I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different cocoa powder substitutes to find the best one, whatever your reason for needing a substitute is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitutes for cocoa powder are Dutch-processed cocoa powder or cacao powder. You can also use unsweetened chocolate or chocolate chips. If you want a healthier option, go with carob powder. Use hot chocolate mix as a last resort.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I whipped up a basic chocolate sauce and tested seven different cocoa powder substitutes to find the best one.
We’re specifically looking at natural unsweetened cocoa powder substitutes here. It’s a staple for any baker, and adds a rich chocolatey flavor to your dishes as well as a dark color.
I was looking for a substitute that could replicate this. The subs I’ve listed will work for baked goods too, but you may need to make a few adjustments to the recipe.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitute||Sub 1 tbsp cocoa powder for||Verdict|
|Dutch cocoa powder||1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa||10/10|
|Cacao powder||1 tablespoon cacao powder||10/10|
|Unsweetened chocolate||⅓ oz and decrease fat by ⅓ tbsp||9/10|
|Carob powder||1 heaping tablespoon and reduce sugar by ⅓, increase fat by ⅓||8/10|
|Chocolate chips||1 oz, and decrease fat by ⅓ tbs and sugar by 1 tbsp||7/10|
|Cacao nibs||½ tablespoon, pulverized||5/10|
|Hot chocolate mix||1 tablespoon||5/10|
Dutch cocoa powder and cacao powder are excellent substitutes for unsweetened cocoa powder in terms of flavor and texture.
The other substitutes work well in things like sauces and drinks, but it becomes a little bit more complicated in baked goods because you need to consider how your substitution will interact with the other ingredients.
It’s nothing a little trial and error won’t fix though!
Dutch cocoa powder
There are two main types of cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder and Dutch processed cocoa powder.
Natural cocoa powder is more common, but the Dutch variety is becoming more popular.
Sally’s Baking Addiction explains that Dutch cocoa has been treated with an alkaline solution.
This gives it a darker color and a smoother flavor. Oreo cookies are made with Dutch cocoa powder, which is why they’re so dark!
The differences won’t matter much in things like chocolate sauces and puddings so you can sub one for the other in a 1:1 ratio.
But you need to be more careful with baked goods. For more information on how to sub Dutch cocoa powder for natural cocoa powder (and vice versa) see here.
Taste and texture
The final sauce was darker in color and very slightly richer, but the differences were small! Great substitute.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = 1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa + (1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, lemon juice or white vinegar in baked goods).
Chocolate bars (melted)
It’s pretty easy to swap cocoa powder for melted chocolate in drinks and sauces. It works for baked goods too, but you will need to reduce the fat in your recipe.
For best results you should use good quality baking chocolate (otherwise known as unsweetened chocolate), or 90% dark chocolate.
Both these options will add a more intense chocolate flavor to your dish, but that’s not a bad thing! Lots of people actually prefer to use chocolate in place of cocoa powder.
Taste and texture
I used baking chocolate and the sauce was delicious, if I had to pick a difference I’d say the flavor was slightly less fudgy. I would use this sub again.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = ⅓ oz melted chocolate (decrease fat by ⅓ tbsp)
Cacao powder is a very good substitute for cocoa powder and will add a similar chocolatey flavor to your dish.
For most recipes it’s fine to sub in a 1:1 ratio, but there are a few watch outs.
Because cacao is less processed than cocoa, it has a stronger bitter flavor and you can get away with adding slightly less to your dish. Or you could increase the amount of sweet ingredients.
It also absorbs more liquid, which means you may need to adjust the amount of liquid you add to your recipe. And like with Dutch cocoa powder, if your recipe calls for a raising agent, you may need to add some baking soda.
For more information on subbing cocoa powder with cacao powder check out this article.
Taste and texture
The cacao powder replicated the intense chocolatey flavor of cocoa really well, but the overall effect was definitely more bitter.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = 1 tablespoon cacao powder
Carob powder is the only substitute on the list that doesn’t contain or come from cocoa beans.
Healthline explains that it’s made from dried and roasted carob pods and has a lighter chocolate flavor than cocoa powder.
Another difference is that it’s naturally sweet, so you’ll may want to reduce the sugar in your recipe when using this as a substitute (although I didn’t and it was fine!).
It’s also considered a healthier option because it’s low-fat and high in calcium.
Taste and texture
It’s sweeter than unsweetened cocoa with toasty, fudgey undertones. My sauce tasted quite different, but it was still delicious.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = 1 tablespoon carob powder (you may also need to adjust the other ingredients).
If you’re a cookie fan, chances are you have some chocolate chips in your cupboard.
You can use chocolate chips instead of cocoa powder, but you should be aware that the chocolate chips contain a lot of extra sugar and fat.
This means you’ll need to reduce the amount of sugar and fat in your recipe.
Stick with semi sweet, bittersweet, or dark chocolate chips when you’re using them instead of cocoa powder.
For more information on swapping chocolate chips for cocoa powder see this article from LeafTV.
Taste and texture
They gave my sauce a sweet, chocolate flavor but it wasn’t as intense. I noticed the sauce had a more oily texture too.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = 1 oz chocolate chips (decrease fat by ⅓ tbs and sugar by 1 tbsp)
Cacao nibs are small pieces of crushed cacao beans usually used for granolas and oatmeal.
They’re definitely not the best substitute for cocoa powder because they have a very different texture.
They’re crunchy and don’t melt, so if you aren’t looking for a chocolate chip effect you’ll need to grind them into a powder. You can use a food processor or a coffee grinder to do this.
But even once they’re in powder form, they’ll still behave differently to cocoa powder (especially in baked goods).
In terms of flavor, just like cacao powder, they’re not as sweet as cocoa powder and they have more of an earthy, bitter tone to them.
Taste and measurements
My chocolate sauce had a more bitter edge to it and a slightly grainy texture from the powder. I wouldn’t use this sub again.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = ½ tablespoon pulverized cacao nibs
Hot chocolate mix
Hot chocolate mix isn’t the best substitute for unsweetened cocoa powder, but it will work as a last resort.
These drink mixes contains only a small amount of cocoa powder along with other ingredients like powdered milk and sugar that tone down the richness of the cocoa.
Because of this, your dish won’t be as intensely chocolatey.
Easy Kids Recipes recommends using less sugar than the recipe dictates to make sure things don’t get too sweet!
Pro tip: if you can find a dark hot chocolate mix this is a better option.
Taste and texture
My sauce didn’t have the same bitter edge that you get with cocoa powder and it was quite bland. I’d avoid this sub if possible!
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder = 1 tablespoons hot chocolate mix + reduced sugar
If none of the above options work for you here are a few more.
These subs won’t work in baked goods because they have too many different ingredients, but they’ll work to add that chocolate flavor you’re craving to a drink or a sauce.
- Chocolate melts – these aren’t technically not made with chocolate but they’re chocolate-flavored. This is more suited for sauces and frostings.
- Chocolate spread – like hot chocolate mix, the final results will be a lot sweeter when you use chocolate spread instead of cocoa powder, but some people have a major sweet tooth!
- Chocolate protein powder – another option for adding a chocolatey hit to drinks. And you have the added health benefit of extra protein!
- Espresso powder – okay, this won’t add a chocolatey flavor but it will add a deep, intense coffee flavor to your dish.
I Test 7 Cocoa Powder Substitutes
- 1 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp Cacao powder
- 1/3 oz Unsweetened chocolate reduce fat
- 1 tbsp carob powder
- 1 oz chocolate chips reduce sugar and fat
- 1/2 tbsp cacao nibs pulverized
- 1 tbsp hot chocolate reduce sugar
- Cook your meal according to the recipe, making sure to note any extra changes you need to make because of the substitute.
- Add your chosen cocoa powder substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.