The science of cocoa powder
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Cocoa is cocoa, it doesn't matter what you get, any package contains the same powder.. Or?!
I have been intrigued by Van Houten cocoa powdered for a while now. It started a while back when I discovered their Intense Deep Black, which -let's face it- is the coolest cocoa powder on the market and the best choice if you want to bake black sweets without having your guests' mouths turning black. But that's not the only one. Van Houten has 6 different cocoa powders, and I have finally been able to get my hands on all of them..
Let's start by saying that this post is not sponsored by anyone. It's simply me being curious and a little nurdy on this and sharing my view and my own opinions on something I have been wondering about for a while now. Speaking about nurdy, it needs to be said that Van Houten is an originally Dutch company that nowadays is owned by Barry Callebaut. The Van Houten family (C.J. Van Houten to be precise) is behind the process process of pressing much of the fat, or cocoa butter, from ground and roasted cocoa beans and thus obtaining cocoa powder. They are also the founders of what is called the "dutching process" of cocoa powder, i.e. the process of treating cocoa beans with an alkaline substance (potassium carbonate) to increase the PH level, thereby making coca powder milder in flavor compared to non-dutched powder.
This said, what is it that we are talking about? Van Houten has 6 cocoa powder on the market. Left to right in the picture above they are:
Rich Deep Brown
Round Dark Brown
Full-Bodied Warm Brown
Robust Red Cameroon
Intense Deep Black
To conduct my experiment I have mixed all ingredients of my chocolate muffins recipe except for the cocoa powder. I then divided the batter equally in 6 bowls and added 2 tbsp of cocoa powder to each bowl, and the difference was visible already there.
Interestingly, the first one (Rich Deep Brown) was not completely powdered and seemed to have small pieces of actual chocolate in it. As a result, the batter was more liquid than the others and it might have been good with a little more powder. To the opposite, Intense Deep Black (nr 6) is the thickest one and in that case half the amount of powder would have probably been enough to get the final result and a less thick batter.
So, which one is the best?
That's of course a very personal question and a hard one to answer to in absolute terms.
They are all high quality products, there is no doubt about that. We had a very serious scientific approach in this, with muffins divided in equal pieces in front of us and a proper tasting table. I'll have to say that Rich Deep Brown (nr 1) is my least favorite, and the one that had less marked favor. It would have surely been better with a higher amount in the batter, but the fact itself that I would have to modify my recipes to the powder made it less attractive to me. To the other extreme, Intese Deep Black (nr 6) is way too dark in flavor for my own taste, while nr 4 and 5 were so close in flavor I could hardly tell the difference.
Being more of a milk chocolate family, my personal favorite is Natural Light-Brown (nr 2), while my husband's is Round Dark Brown (nr. 3), but if you like dark chocolate and want more of that tone in your baked good you would probably prefer nr. 4 or 5. The girls hardly found any difference in them, so they were just happy they got to eat 6 muffins at once..
Is it worth buying it?
Again, this is very high quality cocoa, no doubt about that! What I personally think is a shame is the fact that they only sell packages of 1 kg each, which when it comes to cocoa is a loooot of powder. Marron.se had a sample sale with small packages of 50 gr each, which is when I decided to order them all to finally get my own opinion on things (so no, I don't have 6 kg of cocoa powder at home now).
Besides that and hoping that maybe in the future the company will decide to make smaller packages, I definitely recommend getting the Intense Deep Black powder if you want to have the cool factor in your baked goods, or if you are planning to bake home made oreos. It's also the coolest thing to have to Halloween.. Keep in mind though that a small amount goes a long way both color and flavor wise, so rather than switching the whole amount of cocoa in your recipe I would use half black cocoa and half "normal" cocoa. If you are in Sweden like me it has become much easier to buy it now.. Marron.se has all 6 cocoa as said, but others like bakecake.se have it too. If you are not in Sweden, amazon.com is always the easiest place to find anything.
As "everyday cocoa" I would personally go for the Natural Light-Brown as that was my favorite flavor wise, but again if you are more for dark chocolate Full-Bodied Warm Brown or Robust Red is more for you.
What is most interesting at this point is the new Ruby hot chocolate mix that Van Houten recently launched and see if that will turn to a cocoa powder soon.. Looking forward to see that happening and updating this post!