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Supermarket Hershey’s Cocoa is Best for Baking

The holidays are just around the corner and for most of us that means lots of baking, like this tempting Chocolate Cake.

Chocolate Cake Made with Cocoa Powder

Hershey's Cocoa Makes This Cake Fabulous!

Chocolate is the flavor of choice at our house so I was delighted to learn that the Hershey’s cocoa I always use was recently selected as the best by Cook’s Illustrated magazine. And, I can buy it at my grocery store!

Hershey’s Cocoa Delivers Same Flavor as Callebaut

Cook’s Illustrated often tests different brands of products to choose the best one. They didn’t expect a common supermarket brand like Hershey’s to win; often, the expensive brands like Callebaut ($16/pound) are superior. So, they were surprised to find that Hershey’s Cocoa (which costs about $3.49 for an 8 ounce container) delivered the same bold, rich chocolate flavor as Callebaut, but at less than half the price.

Drost Dutched Cocoa Is Also Superior

The magazine also learned something else, but first, a little background. Hershey’s Cocoa is natural cocoa which means it is naturally acidic. It wasn’t “Dutched” or alkalized to reduce that acidity. Some recipes call for Dutch cocoa powder (sometimes called European or alkali) and this process neutralizes those natural acids in cocoa to round out the chocolate flavor and yield a rich, darker-looking baked item.

Cook’s Illustrated found that Droste was the best Dutched brand, but it also cost nearly three times more (roughly $10.50 for 8.8 ounces) than the Hershey’s Cocoa. So, unless your recipe is designed for Dutch cocoa (it will say so) then use Hershey’s Cocoa. But remember that recipes are specifically designed to use either natural or Dutch cocoa, so be sure to use the one specified in the recipe for best results. And, don’t accidentally buy Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa instead of regular Hershey’s Cocoa.

Why I Use Cocoa?

I love baking with chocolate, but I often bake with cocoa instead of chocolate for these reasons:

[1] pure cocoa, with no fillers or flavorings (such as sugar, soy, vanilla, etc.)

[2] relatively inexpensive (compared to chocolate bars)

[3] long shelf-life, with no chance of blooming (that grayish covering on chocolate bars)

[4] fat-free, so I can control the amount of fat in the recipe

[5] readily available at supermarkets, without having to mail-order or go to specialty stores

[6] all of the above factors make it easier for people to use my cookbooks

Why is Hershey’s Cocoa So Good?

For the science-minded, here’s why Hershey’s won. Cocoa comes from the football-shaped pod fruit of a tropical tree that grows near the equator. There is no way you would recognize chocolate from this tree, so it’s a miracle that anyone ever discovered it. But I digress; back to the story.

Inside the pod are beans, and inside the beans are cocoa nibs (the real source of cocoa flavor).  First the beans are fermented, then they are dried, bagged, and taken to a processing facility to be roasted. Some companies roast the whole bean and then extract the nib. But Hershey’s takes the extra step of separating the nibs from the bean first and then roasting just the nibs, which (according to Cook’s Illustrated research) produces a superior product. Now you know why Hershey’s is so good!

Ways to Make the Most of Your Cocoa Powder

Even if Hershey’s Cocoa is a relatively inexpensive brand, you still want to get the most from it with these tips:

[1] Sometimes, recipes ask you to soak the cocoa powder in boiling water. Do it if the recipe says so. This is called “blooming” the cocoa and intensifies the flavor.

[2] I personally like fudgy brownies better than cake brownies. The way to get “fudgy” is to slightly underbake the brownies. They still continue to cook a bit after removing from the oven.

[3] Store the cocoa in a dark, dry place and don’t place a wet measuring spoon in the container. This leaves moisture behind which can cause clumping.

Happy Baking!!!

7 comments to Supermarket Hershey’s Cocoa is Best for Baking

  • Lovely article, you should write more often. I recently started a little blog myself about cakes and recipes, if you feel like it why not take a look.Cheers

  • renee kalish

    I just ran out of my last box of Hershey’s “Dutch Processed” Cocoa (manufactured in Holland), and can only find Hershey’s Cocoa or Hershey’s “Special Dark” Cocoa. Which do you recommend for baking? Thanks.

    • Carol Fenster

      You should always use the type of cocoa specified in your recipe because it affects the alkalinity-acid balance, which can spell the different between success and failure in baking. If you can’t find Dutch/alkali cocoa, then try to use only recipes that call for natural or regular cocoa (which is Hershey’s Cocoa), not Dutch cocoa. The Dutch cocoa is more typically found in kitchen stores and online, although I occasionally see it is grocery stores. It can also be more expensive. Good luck!

  • Dave Burton

    I understand that Hershey’s Special Dark is a mixture of natural and dutched cocoa. Can it be substituted for dutched cocoa in recipes? Did Cooks evaluate it? Which is best for hot cocoa?

    • Carol Fenster

      Dave: I can’t give you a firm “yes” or “No” on that because it really depends on the recipe and the alkalinity/acidity of the other ingredients. It’s best to use the cocoa specified in the recipe because the recipe has been formulated with that particular in mind. Sorry, I can’t be more specific. I just know that using the wrong cocoa can sometimes result in disaster, sometimes a soapy-tasting baked good.

  • Sonya

    From my reading of the Cook’s Illustrated article, Hershey’s is not quite as good as Callebaut, but it was the best of the supermarket brands. They still recommended splurging on Callebaut for a special occasion. Sometimes CI just tests supermarket brands, and sometimes they just test premium brands, and they will clearly reflect this in teh title of the taste test. For the taste test that you are referrencing, CI tested supermarket brands of cocoa powder, and Hershey’s won that test.

    That’s why, at the end of their review (and it was a looooong text!), they said: “We had just one more test before we were satisfied: To see how our winner measured up to the Callebaut [their favorite luxury brand], we baked chocolate cakes with each brand and tasted them side by side. Just as it did in our previous tasting, the Callebaut wowed tasters, who swooned for its elegant “dark-chocolate” flavor. But our winner didn’t disappoint, earning high marks of its own. The bottom line: We’ll still stock Callebaut for special-occasion baking, but for everyday cocoa needs, our winning supermarket brand [Hershey’s] takes the cake.”

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