A box of cacao in the kitchen has the label "Kakao zum Backen und für Desserts".

Translating this as cacao for baking and for desserts, is there a reason why Backen takes zu and not Desserts?

The only one I could think of is that Backen is the noun form for the verb backen.

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    Exactly. "Backen" is the act of baking while "Dessert" is... well, a dessert. – Em1 Nov 24 '14 at 8:30
  • hi everyone, thanks for all the replies. It seems from the responses that this topic is a bit "fuzzy". From what all of you have said, there is enough there for an answer. Thanks again! – Satish Vasan Nov 24 '14 at 17:13
  • @Em1.. whatever. They're both nouns, and the structure "für das Verben" is not impossible. – Emanuel Nov 24 '14 at 19:21

I can't give a linguistic founded answer, and I doubt there is a common rule for "für" and "zu".
Maybe a good approach is the following:
Use "zu" in a context like "for a special purpose or activity".
Use "für" in a context like "for a special item or person".

For instance:
Ich brauche Kakao für meinen Kuchen <- "Kuchen" is the "special item"
Ich brauche Kakao zum Backen <- "Backen" is the "special purpose"

Another rule, referring to "special items" only:
Use "zu" for something that is already finished.
Use "für" for something to be done.

For instance:
"Zucker zum Kaffee": The sugar is not necessary for the coffee to exist.
"Kekse zum Tee": The tea is tea, whether with or without cookies.

Following that strategy, in your example "Kakao zu Desserts" one would understand "put some cacao on your dessert". This is surely not the intention in this context, although it may be delicious for some desserts :-)

Instead, "Kakao für Desserts" means "for the preparation of desserts", i.e. the dessert is not yet finished. The cacao is intended to be used for the preparation of the dessert.

With the cake above it's the same: "Ich brauche Kakao für meinen Kuchen, den ich backen werde"

However these rules are just my two cents. But maybe my answer inspires someone to improve instead of downvoting? ;-)

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Both 'zu' and 'für' can express purpose, but 'Backen' is neuter and 'Desserts' is plural, so the choice is between 'fürs Backen' and 'zum Backen'.

The contraction 'fürs' is standard and obligatory for short phrases, but it is dispreferred in comparison to 'zum', so presumably the choice of preposition is influenced by the more preferred expression that would result.

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    I'm afraid but I don't understand the conclusion in the first sentence. Furthermore, I don't understand the second paragraph at all. Are you really saying that "Kakao fürs Backen" would be acceptable? In the given context "fürs Backen" is certainly wrong. In a different context it'd be fine for sure. Btw, in a different context "zum Dessert" would be fine, too. Why are you talking about the contraction "fürs" anyway? Why is this standard for short phrases? – This answer is hardly understandable and I doubt its correctness. -1 – Em1 Nov 24 '14 at 10:47
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    @Em1... how is fürs Backen "certainly wrong"? It is not. It's just less idiomatic than zum Backen. google.de/… beside that. comment-plus-1 for actually speaking out instead of just clicking. – Emanuel Nov 24 '14 at 19:18
  • @Emanuel Ich sagte: "In the given context" – Bei deiner Google-Suche wirst du kein "Kakao fürs Backen" finden – Em1 Nov 24 '14 at 21:52
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    @Em1... ich finde aber Butter fürs Backen und Mehl fürs Backen und vor allem Zutaten fürs Backen. Du sagst "certainly wrong" und das ist einfach nicht gerechtfertigt. "not idiomatic"? Sure. But if you say it's wrong please explain which grammatical rule gets violated. – Emanuel Nov 24 '14 at 22:06

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