To make cocoa, unsweetened chocolate (solidified chocolate liquor) is pressed to squeeze out most of the fat, and the resulting cake is then ground to a powder.
There are several types of “regular” cocoa powder, depending on how much fat remains. For example, “breakfast cocoa” or “high-fat cocoa,” as defined by the FDA, must contain at least 22 percent cocoa butter. If labeled just plain “cocoa,” it may contain anywhere between 10 and 22 percent fat. “Low-fat cocoa” must contain less than 10 percent fat.
In the Dutch process, invented in 1828 by Conrad J. van Houten in guess-what-country, either the roasted beans or the chocolate liquor cake is treated with an alkali (usually potassium carbonate), which darkens the color to a deep reddish brown and mellows the flavor. Hershey calls its Dutchprocessed cocoa “European-style.”
Cocoa is naturally acidic, and the alkali used in the Dutch process neutralizes it. That can make a difference in a cake recipe, because acidic cocoa will react with any baking soda present to make carbon dioxide and increase leavening, but the neutralized Dutch process cocoa won’t.
Devil’s food cake is an interesting case because most recipes call for regular cocoa, yet the cake comes out with a devilish red color, as if it contained Dutch process cocoa. That’s because baking soda is used for leavening, and the alkaline baking soda “Dutches” the cocoa.
In the U.S., the word cocoa makes us think of a hot, chocolaty beverage. But a cup of what we call cocoa or hot chocolate is to a cup of hot Mexican chocolate what skim milk is to heavy cream, because we have squeezed out all the fat from the cocoa powder. A cup of Mexican chocolate, on the other hand, is thick and unimaginably rich because it is made from the whole chocolate liquor, fat and all.
In Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, a few years ago, I watched as the fermented and roasted cacao beans were ground with sugar, almonds, and cinnamon, emerging from the grinder as a glistening, thick brown paste, a sweetened and flavored chocolate liquor. It was then cast into round or cigarshaped molds, cooled to solid cakes and sold in that form.
In the kitchen, one or two cakes of this Mexican chocolate are beaten into boiling-hot water or milk to make a rich, frothy nectar. In Oaxaca, it is served in widemouthed cups made specifically for dunking the egg-rich Mexican bread, pan de yema (yolk bread). In Spain, I have dunked churros, lengths of deep-fried pastry, into the same rich chocolate beverage.
Of the treasures that the Spanish conquistadores brought home from the New World, many would agree that in the long run, the chocolate was more valuable than the gold. Mexican chocolate is available in the United States under the brand names Ibarra and Abuelita.