See also chocolate.

Cocoa comes from bean pods that grow on the tropical Theobroma Cacao tree. Once harvested, the beans are fermented, roasted and ground to produce a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. After drying, this hardened paste is ground into the powder we know as unsweetened cocoa.

Unsweetened cocoa should not be confused with cocoa mix, or instant cocoa, which is actually a mixture of cocoa powder, dry milk and sugar used to make chocolate-flavored beverages. Cocoa mix should not be substituted for cocoa powder in recipes.


Highly prized by the Aztecs, cocoa beans were used in religious ceremonies and as a form of currency. Cocoa was also used to make "chocolati," a luxury drink flavored with vanilla and spices. According to legend, Emperor Montezuma drank 50 pitchers of the frothy concoction each day, served in a golden goblet.

Varieties and Buying Tips

In the baking aisle, you'll find two types of unsweetened cocoa: natural and Dutch. Dutch (also called European-style) has been processed with an alkaline solution that helps neutralize the cocoa's natural acidity. If you're looking for a darker, richer flavor (and who isn't?), this is the one to buy.

Storage Tips

Store cocoa in a sealed, airtight container in a cool, dark place. It will keep for up to two years.

Usage Tips

Cocoa's uses the kitchen are deliciously endless. It's perfect for making scrumptious cakes, frosting, brownies, and of course, hot cocoa. But it can also be your secret ingredient for more savory dishes as well. Add one or two tablespoons to your chili or meat stews to create a uniquely rich, husky flavor.

Substitution Tips

When substituting Dutch cocoa for natural or regular cocoa, omit any baking soda in the recipe.

Try one of our favorite cocoa recipes:
Mocha-Dark Chocolate Brownies
Mom's No-Bake Cookies
Hot and Spicy Chili