Sustainability made simple

5 Substitutes for Cocoa Powder and How to Use Them

substitute for cocoa powder
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / thecakeschool

Whether you are out of cocoa powder or worried about the sustainability factor of the cacao plant, here’s how you can substitute for cocoa powder in your recipes.

The ever-expanding demand for cocoa and chocolate has left cacao growers fighting climate conditions with an already water-thirsty crop, more diseases, and pests that attack the crops — and more exploitation of the workers to make up for the losses.

Fairtrade labels, like GEPA, guarantee better working practices — but is that enough? Use of land, water and transportation routes lead to an environmental footprint that stays large, even when fair working conditions are acocunted for. Organic certifications like the USDA label also prohibit many other damaging practices, for example the use of synthetic pesticides. Most of the substitutes of cocoa powder we cover in this piece also contain cocoa, so keep these points in mind. Where possible, try to use fewer cacao products for less of an environmental impact.

All that being said, here are the five best substitutes to use when you do bake or cook something chocolatey. Because cocoa powder has quite a rich flavor, you might need to increase the quantity of the substitute to get the same intensity. 

1. Carob Powder Instead of Cocoa Powder

Carob pods growing on a carob tree: they can make a substitute for cocoa powder.
Carob pods growing on a carob tree: they can make a substitute for cocoa powder.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Hans)

The best non-cocoa substitute, native to the Mediterranean, carob offers a slightly sweeter, more caramel taste. It can be substituted in recipes calling for cocoa powder 1:1. It is also thought to be a suitable substitute for cocoa powder, withstanding low temperatures, more drought-resistant, and a less water-intensive crop. Carob is also naturally caffeine-free.

The carob thrives in climates with hot, dry summers like their native Mediterranean climate. This means that although they can grow in places like Florida, they don’t fruit as well.

2. Chocolate as a Substitute for Cocoa Powder

How to use dark chocolate to substitute for cocoa powder.
How to use dark chocolate to substitute for cocoa powder.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / AlexanderStein)

Cocoa powder can also be substituted by different kinds of chocolate: cooking chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, etc. The darker, the less sweet the chocolate, the closer it is to cocoa powder. Here’s how much you’ll need in each case:

  • Replace the amount of cocoa powder called for in a recipe with the same amount of chopped-up chocolate bar.
  • For melted chocolate add 2 tablespoons to every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder called.
  • For milder chocolate types you can bring out the chocolate flavor with 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of instant coffee granules.

Because chocolate contains the fat that cocoa powder doesn’t, consider removing a bit of fat added to the recipe (such as shortening or butter). Couverture chocolate for instance contains high amounts of coconut butter. With sweeter chocolate, you might also want to reduce the amount of sugar / other sweetener added to the recipe.

3. Baking Chocolate Chips

Baking chocolate chips can withstand a higher temperature. You can grind them down with a pestle and mortar or in your food processor to get a more cocoa-powder-like consistency. Add 1/2 a cup of chocolate chips to substitute for 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder.

4. Hot Chocolate Powder

Not just a delicious drink, you can also use hot chocolate as a substitute for cocoa powder.
Not just a delicious drink, you can also use hot chocolate as a substitute for cocoa powder.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Sabrina_Ripke_Fotografie)

Hot chocolate powder can have quite a bit of sugar or milk added to it – so again you might need to adjust the amount of sugar added to the recipe to use it as a cocoa powder substitute. Double the amount of hot chocolate powder to what the recipe calls for in cocoa powder. You can enhance the chocolatey taste by adding 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of instant coffee granules (dissolved in a little bit of water) with a pinch of salt. For a more sustainable alternative, and vegan friendly, look for some hot chocolate powder without milk added to it.

5. Substitute for the Usual Cocoa Powder: Dutch-Process Cocoa

Dutch-process cocoa tends to be less acidic than cocoa powder. It is also quite a bit darker and has a red tinge as compared to natural cocoa powder which has more of a clay-like color. So when substituting with Dutch-process cocoa powder you will need to add a bit of acid to it to get that natural cocoa powder taste. For every 3 tablespoons of powder used, add 1/8 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar, white vinegar, or lemon juice.

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