Chocolate is good for you. Lucky for us bakers! Where baking recipes are involved, chocolate can be added in the form of chips, bars, nibs or powder. Generally it’s easy to figure out which form to use, but on a trip down the baking aisle you can find the powdered version as cocoa and cacao. What’s the difference?
Julie Morris, Navitas Naturals Executive Chef, explains on their blog. “Cacao is the raw form of chocolate. It comes directly from the cacao tree, which fruits colorful pods that are filled with large cacao seeds, called cacao beans. When these beans are ground up finely, cacao powder is the result…Cacao powder is unadulterated pure chocolate (while) cocoa refers to processed cacao… (Both) taste similar: like unsweetened chocolate.”
Because the taste is similar, I choose cacao for its health benefits. Cacao is minimally processed so it retains its beneficial antioxidants. Also, it “may be packed with brain-boosting compounds” called flavonols. So, eating that second piece of cake will make me smarter.
After eating more chocolate, my brain was spurred to gain other knowledge. You’ll see some recipes calling for cocoa powder that specify “Dutch-process.” Is this the same as “natural” cocoa powder? Food52 explained: “Natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder is pure roasted cocoa beans — with most of the fat removed — ground to a fine powder. With all of the flavor but a fraction of the fat, cocoa powder is … bitter and strong. Dutch-process or alkalized cocoa is chemically processed to reduce the acidity and harshness of natural cocoa (which then) alters the flavor of the cocoa and darkens the color.”
Research on Wikipedia revealed that taste isn’t the only difference between the cocoa powders. Dutch process cocoa is not acidic like natural cocoa so “it cannot be used in recipes that use baking soda as the leavening agent, which relies on the acidity of the cocoa to activate it. Rather, Dutch process cocoa can be used in recipes that use baking powder (instead of baking soda) for leavening.” I also learned that the Dutch processing was, indeed, invented by a Dutchman. In case you were wondering.
All this talk of chocolate is making me hungry. I’m going to go snack on a few squares of healthy dark chocolate. I’ll worry about baking later.