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Why is one 100% cocoa powder better than another?
November 10, 2012 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Is there any qualitative difference between Hershey's Natural Unsweetened Cocoa and similar products from Dagoba and Ghirardelli?

Also, I'm not sure what the difference is between Hershey's Natural Unsweetened and Special Dark, since they're both 100% cocoa, although they have differ on the nutritional information page (more iron in the Special Dark)?
posted by sharkfu to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the big difference to look out for is if it is Dutch-processed. You want non-dutched, most likely, so you probably should use the Hershey's Special Dark (although their chocolate chips are quite good).

I don't have much experience with the particular brands you're referring to. FWIW, I noticed a big improvement in my chocolate cookies (Best Recipes recipe) when I started using a brand I found at the local organic mart (it was all they had), Chatfield's Unsweetened, Alkaline-Free.
posted by maryr at 9:04 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


PS: Also the Dagoba product you've linked seems to be made for drinking, not baking - it says it has extra bits of chocolate which would be no good for most cakes and such. So don't get that one either.
posted by maryr at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2012


Yes. Dagoba is very high quality chocolate - some of the best you can get in a supermarket.

The difference between the "natural unsweetened" and the "special dark" is that the latter is a cocoa powder made from dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

If we're talking cocoa powder, if it were me in the supermarket comparing brands, I'd probably go with Ghirardelli over Hershey's, but not splurge on the Dagoba, since presumably you're not, like, snorting this stuff or sprinkling it on your tongue or anything but using it in a recipe with other ingredients. Dagoba and other high end stuff is great for eating by itself, but kind of pointless in brownies.

I've had great luck with Ghirardelli branded baking products.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Hershey's Special Dark is a blend of natural and dutched cocoa. Cook's Illustrated picked regular Hershey's over the rest of the supermarket cocoas, but Dagoba wasn't included in their test (though Ghirardelli was).
posted by amarynth at 9:11 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure what the factor is, but I have noticed that different brands of plain old (non-dutched) cocoa powder differ in darkness and intensity. I've found the Trader Joe's brand in particular to be on the pale and less intense side and when I bake with it sometimes I add extra to compensate.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:15 AM on November 10, 2012


The difference between the "natural unsweetened" and the "special dark" is that the latter is a cocoa powder made from dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

Cocoa powder is not made from chocolate. In addition, if you're talking about chocolate bars, unsweetened/baking bars have more cocoa solids than "special dark" bars.

sharkfu, there also may be a difference in the beans themselves. Just like any crop, cocoa beans vary according to origin.
posted by acidic at 9:24 AM on November 10, 2012


The difference between the "natural unsweetened" and the "special dark" is that the latter is a cocoa powder made from dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

No, they are both cocoa powder and there is no milk in cocoa powder. The latter is a blend with some dutch process cocoa, which has a darker colour and different flavour profile.

Cocoa is what you get when you grind up cocoa nibs and then remove the fat. It is not made from grinding up chocolate bars.
posted by ssg at 9:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cook's Illustrated just this month tested supermarket brands of cocoa powder. The results are behind the paywall, but the article talks a lot about the reasons for the differences between cocoa powders (dutching, fat content, roasting), which may help answer your question. And yes, as amarynth says, they picked Hershey's.
posted by teditrix at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2012


According to their web site, Dagoba products are both organic and fair trade, whereas the other two options are neither. Does that count as the sort of qualitative difference you're interested in?
posted by eviemath at 4:09 PM on November 10, 2012


You want non-dutched, most likely, so you probably should use the Hershey's Special Dark

This is exactly backwards. The standard Hershey's Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder is not dutched. Hershey's Special Dark is a blend of the Natural powder and dutched powder.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


My bad - that was a typo. I meant you probably SHOULD NOT use the Hershey's Special Dark. I am so sorry about that. Typos that mean the opposite are extremely non-helpful.

And again - the Dagoba product linked is meant for hot cocoa. It says drinking chocolate on it. I'm sure they make a baking cocoa, but I don't think that's it.
posted by maryr at 9:53 AM on November 12, 2012


I am extremely (~2 months) late on this conversation, but after buying a brand of cocoa called "Shufra" at the local health food store, I had my inner world of cocoa powder knowledge completely rocked. When I opened it at home, I saw that it was a rich, dark red color and it smelled and tasted amazing. Who knew cocoa was actually appealing in and of itself? I then pulled out my mostly empty can of Hershey's cocoa and compared the color, smell and taste of it to the Shufra stuff -- insanely different. The Hershey's stuff looked grey in comparison, and had little to no taste or smell. After a lifetime of using Hershey's, I just assumed that cocoa was bland, tasteless gross stuff until combined with butter and sugar to make something good. But once I compared it to better cocoa, there was no way I'd ever buy Hershey's again.

If you're interested enough in the quality of cocoa to ask this question, maybe you're also interested enough to spend a few bucks on buying two or three different kinds of cocoa (and I implore you to look outside the big brands that you've mentioned here -- even the "fancy" ones like Ghirardelli -- which may not actually be as fancy as they seem) and do a taste test. Invite some friends over to join you. Have a brownie baking contest, use different brands with the same recipes. I think you'll be really surprised at what huge differences in quality you find among different brands.

P.s. I think the best cocoa you can get will probably be the cocoa you grind yourself.
posted by RingerChopChop at 9:38 AM on January 29, 2013


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