We don’t Dutch the cocoa powder we use in our hot chocolate. Dutch processing, also known as alkalization is an all-too-common manufacturing process first developed by the Dutch over a century ago. What problems were the Dutch trying to address with this new process and what exactly is the alkalization process?
The answer is to the former question is likely two-fold: Solubility Issues and Flavor Perception.
Pure cocoa powder is not very soluble. Remember as a kid, when you spooned cocoa powder into a glass of cold milk hoping to make chocolate milk and the cocoa powder just floated on the surface of the milk, no matter how hard you stirred? This is a solubility situation. When we talk about solubility we are describing how easily cocoa dissolves in a liquid such as milk. Temperature affects solubility. A hot cocoa drink mix will dissolve more easily when mixed in warm milk vs. cold milk.
The challenge is that natural cocoa powder provides the most authentic chocolate flavor for making hot cocoa, but it is not very soluble and seems to “fight” going into solution easily.
As for the latter question, the Dutch or alkalization process is an attempt to reconcile these two oppositional attributes of cocoa powder. The Dutching process is an artificial change of the pH of the cocoa powder accomplished by one of several methods that in essence bathe either the cocoa powder, cocoa nibs or cocoa liquor in an alkaline solution. Dutching also known as alkalization renders the cocoa powder more basic (i.e., less acidic) with the result that the pH level is increased (most commonly by about 2-4 points) on the pH scale. This makes the flavor of the cocoa powder less bitter, less acidic and milder in flavor as compared to non-Dutched or all-natural cocoa powder.
Does alkalization actually work?
It was thought that the Dutching process rendered the cocoa powder a bit more soluble, but this has been disproved. According to the authoritative and highly technical book “Chocolate Production and Use” by Cook and Muersing, two of the most preeminent chocolate production scientists around:
“Alkalization does not result in an increase in solubility, as once was thought. Dispersibility may be slightly improved if some soaps are formed by the reaction of the alkali with traces of free fatty acids; but the resulting flavor defect is more serious than the slight advantage gained. . . “
So if you inadvertently form soap during the alkalization process, you might slightly improve dispersibility, but who wants to eat soap?
And perhaps the most interesting after-effect of the alkalization is that it slightly darkens the color of the cocoa powder so consumers perceive the cocoa is more intense in flavor — when in point of fact, the flavor is less piquant due to the lowering of the pH level. Alkalization fools the eye into believing alkalized cocoa is richer in flavor because the color is darker but it won’t fool the most discerning palates.
From the very start, I decided I wanted a true and authentic cocoa flavor profile and to my mind, the alkalization process artificially changed the flavor of natural cocoa powder. So you may need to stir Omanhene a bit more vigorously (though using warm milk goes a long, long way to improving the solubility) but I am certain you will find the flavor superior.
The following syrup recipe is a surefire way to make hot chocolate if solubility remains an issue for you. Using a syrup is quick and easy; many of our commercial customers use this exact recipe to allow for speedy preparation by their baristas.
- 3 Parts Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix
- 1 Part Warm Water
- Place 3 parts Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix in bowl.
- Add 1 part warm water.
- Stir vigorously for about 30 seconds until a syrup is formed,
- Place syrup in a squeeze bottle.
- Squirt approximately 2 tablespoons syrup in 8 oz. of warm milk. Add more to taste, if you wish.
- Stir vigorously until syrup is evenly disbursed.
- Syrup may be stored in a squeeze bottle overnight in the refrigerator.
- Make only enough for a day or two.