There are ingredients in your pantry you want to pay a little extra attention to. Baking extras that add big flavor to your recipes are definitely worthy of some extra consideration. Among these important ingredients: cocoa powder.

A great cocoa powder can make your favorite chocolate desserts taste extra rich and make them all the more irresistible. But is the cocoa in your cupboard doing your recipes justice?

What Makes a Great Cocoa Powder?

To find out which brands will really make these cocoa-forward recipes sing, our Test Kitchen—a squad stacked with pro bakers—sampled ten brands in a blind test. Each baker kept these qualities in mind as they sipped their cocoa and inspected their samples:

Color: Cocoa powders do vary in color from pale brown to reddish to nearly black. Our culinarians noted the hue of each cocoa and how that may come into play in baking.
Flavor: Great cocoa powder should taste strongly of pure chocolate without a lot of extra sweetness. Depending on the variety, cocoa can taste more of bitter dark chocolate or milder milk. Whatever the case, it should taste pleasant—no chalky aftertaste or overly sweet additions.
Price: Flavorsome ingredients like vanilla, nuts and chocolate chips are worth spending a little extra money on. For this test, our team kept in mind if the price of the cocoa powder was reflected in the quality.

Our Test Kitchen-Preferred Cocoa Powder Brands

After sipping, sampling and baking, our experts chose four brands worthy of being called Test Kitchen-Preferred.

Best Easy-to-Find Cocoa Brand: Hershey’s Cocoa

You don’t have to go to great lengths to find a great cocoa powder for your chocolaty bakes. Hershey’s Cocoa can be found at practically every supermarket, big-box store and mom-and-pop grocer, and our Test Kitchen recommends that you make it a staple in your pantry.

Reader Sue from Connecticut explains that this cocoa has been a constant in her kitchen for years: “Its quality is consistent and I can rely on the same flavor and ease of use in recipes.”

And our Test Kitchen feels the same way. While we love to experiment with different options, Hershey’s is our kitchen’s standard. With subtle natural sweetness and the right counterbalance of bitter cocoa, our team can rely on this brand to give the right flavor to our best cocoa-centric recipes like Sandy’s Chocolate Cake.

Price: $3.69 for an 8-ounce container
Cost per ounce: $0.46

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Best Cocoa Powder to Splurge On: Valrhona Pure Cocoa Powder

If you’re super serious about your chocolate, you’ll want to spend a little extra on this pantry goody. For a next-level cocoa powder, our Test Kitchen recommends Valrhona Pure Cocoa Powder.

Valrhona is a favorite among our pro bakers for its amazing texture. This cocoa is velvety and has a nearly creamy mouthfeel when stirred into hot chocolate. This deep-hued cocoa also has a terrific complexity of flavor; it’s not just plain ol’ chocolate, it’s chocolate that has subtle dark cocoa notes and some brightness that makes your tastebuds take notice.

Price: $14.50 for an 8.82-ounce container
Cost per ounce: $1.60

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Best Cocoa for Dark Chocolate Lovers: Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

While cocoa powder is neither milk nor dark chocolate, it doesn’t mean it can’t have characteristics of these common types of chocolate. If you fancy yourself a dark chocolate fanatic, you’ll want to keep Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder stocked in your kitchen.

Ghirardelli gave our bakers distinct dark chocolate notes without being overly bitter or sweet. This brand managed to keep these flavor profiles balanced. Color-wise, this cocoa is darker than its competitors so your cakes and brownies will turn out deeper and darker looking. After all, what says chocolate more than a super fudgy cake?

Price: $4.69 for an 8-ounce package
Cost per ounce: $0.59

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Best Dutch Cocoa Powder: Guittard Red Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder

While regular cocoa powder is good for most baking recipes, there are some instances where you need to use Dutch-process cocoa (sometimes called Dutched cocoa or alkalized cocoa). If you’ve got a recipe, like this Brooklyn Blackout Cake, that calls for Dutch cocoa, our Test Kitchen recommends Guittard Red Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder.

Guittard Dutch cocoa is exceptionally smooth and milder than its traditional counterparts—exactly what our Test Kitchen wants in an alkalized cocoa powder. This brand had a great mellow chocolate flavor with a warm aftertaste. This is just the option you need for any recipe that requires this type of cocoa.

Price: $12.59 for an 8-ounce container
Cost per ounce: $1.57

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How to Store Cocoa Powder

Whatever cocoa powder you choose to fill your baking cupboard with, there’s just one simple guideline to follow: store cocoa in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. That’s it! If your cocoa doesn’t come in a container with a tight-fitting lid, invest in some good baking storage.

Fortunately, cocoa has a very long shelf life. If stored properly, it’s good for about three years. So even if cocoa isn’t a regular player in your recipes, you have a long time to use that container.

What happens if your cocoa is expired? Don’t worry: It’s actually OK to use expired cocoa powder. The flavor won’t be as pronounced but it is safe to use (unless it smells off or looks strange).

Fill Your Pantry with More Test Kitchen-Preferred Brands

The post Our Pro Bakers Found the Best Cocoa Powder You Can Buy appeared first on Taste of Home.