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Cocoa powder colour: Is Ebony Cocoa the Best?

Why is powder brown while cacao beans are white? The transformation from pale cacao beans to the rich, earthy tones of is a captivating journey through the world of flavor and chemistry. In this exploration of , we delve into the intriguing processes that give this beloved ingredient its distinctive and appetizing hue.

Why is cocoa powder brown?

The rich brown colour of cocoa powder is the fascinating result of a myriad of factors intricately woven into the journey from cacao beans' pristine white to the finished product. Among these factors are the presence of polyphenol compounds within cacao beans, as well as the fermentation and drying processes of cacao beans.

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Polyphenols are bioactive compounds found in cocoa powder that contribute to its health-promoting activities. These compounds can significantly contribute to the antioxidant capacity of cocoa powder. The polyphenols, along with other bioactive compounds present in cocoa beans, undergo reactions during cocoa processing that contribute to the complex composition of cocoa and its characteristic brown color.

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The fermentation and drying processes of cocoa beans also play a role in the formation of the brown color of cocoa powder. During fermentation, polyphenol compounds decompose, and tannins are responsible for the formation of various colors in cocoa powder. The drying process further contributes to the decomposition of polyphenol compounds and the development of the brown color. Moreover, roasting cacao beans also contributes to the brown colour of cocoa powder.

What colour is natural cocoa powder?

Natural cocoa powder is typically brown in colour. However, some types of natural cocoa powder may be quite reddish due to its cacao beans variety.

Why is some cocoa powder darker?

Based on studies, there are multiple factors which cause some cocoa powder darker than the others.


The fermentation process of cocoa beans can influence the colour of cocoa powder. Proper fermentation is crucial for the development of desirable flavours and colours in cocoa beans, which ultimately impact the colour of the resulting cocoa powder.

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A 2021 study observed that has a dark brown color compared to non-fermented cocoa powder. The color of the cocoa beans changes from gray to purple during fermentation, and eventually turns into a dark brown color.


The roasting process of cocoa beans can contribute to the color development of cocoa powder. The duration and temperature of roasting causes the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the browning and development of flavors in cocoa beans. Maillard reaction, named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, is a chemical reaction that occurs on heated food, resulting in the formation of melanoidins, which give food a distinctive flavour and browned colour.

Hence, roasting also affects the color of cocoa powder. Convective roasting, which is the most commonly used method in the cocoa industry, involves exposing the raw cocoa beans to temperatures between 130 and 150°C for 15-45 minutes. The intensity and duration of the heat exposure during roasting can affect the extent of chemical reactions and, consequently, the colour development in cocoa powder.

Bean Species

Different varieties or species of cocoa beans can have variations in color. For example, the two main species of cocoa beans are Criollo and Forastero.

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Criollo beans are known for their lighter color, ranging from light brown to reddish-brown. They are generally considered to have a more delicate flavor profile and are often associated with higher quality chocolates.

On the other hand, Forastero beans are typically darker in color, ranging from dark brown to purple. They are more robust and have a stronger, more bitter flavor compared to Criollo beans.

Another cocoa bean species is Trinitario, which is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero beans. Trinitario beans can exhibit a wide range of colors, depending on the specific genetic characteristics inherited from their parent species. They can range from light to dark brown, with variations in shade and intensity.

Alkalization (Dutch Process)

Some cocoa powders undergo a process called alkalization or Dutch processing. Alkalization was developed in the 19th century to enhance the taste, solubility, and color of cocoa powders. This process involves treating cocoa with an alkaline solution, usually potassium carbonate, which can darken the color and mellow the flavor. Hence, alkalized cocoa powder will have a higher pH than normal cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa is generally darker than natural cocoa.

Fat Content

The fat content in cocoa powder can also affect its colour. Cocoa powder with a higher fat content, which contains more , can be darker.

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In a study by Palmieri & Hartel (2019), researchers looked at how cocoa butter (the fatty part of cocoa) behaves when it's in cocoa powder. They discovered that cocoa powder with more fat in it tends to turn into solid form (crystallize) faster. This means that cocoa powder with more fat might end up having a darker color because it forms stable structures more easily.

In another study, scientists talked about how cocoa powder flows, like how easily it can be poured or moved. They found that if you increase the fat in cocoa powder, it becomes harder for it to flow smoothly. So, cocoa powder with more fat might become clumpier and more compact, which could make it look darker in color.

Cocoa Powder Particle Size

The particle size of cocoa powder can affect its colour. Smaller particle sizes may result in a darker colour due to the formation of more chromophores. Chromophores are chemical groups or structures within a substance that can absorb and reflect light in a way that affects its color. In simpler terms, they are the parts of the substance that give it color.

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So, when you have smaller particles, there is more surface area where these color-contributing chromophores are present. This increased exposure of chromophores to the surrounding environment can make the substance (in this case, cocoa powder) appear darker or more intensely colored.

Why is cocoa powder red?

Cocoa powder is typically brown in color, but there's a unique variety of cacao beans known as Criollo that can exhibit a reddish hue.

Criollo cocoa is highly regarded for its top-notch quality and is often used in crafting premium chocolates, thanks to its delightful fruity aroma. Chocolates made from Criollo beans tend to have a more pronounced acidic flavour compared to those produced from Forastero and Trinitario beans.

Based on multiple references, the reddish color of Criollo cocoa beans is primarily attributed to the presence of anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments responsible for the purple-red color. These pigments are found in plants, particularly in fruits and flowers. The specific structure of anthocyanins results in its characteristic color.

Another factor that may contribute to reddish cocoa powder is the formation of polyphenol-derived red chromophores in the cocoa powders. It is suggested that the alkalization process, which is commonly used in cocoa processing, can lead to the accumulation of higher ordered chromophore oligomers, contributing to the red coloring of cocoa. This process may be more pronounced in Criollo cocoa, resulting in its reddish color.

Does black cocoa taste better?

The dark colour of cocoa powder, particularly , may have an impact on how we perceive its taste.

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There is a psychological impact of food color on taste perception. Colour is one of the most important visual cue when it comes to setting people's expectations regarding the likely taste and flavor of food and drink.

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Changing the hue or intensity or saturation of the color of food items can exert a significant impact on the expectations and subsequent experiences of consumers. However, if the color does not match the taste, it may result in a negatively valenced disconfirmation of expectation. This suggests that the dark color of cocoa powder may influence our expectations and, consequently, our perception of its taste.

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