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How to Sweeten Cocoa Powder? (4 Easy Ways)

How to Sweeten Cocoa Powder? (4 Easy Ways)

Cocoa powder is a widely used and very popular baking ingredient. It can turn any cake, cupcake, brownie, or hot beverage into a delicious, chocolatey masterpiece. 

However, in its pure form, cocoa is also very bitter and not sweet at all. So how can you sweeten it up?

Cocoa powder can be sweetened by mixing it with white or brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. A lesser degree of sweetness can also be achieved by mixing it with milk or melted butter.

Keep reading to find out more about the different ways of making cocoa powder sweet and if you can add already sweetened cocoa to your baking recipes. 

How Do You Make Cocoa Powder Sweet?

You can use various ingredients to sweeten your cocoa powder, no matter what you use it for.

Be aware, though, that all of the below-mentioned ways to make your cocoa sweeter will result in somewhat different flavors and levels of sweetness.

It’s virtually impossible to tell you which ingredient you should use for what recipe and how much of it you should use because flavor and taste, especially for sweet things, are subjective!

The following are general recommendations and tips based on my experiences and preferences.

They can and do work wonders, but you’ll have to find your own true flavor and balance. That’s the secret of good baking, in my opinion!

So here are four reliable ways of sweetening your cocoa powder. Some work well with others. Some work best on their own. And some do not work at all for certain recipes:

1) Mix with Sugar

white sugar being added to unsweetened cocoa powder

Mixing cocoa powder with plain white or brown sugar is probably the most common way to make cocoa sweeter, especially when making hot chocolate.

Sugar will give your cocoa powder a pleasantly sweet taste while not interfering with its chocolate flavor.

If anything, it’ll naturally enhance and highlight the cocoa’s chocolate flavor, as the sugar’s sweetness will reduce the bitter taste of the cocoa powder, although not very much!

Plain white sugar is what most people will use for their hot chocolate, while brown sugar is the more common choice for cakes or cookies.

I tend not to overdo it on the sweet end and generally only use 1 tablespoon of sugar for every tablespoon of cocoa powder, but I know that many people will use a ratio of 2 to 1 (meaning 2 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of cocoa) for their recipes.

Once again, this is very individual!

RELATED ARTICLE: Does Salt in Chocolate Milk Make it Taste Better?

2) Mix with Maple Syrup, Honey, or Agave Syrup

a teaspoon of agave syrup being added to cocoa powder

If you prefer not to use sugar when baking, you can substitute it with other sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup.

Be aware that neither maple syrup nor honey is well suited for making hot chocolate, at least if you ask me, as the sweetness they will add to your recipe is far too intense for hot chocolate.

On the other hand, I’ve found that both maple syrup and honey can work really well in chocolate bars and cookies, as you’d want a sweeter taste for these types of goods anyways.

Honey especially will give you a delightfully sweet and smooth flavor that will harmonize well with the cocoa’s chocolate flavor. Yummy!

PRO TIP: If you don’t want to use sugar in your homemade hot chocolate, there’s one other sweetener that’ll do the trick; agave syrup! It’ll mix well with the cocoa powder and is just sweet enough for your hot chocolate beverage!

3) Mix with (Condensed) Milk

cocoa powder being mixed with warm milk

Mixing your cocoa powder with milk is another fairly common way of making it sweeter, although milk alone won’t make much difference, to be honest!

While the milk’s fat will counteract the cocoa’s bitterness, it won’t make it very sweet. For that to happen, you’ll a lot have to add some sweetener (which brings us back to sugar, honey, or any other of the aforementioned ingredients).

This is pretty much common knowledge and standard procedure when making hot chocolate, where you’d first mix the cocoa with some sugar and then add a few tablespoons of warm milk to dissolve cocoa powder properly.

But really, the same goes for any other recipe, be it for cakes or cupcakes, brownies, cookies, or any other baked good that includes cocoa powder and milk.

I’d say the milk is really just the anti-bitterness agent! To get a sweeter cocoa powder, you’ll have to go one step further, as mentioned above!

PRO TIP: One exception is condensed milk, which is naturally much sweeter than ordinary milk.

This combination might sound a little weird, but mixing cocoa with condensed milk can yield extremely delicious results.

Many people use condensed milk when making chocolate truffles, and the results can be absolutely amazing. The condensed milk gives the mix a very hard texture, which is ideal for making truffles.

You should definitely try it out! Just be careful with the amount of cocoa powder you mix in! Adding too much cocoa to the condensed milk will make your mix hard and sticky, and your truffles won’t have that creamy and smooth texture!

4) Mix with Softened Butter

cocoa powder being mixed with melted butter

And lastly, mixing your cocoa powder with warm, softened butter will also make it sweeter.

The fat in the butter greatly counteracts the cocoa’s natural bitterness and brings out its intense and wonderful chocolate flavor.

So if you want to make a really delicious chocolate cake with a deep and sweet cocoa flavor, make sure first to mix your cocoa powder with the melted butter and then add in your other ingredients!

PRO TIP: For the best chocolate frosting you’ve ever tasted, follow the same procedure; mix your cocoa with softened butter first (to activate the cocoa powder’s sweetness and deep chocolate flavor), and then add in the icing sugar! It’s so good!

Mixing the cocoa with melted butter will also eliminate all those dry cocoa pockets in your mix, which is a nice bonus.

Is Natural Cocoa Powder Always Unsweetened?

pure  and unsweetened cocoa powder and dutch processed cocoa powder

Both natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powder is always unsweetened.

The powder made from grinding up the dried and roasted cocoa solids is the end product you can buy in the store; there is no further processing or adding of ingredients involved.

The raw, untreated cocoa powder on your shelf contains almost no natural sugars. Instead, it is a source of plenty of antioxidants, which is why it is so healthy and tastes so very bitter.

RELATED READING: Why Does Cocoa Powder Taste Bitter?

Is There Sweetened Cocoa Powder?

While there is no sweetened cocoa powder for baking, there are plenty of hot chocolate brands that contain added sugar out there.

Some of the most popular ones include Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Starbucks.

All of these presweetened hot cocoa mixes contain a fair amount of added sugar:

Hot Cocoa BrandPouch SizeAdded Sugar
Nestlé Milk Chocolate
Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix
20g14g (70%)
Hershey’s Hot Cocoa Mix
Milk Chocolate
25g13g (52%)
Starbucks Double Chocolate
Hot Cocoa Mix
28g17g (61%)

Can You Use Sweetened Cocoa Powder Instead of Unsweetened?

Sweetened cocoa powder, a.k.a. hot cocoa mixes, are not suitable for baking and should only be used for making hot chocolate (although I will always prefer pure, unsweetened cocoa powder)!

As mentioned above, practically all hot cocoa brands add plenty of sugar to their chocolate mixes, which usually is a significant disadvantage when baking, as you cannot control the amount of sugar that goes into your recipe.

Additionally, these mixes usually contain plain white sugar, which you don’t always want to use for your baked creations.

All that sugar also tends to caramelize in the oven, both on top and inside of your baked goods, which, more often than not, can be pretty problematic.

Oh, and one more thing! Presweetened cocoa powder does not work well with baking soda or baking powder, which it can prevent your baked goods from rising in the oven.

In other words, it’s just no good for baking. So please stay clear of it!

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