Trader Joe's Extravirgins (and Floozies)

 

Since starting my supermarket oils guide, I've received dozens of requests for an opinion on Trader Joe's olive oil offerings.  Earlier this month I finally visited a Trader Joe's store in Spokane, Washington, where I bought six oils and tasted them at home.  Results were mixed.

The Good News:  The Premium 100% Greek Kalamata was quite good at an excellent price, and two other oils – the California Estate and the Premium Extra Virgin – were authentic extra virgins and good values.  (Details on each oil below.)

The Bad News:  I was sorry to see that Trader Joe's sometimes plays the same marketing bait and switch as many other supermarkets.  One of the oils was labeled "Trader Giotto's" and "packed in Itay," yet in fine print in back, lasered onto the glass, was the message that it was a blend of "oils from Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia".  None of the bottles mentioned the specific place where the olives were grown, the name of the grower, or the harvest date, all of which consumers should know.  In 4 of 6 products, the olive cultivar was not identified, likewise important information.  Also, in all but 1 case the Best By Date (BBD) was much too distant:  even the good oils I tasted will go bad long before they reach these dates.

Worst of all, 3 out of the 6 oils I tasted were defective, meaning that they shouldn't be labeled "extra virgin" in the first place.

Premium 100% Greek Kalamata

1 liter for $8.99

Aroma:  spicy, complex, very fresh

Flavor:  nice mature fruit, real zing of pungency, pleasant bitterness, a gentle nutmeg-like spiciness

Label:  "Earthy flavor, delicate aroma, smooth finish."  Don't know what any of this means, and "earthy" isn't exactly what you'd want in olive oil (in fact, it's a defect).  But I really liked this oil.

Miscellaneous: Nice deep green color, very agreeable mouthfeel (pleasantly pasty)

BBD 02/10/2014 (credible)

 

California Estate Olive Oil

500 ml for $5.99

Aroma:  very full ripe fruit

Flavor:  typical of well-made arbequina: gentle, balanced, sweetish in a good way, quite spicy finish

Label:  identifies the olive cultivar (arbequina), which is important information.  "Lively olive flavor, mild peppery finish" (I agree with the latter, at least).  But no BBD visible on the bottle, which is a big demerit, especially since this oil, like most arbequinas, will probably deteriorate fast

 

Premium Extra Virgin

946 ml for $7.99

Aroma: full ripe fruit aroma, a little tired

Flavor: no appreciable bitterness, pleasant pungency (gentle and persistent burn), quite flat and bland, faintly sweet, tastes of arbequina, very fluid in the mouth

Label:  imported from Italy, packed in the USA.  Made from oils made in Italy, Spain, Argentina and Greece.  "Robust, fruity flavor.  Full bodied taste.  Fragrant and smooth."  Sadly, little of this is actually true:  I'll go along with smooth, and somewhat fragrant, but that's about it

Miscellaneous:  Intense green color

BBD June 2015:  This oil is already mature.  There is NO WAY it will be good 2 years from now.

 

Trader José's 100% Spanish Organic

500 ml for $5.99

Aroma: obvious winey-vinegary defect.  This isn't extra virgin olive oil.

Flavor: winey-vinegary defect, also slight fustiness, unpleasant and imbalanced.  No appreciable pepper, virtually no bitter, almost no fruitiness

Color: brownish, straw-colored (can see why they put in green glass bottle)

BBD 04-2015.  If this oil is defective already, it will be appalling in 20 more months.

 

Trader Giotto's Extra Virgin Olive Oil

500 ml for $3.99

Aroma:  Faint ripe olive, very flat and tired - not fresh.  There's a noticeable winey-vinegary defect, so it's not extra virgin olive oil at all.

Flavor:  winey-vinegary defect, as well as a hint of mold.  Faint but unpleasant bitterness, zero complexity.  This oil is DOA.

Label:  The familiar marketing game:  label says "Packed in Italy," though the fine print on the back of the bottle informs you that it's made "with oils from Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia."

BBD 10/17/14  Like before, if it's bad now, think what 14 months will do to it.

 

Trader Giotto's 100% Italian President's Reserve

1 liter for $6.99

Aroma:  strong winey-vinegary defect

Flavor:  unpleasant bitterness, very stale, little to no fruit flavors.  Strong winey-vinegary defect, so it's not extra virgin grade in the first place

Label:  "Made from select olives and is cold pressed to provide a distinctive aroma, taste and an intense fruity flavor."  All of which is pure marketing malarkey.  Says the olives were grown in Puglia, Sicily, and Calabria, so "Product of Italy" seems appropriate here

BBD 10/30/14  Once again, the oil is defective now, so what it will be like in 14 months doesn't bear thinking about.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

It's great to find a large-scale retail chain selling good-quality oils at very competitive prices.  One of them, anyhow: I found the Premium 100% Greek Kalamata oil a standout.  Still, a company with a reputation for food expertise should do better.  Think what Trader Joe's could do to spread the good word about great olive oil, if they got serious about oil quality.  And in more commercial terms, think what a competitive advantage some drop-dead-gorgeous extra virgins could become for them - "Trader Joe's promises you the real deal in olive oil!"

Truth in Olive Oil calls on Trader Joe's to take a stand on extravirginity, for the sake of their customers.

Comments

Thanks for doing this test.

Thanks for doing this test. I've wondered about Trader Joe's olive oils. I normally just buy these for cooking & salad dressing. The BBD isn't a problem because I use rather quickly. Now what about oils from Whole Foods?

I know it is not a store

I know it is not a store brand, but I buy Corto at Whole Foods and can't find it anywhere else. Tom recommends it in his supermarket picks and we find it to be a great value for a everyday cooking oil. Under $10 and they now put the harvest date on it.

Have you tried the Whole

Have you tried the Whole Foods brand single varietal Greek Koroneiki? It tasted very similar to some high quality oils I've tried at specialty shops.

Many oils are packed in Italy

Many oils are packed in Italy but contain olives from around the Mediterranean. Statement of "packed in"

TJ's oils have always been outstanding and certainly high quality for the price.

I agree misleading - however

I agree misleading - however in the end TJ's is an good product for a very fair price.
I use it for everyday. I do indulge in more expensive oils for special times or when I want something particular

This is great. BUT, what

This is great. BUT, what about brands from Whole Foods? I don't live anywhere near a Trader Joe's anymore, but Whole Foods seem to be everywhere! :D Again, great that you're testing/grading them!

I prefer the California. I

I prefer the California. I only use it in recipes and never on a salad or for dipping. That's what olive oil shops are for.

Another thing Trader Joe's gets horribly wrong is balsamic vinegars. The only thing their vinegars are useful for is torture, and I think there's a clause in the Geneva Convention against that.

Thank you so much! I

Thank you so much! I infrequently shop at Trader Joe's (5 hours away) and have not bought their oils (our local Kroger and Whole Foods carry California Olive Ranch which we like). We find learning about oils a joy, so kudos to you!

I appreciate this research in

I appreciate this research in helping me make informed choices, so I don't have to waste the money to discern for myself. Thank you, Tom, for being a detective for all of us!

I have to disagree my family

I have to disagree my family has olive orchards in Greece we make olive oil (not for resale)after the olive are picked and most of those brands in the picture are very poor quality. First press is the best, and the oil should be a nice green color.

They are the same oils as the

They are the same oils as the Trader Giotto's Extra Virgin Olive Oil, in other words crap!I tried both of them and they include very little olive oil (pomace quality) which is the worst for you, green color and other oil substances.I am a restaurant owner and like I tell everyone "Please don't eat olive oils because are affordable like Bertolli, napoleon and such, they are bad for you"

I studied the whole foods

I studied the whole foods olive oil shelf in Cupertino ca.there were 67 different labels. Very confusing. There were premium oils scattered among super cheap offerings by repackers. Shoppers would approach the section, take in the enormity of the decision and then reach for the store brand.

Alright! I used what I

Alright! I used what I learned from Extra Virginity to pick out the Kalamata and California Estate oils (at the Spokane Trader Joe's, no less). I've enjoyed them both and suspected they were the real deal, so it's great to have that validated.

True, but this plays to one

True, but this plays to one of Trader Joe's great strengths -- they have a very liberal return policy. So, you can try buying a different oil each time you shop, and if you believe that it was mislabeled, you can return it on your next visit, no questions asked (+ no receipt needed for their private labels), and move on to the next.

I hear over and over how the

I hear over and over how the oil we are getting in the US that is labeled "olive oil" is almost always a blend of other oils AND olive oil. That means you may be getting canola among other oils I would not put in my mouth/body.

It's a fact that more extra

It's a fact that more extra virgin olive oil is 'exported from Italy' than is even grown and produced in that country. While TJ's has some poor evoo products, it does a lot better than what you'll find in a grocery store. Almost all the big names are NOT extra virgin, many are adulterated with other oils or food coloring, and most bottles on the shelves are old and near rancidity, if not already there. BTW, we love the TJ Trader Giotto Sicilian evoo. It's a blend of 3 olive oils from Sicily and packaged in Italy. Hopefully the olives are pressed in Sicily as well. Any comments on that one?

Thanks so much for tasting

Thanks so much for tasting the oils and Trader Joe's and letting us know your results. I'm happy that the California Estate has long been my favorite pick there.
I'm wondering if you've ever tried Bariani's - olives grown and pressed just outside Sacramento, California, by an Italian immigrant family? Really great stuff, in my (informed by Extra Virginity!) opinion.

Trader Joe's will be opening

Trader Joe's will be opening near me soon so the timing of this info is great; thanks Tom for teaching all of us what great olive oil is. The $8.99 for the Kalamata seems to be the best bargain in any store!

We buy one from Trader Joe's

We buy one from Trader Joe's that's not on this list: Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 33.8 oz size with a picture of a tree on the label. Any thoughts? It does say that it's a product of Spain, but what other information should we be looking for?

The fact that the TJ Spanish

The fact that the TJ Spanish oil is sold in clear glass (allowing ultraviolet light to pass through and initiate peroxidation of the oil) and has a plastic lid (permeable to oxygen) are bad signs for the oil, even if what was put into the bottle initially was of good quality.

It does, actually. The degree

It does, actually. The degree of permeability varies by plastic type, but the oxygen transmission rate of metal or glass is zero, while it is non-zero for any plastic: polyvinyl dichloride has a rate of 0.15-0.9 cm3xmil /100 in2·d, PET has a rate of 3-5, and HDPE 139-150.

More important is whether or not a closure actually seals on the bottle, whatever material the closure is made of.

And yet the absolutely

And yet the absolutely highest rated oil reviewed above (the Kalamata) is also packaged in clear glass, while one of the worst (the Spanish) was in a dark olive bottle.

Not saying I wouldn't prefer otherwise, but ultimately time from bottling to shelf and the quality of what is IN the bottle dramatically outweighs the packaging consideration unless you're going to be storing it yourself in sub-optimal conditions for a very long time.

I've been reading dozens of

I've been reading dozens of reviews about olive oils and found three which actually listed Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 33.8 oz size as the best and purest low-cost olive oil available. Just bought a bottle myself, but haven't tried it yet. Supposedly, once you open a bottle you should use it within a month, so I better finish the two I have open first.

I can probably help clear

I can probably help clear this up. You're actually talking about two different oils. Tracy Marks is talking about this one, which isn't one of the ones you tested:

http://www.seriouseats.com/images/20090930-oliveoil4.jpg

As mentioned above, the clear glass bottle and plastic top are not encouraging but I've found the oil to be quite good -- though I'm not an expert. I've been choosing the TJ's Kalamata for years but occasionally grab some of this as well.

Dan's got it. The Spanish

Dan's got it. The Spanish that is so well reviewed everywhere is the non organic variety he linked to.

Worth noting it's also the highest by far in Phenolic Compounds of all 5 TJ's oils tested using NMR (including the California Estate with it's green bottle):

http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/phenolic-compounds-olive-oils-bought-califo...

Meanwhile, despite the lovely flavor of the Kalamata it's actually the lowest of the 5 in health beneficial phenols. Looks like I'll be taste testing the Spanish one when my Kalamata and Estate bottles run out!

thanks for this trader joe's

thanks for this trader joe's primer. i will pass the info on to everyone i know who shops at joe's.
i can't get a liter of oil to last beyond a few weeks and can not imagine buying one today that would be around my kitchen in 2015.

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