Food & Drink

The 10 Best Cocoa Powder Substitutes

Last Updated on February 22, 2024 | 0 Comments
cocoa powder substitute

Picture this: You're mid-recipe and have run out of cocoa powder. Amid the panic, you find yourself questioning “Is there a cocoa powder substitute I could use instead?” We have all been there, reaching for the cocoa powder just to realize that, irritatingly, the packet is all but empty. Cocoa powder is one of those store cupboard staples we take for granted. Much like baking powder substitutes, it helps to have a few cocoa powder substitutes to hand, just in case.

Another reason a cocoa powder alternative may be called for is if you need to cater to different dietary requirements. Some cocoa powder substitutes come with their own specific nutritional benefits. We will explore the range of cocoa powder substitutes available so that you’ll be able to tweak your recipes to suit a variety of tastes and diets.


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What Is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is the ground, dried cocoa solids left over after the cocoa butter has been extracted from roasted cocoa beans. Cocoa powder has a strong concentrated taste of chocolate that makes it a popular ingredient used in baking. Pure cocoa powder contains no extra ingredients such as added sugars. 

To make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are lightly roasted to bring out their deep chocolatey notes. The beans are then crushed to form cocoa nibs or small pieces of cocoa beans. By grinding the nibs into a paste, chocolate liquor is produced. The chocolate liquor is then pressed to remove approximately 75% of the cocoa butter and leave behind only the chocolate solids.

Cocoa powder
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Is Cocoa Powder Healthy?

Cocoa powder is a nutrient-dense food with many health benefits. Adding cocoa to your diet can improve circulation and blood flow, manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels and combat inflammation. Cocoa powder is particularly rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Cocoa flavanols are a sub-type of polyphenols that act on reducing cell damage and therefore the onset of certain health conditions. These particular flavanols have been shown to support heart, brain and skin health.

Purpose of Cocoa Powder in Cooking and Baking

Cocoa powder offers an intense chocolate taste and aroma which makes it perfect for baking sweet treats. The concentrated nature of the product means that your chocolate cakes will taste undeniably chocolatey. Cocoa powder also has a secondary purpose. Depending on the type of cocoa powder you use, it provides acidity and can activate baking soda. In savory cookery, cocoa powder can be used to add depth to sauces due to its rich flavor.

To further understand the purpose of cocoa powder in cooking and baking, signing up for cooking classes near you that delve into cocoa cookery will put theory into practice and can provide you with an in-depth look at a specific style of cuisine or ingredient. There are also online cooking classes you could try if you cannot make it to an in-person class. The best way to learn is to have a go and experiment using cocoa powder and cocoa powder substitutes in your cooking. 

Take a cooking class to learn how to use cocoa powder substitutes
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Types of Cocoa Powder

Not all cocoa powders are the same, and it’s worth knowing the difference before you start cooking with cocoa. The cocoa or cocoa powder substitute you choose can add a whole different take on a recipe or even change the nutritional content of the food you create. There are three types of cocoa powder: raw, Dutch and black cocoa powder. 

If you want a cocoa powder rich in antioxidants, raw cocoa powder is the way to go. The alkalizing process used to produce Dutch and black cocoa powder actually reduces the antioxidant properties of cocoa. For this reason, raw cocoa powder is a great addition to smoothies and nutritious hot drinks, such as in a vegan hot chocolate recipe.

Dutch cocoa powder undergoes a process to change the pH level of the final product. The cocoa beans are placed in an alkaline solution before grinding. The Dutch process neutralizes the pH of the powder to between 6.8 and 8.1. The result is a mellow-flavored, darker-colored cocoa powder perfect for recipes like these date bars

Black cocoa powder is also known as ultra-Dutch processed cocoa powder. The alkalinity of the powder is taken even further to produce intensely dark-colored cocoa with a strong taste. When using this type of cocoa, less is more.

Dutch cocoa powder
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10 Substitutes for Cocoa Powder

1. Chocolate Chips

Chocolate chips are the perfect cocoa powder substitute for cookies and muffins, giving a little chocolate hit with every bite. Rather than a deep cocoa taste, chocolate chips give a hint of flavor and sweetness. Choose from milk, dark and white chocolate chips depending on how chocolatey you want your cakes. For this sub, one ounce of melted chocolate chips is equal to one tablespoon of cocoa powder.

Chocolate chips are the perfect cocoa powder substitute
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2. Cacao Nibs

Cacao nibs are the raw unprocessed product, complete with cocoa fats. To make a cocoa powder substitute, grind down roasted cacoa nibs to form a paste. You will need a strong blender or food processor to achieve this as the nibs can be quite tough to break down. Though not recommended for baking, you can use cacao nibs as a cocoa powder substitute in almost all other recipes with very little change needed to the amount used. So, if your recipe calls for one tablespoon of cocoa powder, you can use one tablespoon of cacao nibs instead. 

Cacao nibs are a great cocoa powder substitute
via Canva 

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3. Dark Chocolate 

The closest cocoa powder substitute is dark chocolate. The high cocoa content of most dark chocolate bars makes them an ideal swap for cocoa powder. Furthermore, dark chocolate is often lower in sugar and cocoa butter than milk chocolate bars. Choose a bar with a higher percentage of cocoa for a more intense, chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate is an ideal substitute for cocoa powder in brownies. For every three tablespoons of coca powder your recipe calls for, use two tablespoons (or one ounce) of dark chocolate. 

Dark chocolate bar
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4. Couverture

Professional chocolate makers use couverture to achieve a rich and glossy finish to their creations. The high butter content gives the couverture a smooth texture, perfect for covering cakes and making truffles. However, if you use it in cake batter as a cocoa powder substitute, add less fat to offset the extra cocoa butter in the couverture. For every three tablespoons of cocoa powder you need in your recipe, use four tablespoons of couverture.

couverture chocolate is another wonderful cocoa powder substitute
via Canva 

5. Drinking Chocolate 

Pre-mixed drinking chocolate powders can be a handy substitute for cocoa powder in brownies. Take a look at the ingredients label of your pre-made drinking chocolate powder as the contents will vary. Drinking chocolate powders often contain added sugars or sweeteners. Opt for a high cocoa product and reduce the amount of additional sugars required by the recipe. Use a 1:1 ratio for this substitution.

Drinking chocolate and powder
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6. Carob Powder

Carob powder is a common non-chocolate cocoa powder substitute. When roasted and ground into a powder, carob tree pods can replicate the sweet and nutty taste of chocolate. Carob powder is a great substitute for cocoa powder in cakes and other baked goods. Carob powder is also rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber, just like cocoa powder. Unlike chocolate, carob contains no caffeine, making it a better sub for cocoa powder for people with heart conditions and sleep problems. Use a 1:1 ratio for this substitution.

Carob powder
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7. Chocolate Spread

When using chocolate spread as a cocoa powder substitute, pick a good quality product. Make sure that the cocoa powder features at the very top of the ingredients list. For this sub for cocoa powder, reduce the amount of added sugar required to adapt the recipe, as chocolate spreads are high in sugar. Three tablespoons of cocoa powder is equal to four ounces of chocolate spread. 

Try using chocolate spread as a cocoa powder substitute
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8. Chocolate Protein Powder

If you are following a high-protein diet, adding chocolate protein powder to certain recipes may give you an added boost. Chocolate protein powders can give your culinary creations that chocolate flavor. However, the additional protein can affect the texture of your baked goods. You can achieve the perfect taste and texture by experimenting with the quantities of protein powder as a cocoa powder replacement. Use a 1:1 ratio for this substitution.

Chocolate protein powder
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9. Chocolate Syrup

Desserts such as sundaes and puddings often call for a drizzle of liquid chocolate as a final flourish. Chocolate syrup is an ideal way to sweeten desserts and add a rich chocolatey hit. As you would expect, syrups are high in sugar, so this cocoa powder substitute is not suitable for people monitoring their sugar intake. One tablespoon of cocoa powder is equal to two tablespoons of chocolate syrup. 

Try using chocolate syrup as a cocoa powder substitute
via Canva 

10. Espresso Powder

Espresso powder can be used as a sub for chocolate if you have no other chocolate-based ingredients. Espresso coffee has a similar roasted flavor profile to chocolate with a slightly bitter note. Coffee can also be used in combination with cocoa to further bring out the rich flavor of chocolate. Use a 1:1 ratio for this substitution.

Espresso powder
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Cocoa Powder FAQs

What’s the healthiest cocoa powder substitute?

In terms of nutritional content, carob powder is the healthiest cocoa powder alternative. Similarly to cocoa beans, carob pods are rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber. Carob powder is a perfect substitute for cocoa powder in cake as it provides a touch of natural sweetness to baked goods. 

How do I adapt a recipe when using a cocoa powder substitute?

Opting for a cocoa powder substitute may affect the sweetness and texture of your baked goods. Depending on the cocoa alternative you choose, you may need to reduce the additional sweet ingredients. Similarly, if you use a cocoa powder replacement containing cocoa butter, it may not be necessary to include the total amount of other fats stated in the recipe. When substituting ingredients, experimentation is the best way of achieving the desired results. 

What is the difference between cocoa powder and cacao powder?

Although both come from the cacao bean, cocoa powder and cacao powder differ in how they are processed. Cacao powder follows a cold-pressing method to extract the cacao butter from the beans. This process results in a more nutrient-rich product perfect for smoothies and raw food or healthy recipes. Cocoa powder requires the cacao beans to be roasted at high temperatures. This method enhances the rich, chocolatey notes of the cocoa bean.

Cocoa Powder and Cacao Powder
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So, don’t let an empty pot of cocoa get in your way. Think creatively and try out these cocoa powder substitutes. By experimenting with cocoa powder substitutes, you could find a new spin on a favorite recipe and further expand your palate. 

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