Cocoa Powder Substitutes

Mary and Brenda Maher

By Brenda & Mary

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Sometimes, our pantry or local grocery store doesn’t quite have what we need. But don’t let a cocoa powder shortage damper your baking plans.

Cocoa Powder Substitutes

There’s a world of substitutes for cocoa powder out there to keep your recipes delicious and chocolaty. I’ll talk about them below. Roll up your sleeves, and let’s get creative in the kitchen.

Types of Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder, in its simplest form, is what’s left after cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and then stripped of their fatty butter. What you now get are the cocoa solids, which get ground down to the powder we all know.

It’s this process that makes cocoa powder so unique in baking. It’s low in fat, rich in cocoa solids, and can sometimes introduce a bit of acidity to your recipes.

Over my years running a bakery, I’ve worked with various kinds of cocoa powder and learned their unique qualities.

When I think about natural cocoa powder, I’m reminded of its raw, unadulterated form, packed with antioxidants. It’s got a sharp, almost citrusy finish, making it a superstar in smoothies or vegan hot chocolate.

Dutch cocoa powder is where things get interesting. This type has been treated with an alkaline solution to change its pH level.

The result? A mellow, woodsy flavor and a darker color. It’s the secret behind those scrumptious date bars I love to whip up in the bakery.

And then there’s the black cocoa powder, the ultra-Dutch processed kind. This one gets processed even further for an intensely dark color and robust taste.

Are Dutch-Processed and Natural Cocoa Interchangeable?

I’ve seen a lot of debate over whether these two variants can be used in place of the other without any adjustment to the recipe. But the truth isn’t a simple yes or no.

For starters, if you’re working on a cake or cookie recipe that calls specifically for baking soda, it’s probably banking on the acidity of natural cocoa. On the flip side, recipes that use only baking powder are more likely to need Dutch-process cocoa.

And when a recipe throws both leaveners into the mix? Stick to the script because that’s a delicate balance of acid and alkaline you don’t want to mess with.

Sure, you might get away with swapping one type of cocoa for another in recipes relying solely on baking powder for rise. But even then, the results might not be quite what you’d expect. It’s always safest to use the cocoa the recipe calls for.

Now, when we’re talking puddings, sauces, and ice creams, the story is different. That’s where your personal taste buds come into play.

You’re not dealing with the science of rising agents, so the choice of cocoa is more about flavor preference than chemistry. It’s up to you: the deeper, more intense chocolate flavor of Dutch-process cocoa or the lighter and slightly tangy note of its natural cousin.

For every 3 tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa, add a pinch of acidity. My favorite is 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda. Another option is a dash of cream of tartar, white vinegar, or lemon juice. This tweak helps balance the flavors and mimic the profile of natural cocoa.

Or, if your recipe calls for baking powder, swap half of it with baking soda and use natural cocoa as is.

What Can I Use Instead of Cocoa Powder?

Apart from Dutch-process cocoa powder, below are 15 other stands-in you can try:

1. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate

Unsweetened Baking Chocolate

Alright, can unsweetened baking chocolate be used as a cocoa powder substitute? Sure, it’s doable, but there are a few things to consider.

For every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, swap in 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate. I’ve learned it’s best to melt the chocolate and mix it in when adding the sugar and fat. This way, the chocolate integrates smoothly.

The catch is that unsweetened chocolate brings more fat to the party. So, cut back on the butter or shortening in your recipe by about a tablespoon.

Even so, the results aren’t quite identical. The chocolate taste is more muted than what pure cocoa powder provides. And the texture has a subtle difference – more cakey and crumbly versus the nice chew of cocoa-based baked goods.

2. Semisweet Baking Chocolate

Semisweet Baking Chocolate

Switching to semisweet baking chocolate can also be a decent backup plan. For every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, grab 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate.

It’s obvious that this variant brings its own sugar. You’ll want to cut back on the sweet stuff in your recipe by about 3 tablespoons.

And, since it’s richer in fat, trim down the butter or shorten it by a tablespoon. I’ve found this swap works like a charm when I substitute it for cocoa powder in brownies, where that extra richness just adds to the indulgence.

3. Semi-Solid Chocolate Liquor

Semi-Solid Chocolate Liquor

Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not a drink–just pure, unadulterated cocoa goodness. This potent paste, also known as cocoa mass or cocoa paste, is what gives chocolate its soul.

This raw chocolate product makes a fine stand-in. It’s a bit like unsweetened chocolate but in a more concentrated form. And since you have to melt it anyway, the form doesn’t matter.

Start with a 1:1 ratio. If your taste buds crave more intensity, feel free to add a bit more.

4. Cocoa Nibs

Cocoa Nibs

These tiny, crunchy bits are basically cacao beans in their most natural state. They are like the wild card of the cocoa world.

They can be a nifty substitute, but get ready for a bit of a workout. The goal is to transform these nibs into your own homemade cocoa powder.

Roast them for that deeper flavor first. Pulse them in a food processor, then move them to a coffee grinder for that fine, powdery finish. Now, you can sub cocoa powder with nibs in a 1:1 ratio.

It’s a bit of a process, sure, but for small quantities, it’s totally worth it. Plus, you get the bonus of knowing it’s as pure as it gets. No added sugars or fats, just pure, unadulterated cocoa flavor.

5. Cacao Powder

Cacao Powder

This is like cocoa powder’s less processed cousin. You see, cacao powder is made at lower temperatures to keep more of those good-for-you antioxidants and minerals. It’s a bit more bitter, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Use it 1:1 in place of cocoa powder, but keep in mind that it can taste a bit odd when baked.

I’d say stick to using it in recipes where chocolate isn’t the main star. Think smoothies or no-bake treats where its bitterness can be mellowed out. It’s a smooth swap that won’t mess with your dessert’s color or texture.

6. Dark Chocolate Bars

Dark Chocolate Bars

With its high cocoa content, dark chocolate makes an ideal cocoa powder substitute, especially in brownies. The darker the percentage, the richer the chocolate flavor you get.

Here’s how it goes: for 1 cup of cocoa powder, melt ¾ cup of dark chocolate. But chop it up first. Trust me, you don’t want it burning in the pan.

Also, mix it into your wet ingredients, not the dry ones. You might need to play around with the oil content in your recipe, too. I usually cut out about 1 tablespoon of oil for every ounce of chocolate.

7. Chocolate Chips

Chocolate Chips

Your bag of chocolate chips isn’t just for snacking or throwing into cookie dough. These little gems can be an ideal substitute, especially in cookies and muffins.

One ounce of melted chips equals one tablespoon of cocoa powder. For the closest cocoa flavor, go for dark or unsweetened chips over milk chocolate. Either way, melt the chips first to help them incorporate smoothly.

If your chips are a bit sweeter, you might want to cut back on the sugar content in your recipe. And, let’s dial down the butter or shortening just a tad to balance out the cocoa butter in them.

8. Chocolate Spread

Chocolate Spread

Who doesn’t love a good chocolate spread, right? If you’re out of cocoa powder, grab that jar.

Chocolate spread certainly doesn’t replicate the deep essence of cocoa powder. But it is convenient and satisfies a chocolate craving when options are limited. A little of it can add the chocolate flavor without overpowering other ingredients.

For every three tablespoons of cocoa powder your recipe needs, use four ounces of chocolate spread.

But choose wisely – make sure the spread is more cocoa and less sugar. You’ll likely need to reduce the sugar in your recipe, as these spreads are quite sweet.

9. Chocolate Protein Powder

Chocolate Protein Powder

For my fitness-focused friends, chocolate protein powder can be a game-changer in the kitchen. It’s a neat trick to add a chocolatey kick to recipes while boosting the protein content.

Use it in a 1:1 ratio as a cocoa powder substitute. But here’s a heads-up for you. It might tweak the texture of your baked goods a bit. I’ve found that a bit of trial and error with the amount of protein powder helps nail the perfect balance.

Now, some brands might leave a bit of an aftertaste, so pick one you enjoy. I find whey protein works best since it comes from milk.

Any protein powder risks drying out or densifying the food. You can add more eggs and liquid to keep things moist and sieve the powder first to prevent clumps.

While handy for simple recipes like crepes or muffins, protein powder isn’t ideal for delicate desserts like soufflés that require precise ingredient ratios.

10. Drinking Chocolate Powder

Drinking Chocolate Powder

A tub of drinking chocolate powder can do the job in a pinch. These powders are pre-mixed and super handy, though they often come with added sugars.

It’s a great swap for recipes where a little extra sugar won’t hurt. A sprinkle of drinking chocolate powder blends well without overpowering. Still, it lacks the depth and nuance of pure cocoa powder.

Check the label and opt for a blend high in cocoa. You might also need to cut back on other sweeteners in your recipe.

11. Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate Syrup

Got a bottle of chocolate syrup in the fridge? It’s not just for ice cream! In a baking bind, it can be a savior.

However, the swap ratio isn’t 1:1. Use 2 tablespoons of syrup per 1 tablespoon of cocoa to prevent a runny batter. To avoid a soupy mess, cut back on other liquids in your recipe, like milk or water, as well.

Syrups contain lots of sugar. They aren’t a good choice for anyone monitoring their sugar intake. And it doesn’t quite have the same rich, earthy depth as cocoa powder (but it’ll definitely add that chocolaty touch).

12. Couverture Chocolate

Couverture Chocolate

This is just a fancy term for really good quality chocolate that’s high in cocoa butter. It’s what baking pros use for a glossy, smooth finish on their confections.

The right ratio is 4 tablespoons of couverture per 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Melt the couverture slowly until smooth before using it, and it’ll add a luxurious, rich chocolate flavor to your bakes. 

The couverture can’t fully mimic the nuances of cocoa powder. But it elevates chocolate recipes beautifully when cocoa isn’t available.

A key point is that couverture chocolate has more fat content (thanks to all that cocoa butter). You might want to ease up on other fats in your recipe.

If you’re making something with a lot of eggs, like a delicate mousse, temper the melted chocolate a bit before adding it in. This way, you won’t end up cooking the eggs!

13. Carob Powder

Carob Powder

The carob powder we often stumble upon in our local health food store is actually a nifty workaround. Even better if you’re after something a bit unique.

Made from dried, roasted carob pods, it’s a bit like cocoa powder’s sweet cousin. I’ve used a 1:1 ratio in cakes with positive results.

It’s naturally sweeter than cocoa, so you might want to dial back the sugar in your recipe. The flavor? Think vanilla or caramel rather than chocolate. And, it’s caffeine-free – a healthier option for anyone with sleep or heart concerns.

14. Espresso Powder

Espresso Powder

Now, if you don’t mind straying from the cocoa-based path, espresso powder can be a surprising cocoa powder alternative.

It’s got that roasted, slightly bitter vibe similar to chocolate. Don’t expect a chocolate taste, but it does give a rich, deep flavor. Perfect for when you want to add a bit of oomph to your baking.

Mix it into your wet ingredients to avoid any gritty surprises (the substitution ratio is 1:1). It’s great for no-bake sweet treats where you need just a hint of richness. Not for big amounts, however, as it easily overpowers other flavors. A little goes a long way, as they always say.

15. Cocoa Mix

Cocoa Mix

What can I say about this? It’s a bit of a gamble. While it seems a decent substitute, cocoa mix should only be a last resort.

Yes, it’s got cocoa in it, but it’s also loaded with sugar and other additives. It can throw off your recipe’s balance, so I’d say use it only if you’ve got no other options.

Keep in mind that it’ll likely change the taste and texture of your bake quite a bit. For authentic chocolatey flavor, it’s best to avoid convenience cocoa mixes if possible.

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder Replacements

The replacements we talked about earlier? They’re great for natural cocoa powder. But when it comes to the Dutch process variant, we need to tweak things a bit to get the balance right.

Of course, natural cocoa powder and baking soda should come out on top (use the ratio I shared above). 

Otherwise, swap out 3 tablespoons of Dutch-processed cocoa with 1 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate and a pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 teaspoon) to knock back the acidity.

This is okay if you’re only replacing a small amount of cocoa powder (say less than 6 tablespoons). Any more, and you might find the balance of your recipe a bit off-kilter due to the added fat.

For recipes without baking powder or soda, like pudding, natural and Dutch cocoa are very interchangeable. Just simply use the same amount of unsweetened natural cocoa. There’s no need to neutralize anything.

Your dish will still be delicious, albeit not as dark or rich in flavor as you might expect with Dutch cocoa.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Healthiest Replacement for Cocoa Powder?

I’d go with carob powder, a fantastic ingredient packed with antioxidants and dietary fiber.

How Do I Adapt My Recipes for Those Substitutes?

Be prepared to tweak the recipe a bit. These ingredients can alter the sweetness and texture of your baked goods.

If your alternative’s a bit on the sweet side, ease up on the sugar. And if it’s rich in cocoa butter, you might want to hold back on the other fats in your recipe.

Are Cocoa Powder and Cacao Powder the Same?

No. They’re similar but not quite the same deal. The main difference lies in how they’re made, which changes their flavors and health perks.

Can I Use Hot Chocolate Mix as a Stand-In for Cocoa Powder?

It’s a bit of a tightrope walk. While it’s close to chocolate powder, it doesn’t pack the same chocolate punch and usually comes with additional sugar. You might want to reduce the sweet stuff in your recipe to balance things out.


As you can see, there are several great stand-ins for cocoa powder when needed. But compared to other baking substitutions, pay a little more attention to what you’re replacing it with, especially when matching fat and sugar levels. Do that, and your recipe will turn out just fine.

That’s it. If you’ve found another excellent substitute or have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below.

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Mary and Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher, are the founders of Cake Girls, a Chicago-based online baking shop specializing in cake supplies, party decor, and DIY cake tutorials. They are known for their elaborate and artistic cake creations, which have been featured on the Food Network Challenge and in a reality show, Amazing Wedding Cakes.

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