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

It's *Filippo* Berio. It

It's *Filippo* Berio. It failed the 2010 University of California at Davis test:
http://www.olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/files/oliveoilfinal071410upd...

... and again, more egregiously, in 2011:
http://oliveoil.ucdavis.edu/research/files/report041211finalreduced.pdf

It did poorly when tested by Good Housekeeping, too:
http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-reviews/food-products/best-olive...

... though their methods are unclear: it seems they did no chemical testing, and it's not clear whether their tasters were trained or not.

There have been quite a few

There have been quite a few olive oil tests done using the kind of rigorous chemical and/or trained sensory testing that UC Davis did. Unfortunately, most of those were done in foreign countries and tested brands that are rarely seen in American stores, so they tell you more about how universal the problem is than it tells you about what to buy. The one that's probably most useful to US consumers is this one from Australia, done by the consumer's interest group Choice:
http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/food-and-health/food-and-drin...

Others include:
http://www.nationalpost.com/m/story.html?id=2684736
http://www.masdesbories.com/html/fraud_alert.html
http://www.theolivepress.es/2010/11/26/oily-business/
http://www.thefreelibrary.com/PURITY+OF+OLIVE+OIL+QUESTIONED.-a083901838
http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?hl=en&ie=UTF8&prev=_t...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqxZkhxtNbI&feature=youtu.be
http://tvnz.co.nz/fair-go/wednesday-may-16-4891431
http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20093103653.html
http://www.aoc-lesbauxdeprovence.com/__gestdocs/documents/articles_de_pr...
http://translate.google.ca/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie...

(Note that several of these are machine translations of stories reported in foreign-language news venues).

Of course, Tom's own bust of "The Olive and the Grape" was invaluable, as are his guides to supermarket brands, this one on TJ's, and above all his source for reputable sellers of ultra-premium EVOO.

Over the past year we have

Over the past year we have come to the same conclusion and prefer the kalamata olive oil to all the others from Trader Joes! Great palates think alike! lol

Thank you so much for doing

Thank you so much for doing this. Dr. Oz had discussed this subject and ever since then, I've wondered if I'm buying a good one or not. I always purchased the "Giotto's" brand but thanks to your findings, I will switch to one of your recommended brands.

I can't help but think that

I can't help but think that the quality would vary from store to store and bottle to bottle, but it is interesting to read this. What exactly is the drawback to having olives from different countries? Tunisia has a Med climate and grows excellent olives and oranges. Is it just the fact that the label makes it sound 100% Italian?

I am very olive oil

I am very olive oil illiterate, but my sisters use it a lot. Can you tell me what are the uses for extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and olive oil? Also, I live in a small town. We don't have a Trader Joe's; is there a brand I can buy?
Thanks.

I live in New England and at

I live in New England and at my Trader Joe's i don't see any of those oils pictured or mentioned. My every-day oil is the Sicilian, and I think TJ's has such a rapid turnover that their bottles are always fresh. Granted, it does not give me the hillside or tree from which the olives came, but I like it better than many others I've purchased for much more. On my last trip there was a new oil in a square bottle: 'Novello Italian Reserve EVOO', harvested and bottled Nov 2013. Again, just noted as a "product of Italy" with no particular region mentioned. But I figure this is like a negociant in the wine business - they gather from a lot of small producers and press at a central location.

Is there something inherently

Is there something inherently wrong with Spanish olive oils? I have heard that more pesticides are used in Spain, and in other countries, as compared to Italy. Is this true?

Thanks.

Hi, today I purchased a

Hi, today I purchased a bottle of Trader Joe's olive oil mentioned (above) by Tracy Marks on 9/26/13: "Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 33.8 oz size". Image of label -- url/pic posted (above) by Dan on Jan 29 2014: http://www.seriouseats.com/images/20090930-oliveoil4.jpg Info on back label includes: "product of Spain, first pressing (cold press method), a unique mix of
hojiblanca, picqual, and arbequina olives. Produced under high quality standards in Andalusia Spain."
I opened the bottle and tasted, it seems unusual to me, and I'm not sure if this is good or rancid or even truly EVOO. For health reasons I desired to purchase a true cold-pressed EVOO. This product was recommended by TJ employee, she said I can return if not satisfied. Below are some observations, I welcome thoughts or feedback, thank you.
* BBD on bottle 03/12/2015.
* Bottle clear glass.
* Cap plastic with plastic insert -- is oil pouring through toxic plastic?
* Oil color pale golden yellow, thin consistency.
* Tastes watery, lightly of olive flavor, bitter/biting aftertaste.
* Not yet any solidifying after 6 hours in my refrigerator.
Much appreciation in advance to anyone who may respond :-)

I use the TJ's Spanish all

I use the TJ's Spanish all the time, its not exactly robust, it is in my opinion better than the others at the same price, and considerably better than grocery store standards. They were out of Spanish last time I was there and got the Giotto's and it did have a hint of rancid I have never noticed in the Spanish. It is fine for cooking when you don't want added taste, like fried eggs. I don't use it for things you want a robust olive oil taste for though, like pastas or salads with dark greens. If you are whipping up a dijon vinaigrette its fine for that.
Most olive oils pour through plastic unless you take that pour thingy out.
The long and short of it really is if you want a better quality expect to pay for it. The quality ones at TJ's are still an exceptional bargain for the price point.

I've seen a brand called

I've seen a brand called Petria at a local Indian foods store. The price for a 3 liter can of EVVO was $19.99. I haven't been able to dig up much info on the brand online. Do you know anything about it?
Thanks

The California Estate is what

The California Estate is what I always get.

And really--who has a bottle of olive oil sit around for a year? I go through at least a bottle a month (family of 4, but only 2 go for salad dressing). Which is also why we don't get the better but pricier oils elsewhere--this one is a good compromise on price vs flavor.

Hi Tom, thanks for all your

Hi Tom, thanks for all your research and info. What about Trader Joe's, Trader Giotto's 100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 16.9 ounces, green glass bottle with green label, $ 5.99? Looking forward to hearing from you! Take care! Gayle

A TJ's manager just told me

A TJ's manager just told me today that they discontinued the Kalamata. I was so disappointed! I only got to try one bottle and I'm nearly out! I'll have to move on to the next on your list. Thanks for tasting for us!

Thanks Tom, bought TJ's 100%

Thanks Tom, bought TJ's 100% Greek Kalamata on your recommendation and created some Sicilian pasta con sarde to die for. I suppose I've been using crap for so long I didn't know what real olive oil tastes like.

It tastes like olives. It tastes good.

Wow... what a great service

Wow... what a great service you have done here for legions of perplexed EVOO buyers. Thank you so very much for your kindness in testing the oils and doing the write-up.

Exactly. I usually buy

Exactly. I usually buy extravirgin olive oil at Whole Foods or Heinen's (in Ohio) but found myself at TJ's and decided to try the "President's Reserve." What a crock. Granted I am prejudiced. I lived 15 years in Italy and my in-laws made their own olive oil. But the TJ "President's Reserve" is just change oil with green food coloring. Boo hiss. They give it a lot of fancy names to make up for the lack of quality. Don't waste your money. As a matter of fact I was at Walmart of all places and decided to try their store brand Extravirgin. It's way better than the TJ's.

Almost a year after Tom's

Almost a year after Tom's review of Trader Joe's olive oils...

Just today I bought a bottle of the 100% Greek Kalamata EV olive oil. I was a bit disappointed and wasn't impressed with it. It didn't have much of the spicy, complex fresh taste that Tom mentioned a year ago. It was fairly mild and low in flavor. I want to think that this oil was from the fall 2013 harvest but I'm not sure. The Best By date was 9/5/2015. Maybe the fall 2013 harvest produced a less flavorful oil than the one Tom tasted in Aug. 2013, which presumably was from the fall 2012 harvest. But I wouldn't be totally surprised if this was the same oil Tom reviewed, just bottled in Sept. 2013 so it gets a 2-year BBD, and it's just getting very tired. But without a Harvest Date we don't know. I actually wrote to Trader Joe's to see if I can get that information from them.

Curious to know others' experience.

I was quite pleased with with

I was quite pleased with with the Kalamata Oil even if it's not quite as complex as the California Estate that has been my TJ's go-to for a few years now at a slightly higher price.

It thought it had a more forward olive taste than the Estate but still a good helping of the familiar peppery phenolic cough inducing quality I associate with better oils.

Easily the best EVOO I've come across at this price point. If there are others which are superior at the same price or less I'd love to hear about them. As of today it's my budget EVOO of choice.

I use the tj's spanish in the

I use the tj's spanish in the the clear bottle as my go-to for just about everything except something you really want a fresh olive taste, like with bread or a aglio olio or something like that. i am really confused as to the other -- there is a tj's organic spanish in a dark bottle that is garlic infused and extremely potent with the garlic, i use it for cooking, if you don't cook it down its overwhelming, and if you taste tested it you would make faces.

Costco has a Kirkland brand

Costco has a Kirkland brand "Extra Virgin" Olive oil that actually has a HARVEST DATE! Can you believe it? Not some arbitrary future date 2 years past when it is rancid. I prefer my oil less than 6 months old please.

Thanks for sharing about the

Thanks for sharing about the Kirkland dated oil. How does it taste? Any oleocanthal cough?

I'm all about fresh oil, but I'm more concerned with the actual flavor and what my palate tells me of it's freshness than what's stamped on the bottle.

Also how big are the containers? I steer clear of huge tins that will take me many months to finish in favor of smaller bottles from places with extremely high turnover so that they're not sitting on my own shelf for too long. (which only defeats the purpose of acquiring a particularly fresh oil)

It's in a 1 liter tinted

It's in a 1 liter tinted glass bottle. I would characterize the taste as simple "pleasant" since I lack the proper vocabulary and experience in grading them. Usually I get my oil from The Virgin Olive Oiler store nearby and we go through a liter or more a month with 2 people. People don't know what they are missing by using only a fresh olive oil and a flavored basalmic vinegar in place of salad dressing!

I'm not sure if I replied to

I'm not sure if I replied to this yet, but; I think the Kirkland oil is pleasant enough but I am not an expert on tastes. The bottle is med sized dark tinted glass and heavy. It takes me and my wife about a month to 6 weeks to go through one when using it as salad dressing (with flavored basalmic vinegar).

Thank you for this!

Thank you for this!

(I see that this post is a year old, but I just came across it after a google search. I heard about you through Food Renegade's website.)

I agree. I import and brand a

I agree. I import and brand a PICUAL EVOO from Jaen Spain under the brand Olivar Santamaria. Our focus is to show consumers that YES you can buy REAL EVOO and it is not difficult nor super expensive. Our Gold Winner PICUAL is:
1) traceable to Jaen, spain so the denomination of origin is clearly stated
2) Lot number and best before date clearly marked on our bottles
3) Variety is prominently marked on our bottles
4) and Extra Virgin marked on the bottles because it is Extra Virgin.

I performed the refrigerator

I performed the refrigerator test on the "Packed in Italy" product. It didn't congeal, didn't even cloud over. I suspect it might not even be 100% olive oil.

After watching 60 minutes,

After watching 60 minutes, hearing and seeing the nightmare of the olive oil industry in Italy, I wonder if any imported isn't tainted with "other" oils or chemicals to doctor it up.

Recently I purchased an oil

Recently I purchased an oil from Trader Joe's that I found on their new items shelves in Dec 2015. It is Extra Virgin Laconia Greek Olive Oil. Packaged in a tin container, 51 FL ounces $9.99. It has the package date 8/11/15 and best before date 2/11/17. It also has the PGA certification. It is delicious!

Thank you Tom for your

Thank you Tom for your analysis, especially of Supermarket oils. There is so much to learn about quality in foods that it really helps to have an ally that knows something about their subject.

I'm an Olive Oil addict, and

I'm an Olive Oil addict, and appreciate the input on Olive Oils (extra virgin)
Live very close to Trader Joes, so heads up on their Best Choices is helpful.
This is an EYE OPENER! Always assumed EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL is indeed just that, apparently not.

I have finally found the most

I have finally found the most amazing olive oil. It is organic, extra virgin, estate olive oil from Greece. It is called Kassandrinos. I have NEVER had an olive oil like this. It has a harvest date and bottle date and use by date is never more than a year. It is a it more pricey but totally worth every dollar spent.

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