Although chocolate has long been a darling of the collective human palate, it took the invention of one Dutch chemist in 1825 (or 1828, depending on which source you check) to change the way chocolate was made and consumed. Coenraad Van Houten is the creator of a cocoa press for “Dutching” or Dutch-process cocoa, often called for in baking and confection recipes. Dutch-process cocoa incorporates an idea from the Aztecs, who originally cultivated the plant thousands of years ago: treat cocoa beans with pressure, separate the cocoa butter from the bean and grind into powder.
Upon its invention, Dutch-process cocoa quickly became a way for large-scale confectioners like Fry and Cadbury to sell chocolate bars with improved texture and flavor. Today, Dutch-process cocoa is a product that is darker and decidedly redder than natural or non-alkalized cocoa, with pleasing flavor notes of coffee and toasted nuts. Van Houten originally wanted to improve natural cocoa powder using chemical alkalis and invented a way to extract the cocoa butter’s fat from the beans using a big wooden screw. The result was a dry material easy to pulverize.
The press and use of alkalis became a new standard for lowering the levels of acid as well as the unpleasantly bitter flavor notes in cocoa. Most chefs you ask will choose Dutch process as their own personal preference for these reasons. Today, the process is done with hydraulic presses on a massive scale for popular Dutch-process brands like Guittard Jersey, Droste, Valrhona, Bensdorp and Merckens.