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The 10 Most Suitable Substitutes For Cocoa Powder

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As a 50+ year cook whose specialties include almost everything chocolate, I have learned over the years that there are many substitutes for cocoa powder, some better than others.

The most effective cocoa powder substitutes are chocolate chips, chocolate malted milk powder, chocolate syrup, carob powder, a dark or milk chocolate candy bar, cocoa mix, molasses, Nutella, and unsweetened baking chocolate. But, you could also use protein powder, or espresso powder, in a pinch.

In this article, I will describe how each of these options works and which should never be used in certain recipes. Here are the 10 good substitutes for cocoa powder that most people keep on hand:

Top view of a jar of cocoa powder with a spoon

1. Chocolate Chips

Chocolate chips are another good substitute for cocoa powder. The substitution of chocolate chips for cocoa powder is the same as using unsweetened baking chocolate. The difference here is that unsweetened baking chocolate comes in squares that are easy to use, whereas chocolate chips will have to be measured.

The substitution of chocolate chips for cocoa powder calls for using 1 ounce of chocolate chips for every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder called for in your recipe. But, in the case of chocolate chips, they will have to be measured.

I use a small kitchen scale, similar to this one found on Amazon, to measure chocolate chips when required.

Then, once you have measured the amount of chocolate chips to use in your recipe, like when using chocolate baking squares, there needs to be a reduction in the total amount of fat, butter, oil, or shortening, that will be used in the recipe because chocolate chips, unlike cocoa powder, does contain some fat, so at least 1 tablespoon of fat should be omitted from the amount called for in the recipe.

2. Chocolate Malted Milk Powder

Chocolate malted milk powder can be used as a substitute for cocoa powder in baking desserts such as cakes, brownies, and puddings. But, the finished product will not have a strong chocolate flavor as when using cocoa powder. However, when adding chocolate malted milk powder to your baked desserts along with cocoa powder, it helps boost the flavor for a unique taste that is even better than the original recipe.

To substitute chocolate malted milk powder for cocoa powder, use 2 tablespoons of the malted milk powder for every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder called for in the recipe and reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by 1 tablespoon for every tablespoon of malted milk powder used.

The best use for chocolate malted milk powder in baking is for making cookies. The result of adding malted milk powder to your recipe is that the cookies made with malted milk powder are more tender and brown more evenly than the original recipe.

3. Chocolate Syrup

Even though you can substitute chocolate syrup for cocoa powder when making chocolate milk or hot cocoa, and you can even flavor pudding with chocolate syrup rather than, it would be very difficult to use chocolate syrup in cakes or brownies. The primary reason for this is that cocoa powder is made of 100% cocoa and is packed with chocolate flavor, while chocolate syrup is made by adding other ingredients to the cocoa powder including corn syrup, sugar, and water. So, to get the chocolate flavor you would expect from your recipe, you would have to use almost an entire bottle of the chocolate syrup, which because it is a liquid, would change the consistency of your cake batter and ruin the texture of your cake.

So, yes, you can substitute chocolate syrup for cocoa powder in some recipes like hot cocoa, milkshakes, and puddings, but using chocolate syrup in your cakes, cookies, and brownies would be a big disaster. That is, unless you are using a recipe that has already been adjusted for the extra liquid in the chocolate syrup.

So if you want to make brownies but are out of cocoa powder, then be sure you use a recipe that has been adjusted for chocolate syrup as an ingredient, like this recipe for brownies found on the Hershey’s website.

How To Make Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Here is the recipe my mother always used to make homemade chocolate syrup to serve over cupcakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1&⅔ cup of Sugar
  • ¾ cup of Cocoa Powder
  • 1&¼ cup of Water
  • 1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat.
  3. Allow the sauce to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Serve over cake slices or cupcakes.

This chocolate sauce or syrup will stay good if refrigerated for up to 5 days and can be reheated to serve warm.

4. Carob Powder

Carob is a fruit that grows as a pod on a tree and was in the past often used as animal feed. However, in recent years carob powder has become a healthy chocolate substitute because it tastes very much like chocolate but is naturally caffeine free. Plus, carob powder is lower in carbohydrates and fat and higher in protein than cocoa powder.

However, to use carob powder as a replacement for cocoa powder, some adjustments must be made to the recipe. Those adjustments include the following:

  • Most carob users substitute carob for cocoa on a 1:1 basis but use less sugar and more oil in the recipe than when using cocoa.
  • Less sugar must be used because carob is naturally sweeter than cocoa, and if the amount of sugar called for in the recipe is not adjusted when using carob, the finished product would be overly sweet.
  • Though quite similar in ways, carob powder does not taste enough like cocoa powder to fool a real chocoholic, but adding instant coffee powder to your recipe will make the taste difference less obvious and will make the carob powder taste more like cocoa powder.

Carob works best when making cookies, cakes, brownies, and old-fashioned, homemade hot cocoa, but not so much for puddings or fudge.

There was a time when my sons were young that I had the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom for a few years. As a matter of fact, this was when my youngest was a newborn. During that time, I cooked everything from scratch and made a huge effort to serve only the healthiest foods to my family. In fact, my youngest did not consume anything containing sugar until after he was two years old. 

One of the changes I made to our diet was to attempt to eliminate caffeine by substituting carob powder for cocoa powder, and even though I believe that those individuals with chocolate allergies could make that switch work, my family consists of several dedicated chocoholics who just couldn’t seem to make a go of it, and I was forced to give up on carob.

5. Dark Chocolate Candy Bar

The option of using a dark chocolate candy bar instead of cocoa powder is not the best substitute, but if it is all you have in the house, then by all means, use it. There will, however, have to be some adjustments made to the entire recipe.

Cocoa powder does not contain any fat and has a concentrated chocolate flavor, while a dark chocolate candy bar contains fat but no sugar. And, because the candy bar has ingredients in addition to chocolate, the chocolate flavor of the candy bar will not be as strong as that of cocoa powder. So, as with baking chocolate and chocolate chips, the fat content of your recipe must be reduced by at least 1 tablespoon for every 3 ounces of cocoa powder called for in your recipe, and the cake, brownies, candy, or whatever dessert you are making will not have the full chocolatey taste as it would have if cocoa powder had been used.

How to Use Dark Chocolate

In addition to a fat reduction, the amount of dark chocolate candy bar to be used must be adjusted to compensate for the fact that a dark chocolate candy bar is not 100% chocolate like cocoa powder and contains other ingredients, so the amount of cocoa powder called for in the recipe will have to be doubled (not exactly, but close enough) for the candy bar to result in a more chocolatey taste.

If the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, then 6 tablespoons of dark chocolate candy bar will be required. Since 1 ounce equals 2 tablespoons, then if the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, then 3 ounces of the candy bar will be needed.

6. Hot Cocoa Mix

You can substitute hot cocoa mix for cocoa powder if there is no cocoa powder available, but the substitution will need to be at a 2:1 ratio, or 2 parts hot cocoa mix for every 1 part cocoa powder called for in your recipe.

Hot cocoa mix is a combination of cocoa powder, milk powder, creamer, and sugar. So, to add enough hot cocoa mix for your recipe to create a more chocolatey taste, more of the hot cocoa mix must be added. But, since the hot cocoa mix also contains sugar, the amount of sugar called for in your recipe must be adjusted to prevent your recipe from being too sweet.

7. Milk Chocolate Candy Bar

It is possible to substitute milk chocolate candy bars for cocoa powder in your recipe, but here again, quite a few adjustments must be made in order to get the chocolate flavor provided by cocoa powder. Since milk chocolate has less cocoa per ounce than a chocolate baking bar and contains sugar, oil, and milk which cocoa powder does not have, then you will need to make these adjustments to your recipe:

  1. Reduce the amount of oil in the recipe by 1 tablespoon for every 3 ounces of cocoa powder substituted.
  2. Because milk chocolate does not contain as much cocoa per ounce, you will have to use at least twice the amount of chocolate called for in your recipe.
  3. Milk chocolate candy bars are loaded with sugar and, as a result, the total amount of sugar called for in the recipe should be reduced by approximately 1 tablespoon for every ounce of cocoa powder substituted.
Milk chocolate bar next to a semi sweet chocolate bar

Even after making these adjustments to your recipe, the final product, cake, frosting, brownie, or pudding, is not going to taste like it would if made with cocoa powder, but I have used milk chocolate candy bars to make chocolate buttercream frosting, pudding, and brownies, and the lighter chocolate taste is quite good, even if not the same as when using cocoa powder.

8. Molasses

Molasses, odd as it may seem, can replace cocoa powder in baked goods, and the results will be quite good and very similar to the taste of cocoa powder. Since molasses is actually a liquid sugar extracted from sugar cane and beet plants, it doesn’t really have a chocolate flavor, but the unique flavor of the molasses is very close to cocoa. 

The rate of substitution, in this case, is to use 2 tablespoons of molasses for each 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder called for in your recipe, but since the flavor of molasses is so strong, it is better to use molasses as a substitute for cocoa powder in recipes where only a small amount of cocoa powder is required.

Since molasses is a liquid, thick, but still a liquid and very sweet, the amount of sugar and liquid in your recipe would need to be adjusted slightly if using molasses. 

9. Nutella

Nutella has become quite popular as a substitute in many cake, brownie, cheesecake, and pudding recipes, especially for those who cannot eat chocolate. It is also good in cookies and frostings.

To substitute Nutella for cocoa powder in most recipes, use 4 ounces of Nutella for every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder called for in the recipe you are using. And because Nutella is quite sweet, reduce the amount of sugar called for in your recipes by 1 tablespoon for every tablespoon of cocoa powder being substituted.

10. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate

An excellent substitute for cocoa powder and probably the best of all the substitutes mentioned in this list is unsweetened baking chocolate. Using unsweetened baking chocolate instead of cocoa powder in your recipe will result in a cake, brownie, pudding, or any dessert that is so similar in taste to that made with cocoa powder that it will be difficult to tell the difference.

To substitute unsweetened baking chocolate for cocoa powder, just use a 1-ounce square of the baking chocolate for each 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder that is called for in your recipe. Then, because unsweetened baking chocolate contains fat and cocoa powder does not simply reduce the amount of fat called for in the recipe, whether it is butter, oil, or shortening, by 1 tablespoon so that there isn’t a higher fat content in your dessert. 

Last Resort Options

One of the first things we have to learn about cooking is that substitutions often have to be made. No matter how well we plan, things happen, and we often don’t have all the ingredients we need. Sometimes the replacement isn’t ideal but will still suffice.

If you are out of cocoa powder or don’t have a sufficient amount for your recipe and you don’t have any of the substitutes mentioned above, here are two options that you may have on hand that can be used in a pinch: chocolate protein powder and Espresso powder.

Chocolate Protein Powder

While protein powder is becoming quite popular as a substitute for part of the flour called for in recipes for baking cakes, cookies, brownies, and other sweet treats, this substitution is being made primarily to add protein and other nutrition to baked goods and not a substitution for flavoring.

Now don’t get me wrong, chocolate protein powder could be used as a substitute for cocoa powder when making cakes, brownies, cookies, and pancakes, but the taste will definitely not be the same as when using cocoa powder. The reasons for this are primarily because cocoa powder is 100% chocolate, while in chocolate protein powder, cocoa is one of 3 primary ingredients, which I determined after checking the ingredients list of several brands of chocolate protein powder. The other ingredients in the protein powder, primarily whey and some type of sugar, are going to factor into the taste and create a flavor and texture that is entirely different from what you would get if you used cocoa powder.

While you could get a somewhat chocolatey taste by using chocolate protein powder as a substitute for cocoa powder, this substitute should be used only as a last resort if you are simply out of cocoa powder and looking for a substitute that will give you as close a taste to cocoa as possible. If you have any of the other substitutes mentioned in this article, my advice is to use that instead of chocolate protein powder.

Espresso Powder

Espresso powder is also an option as a substitute for cocoa powder, and while it doesn’t taste like chocolate, its flavor is similar because of its bitter and acidic taste and would create a unique flavor in your baked goods. Also, espresso powder is one of those ingredients that can be added to your chocolate baked goods that will give you a mocha taste that many folks love. As a matter of fact, I have been adding perked coffee to my chocolate buttercream frosting for many years and the flavor is out of this world. Well, espresso powder added to chocolate would also create that mocha flavor.

So, do I recommend using espresso powder as a substitute for cocoa powder? Like chocolate protein powder, if you have any of the other substitutes mentioned here, use those instead if you are out of cocoa powder. But, I would highly recommend using espresso powder as an ingredient to put into your baked goods along with cocoa powder for a chocolate mocha taste that is well worth the effort.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss The 6 Best Cocoa Powders for Cake.

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