstream supermarkets under various brand names.

Cocoa nibs are an acquired taste according to many.  They are usually unsweetened and are therefore eaten as small morsels.  They are typically mixed into baked goods, ice creams, etc. to add crunch and nutrition.  The texture is unique, described best by Liz Gutman in her June 2, 2010 post “Serious Eats Sweets – What to Do with Cocoa Nibs:  “crunchy yet tender, like a macadamia nut, with the mouth-cooling properties bestowed by the magical substance that is cocoa butter; and complex, with a bitter cocoa flavor.”

One ounce of cocoa nibs contains 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of protein. They are one of the best dietary sources of magnesium, and a good source of calcium, iron, copper, zinc and potassium.

Studies show that cocoa nibs have higher antioxidant levels than blueberries, red wine and green tea. The antioxidants in cocoa nibs are also more stable than in other foods and are easy for the body to assimilate.

Here is a link to the article I quoted from, regarding all the purported health benefits of cocoa nibs – please click on it and have a look around!

Here are a few reputable on-line sources for purchasing cocoa nibs:

The Spice House roasted nibs:  their taste is nicely bittersweet, and they have the crunch and toasty flavour of roasted nuts.  They generally appeal to fans of dark chocolate.   They also come covered in 70% chocolate with a hint of espresso.

Sweet Riot Cocoa Nibs – 1.5 calories a pop, genetically-modified ingredient-free, and fair trade!  A trifecta!

Amazingly, even Bulk Barn (Toronto area) sells bittersweet-covered cocoa nibs now, although I can’t personally vouch for the quality.  I can, however, vouch that they smell delicious, and I might be persuaded to try them out as a more affordable option.

Here are some Canadian  on-line order sources:

And finally, each time I research a different type of chocolate, I will include at least one recipe centred around it.  Here are a few delicious ways to use your cocoa nibs.  Enjoy!

  • Sprinkle them on yogurt, in cereal and on top of ice cream for a flavourful treat.
  • Turn a boring breakfast into something spectacular by mixing a few in your oatmeal.
  • You can also grind them with your coffee beans, put them in smoothies and add them to trail mixes.
  • They can even jazz up a peanut butter sandwich.

Read more:

From one of my favourite magazines, Bon Appetit:  Cocoa nib, chocolate and citrus dacquoise.

Suggested wine pairing:  ruby port, merlot or medium-bodied, fruity red dessert wine

Cardamom pistachio nib cookies:

Suggested wine pairing:  Medium-bodied fruity dessert wine such as Italian reciotos, or sherry

And, from one of my most-frequented chocolate websites (yes, I actually do surf chocolate websites, and collect chocolate cookbooks):  Double cocoa nib ice cream.

Suggested wine pairing: Beaujolais, pinot noir

Welcome to our chocolate blog!

This blog will be the ongoing research of three aspiring pastry chefs at George Brown College as we investigate our favourite ingredient – chocolate!  As part of our baking and pastry theory class, we will blog about all things chocolate, including its origin, cultivation, varieties, processing, market forms, storage, usage and costs.

We will also be sharing blogs here and there about our relationship with chocolate as emerging  chefs, and about some exciting field trips that we have lined up.

We look forward to sharing our research with you, and welcome your feedback!

-Jacqueline, Anique and Monoara