Monday, March 24, 2014

Costco Wholesale v. Trader Joe's: Who has the besto pesto?

The color difference between Trader Joe's prepared pesto (dark green) and Costco Wholesale's pesto is dramatic when used on a smoked wild-salmon frittata just out of the oven, above. Costco's refrigerated product also has more flavor and costs less per ounce.


After Costco Wholesale unveiled its own prepared basil pesto under the Kirkland Signature house brand, I ended the three-decade practice of making my own at home.

I used a blender recipe from Italian chef Marcella Hazan that calls for 2 full cups of fresh basil leaves -- the key to achieving the flavor and aroma that reminds me so much of spring.

I first tasted pesto with pasta in Nice, on the French Riviera, in the early 1970s, and continued to order it in restaurants in Manhattan and New Jersey, but only that first plate rivaled the flavor of Hazan's version.

I even tweaked her recipe by eliminating the butter, making sure I packed the 2 cups of basil leaves and using less salt, given the sodium in the grated cheese used to make the pesto.

Checkout at Trader Joe's in Paramus is really customer friendly. The employee removes items from your cart, scans them, bags them and puts the bag or bags in your cart -- usually. But Trader Joe's doesn't give customers credit for bringing reusable bags. For that, you'll have to go to ShopRite and Whole Foods Market.

False start

Prepared pesto showed up at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack a few years ago. I tried it once and was disappointed. For one thing, it was too salty.

Then, it was replaced by Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto, which uses 100% Genovese basil from Italy, extra-virgin olive oil; Pecorino Romano, a sheep's milk cheese, also from Italy; and the pine nuts that are used in every Italian recipe.

Trader Joe's or Trader Giotto's Genova Pesto doesn't indicate where its basil comes from, and it uses "olive oil" and walnuts, instead of pine nuts.

Genova is Genoa, the Italian port city where pesto originated.

Trader Giotto's pesto has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates than Costco's pesto.

But it also has less flavor, and when I prepared organic whole-wheat shells with Trader Joe's pesto, I felt the dish needed salt. I added freshly cracked black pepper instead.

Organic whole-wheat shells from Whole Foods Market with Trader Giotto's Genova Pesto.

More fiber, protein

Besides more flavor, Costco's pesto has more fiber and more protein than Trader Joe's pesto, and costs less per ounce. 

Both are refrigerated products, and Costco's version has a "use or freeze by" date clearly visible on the side of the plastic jar. I can't read the date in smaller type on the bottom of the Trader Joe's plastic container, especially against the dark-green pesto.

Trader Giotto's Genova Pesto comes in a 7-ounce container for $2.99 -- probably not enough to dress a pound of its own organic whole-wheat pasta.

You can also use pesto as a sandwich spread, and to garnish frittatas, omelets and other egg dishes; broiled fish, baked sweet potatoes and more.

If you buy three containers of Trader Joe's pesto (21 ounces) for about $9, you'd be an ounce shy of Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto's 22-ounce jar, which costs $7.99.

A need to restrict your salt intake is the only reason I can see for buying Trader Giotto's pesto instead of Costco's version. 

A wedge of frittata with Trader Joe's pesto on top of leftover organic whole-wheat spaghetti with garlic and spinach makes for a filling breakfast.

Fresh, wild-caught Atlantic cod fillets from Costco Wholesale ($7.99 a pound) coated in a Super Spice Mixture, and roasted at 375 degrees for 10 minutes to 15 minutes, depending on their thickness. You also could dispense with the spices, cook the fish with a spritz of fresh lime juice and spoon on pesto when you take the fillets out of the oven. More pesto could go on the organic brown rice with canned kidney beans I prepared in an electric cooker.


  1. I too gave up on Costco Pesto before they came out with the Kirkland Signature Genovese Pesto. I have a home in Italy, visit Liguria often and can attest that this is the real deal. It is an excellent pesto...I have now retired my mortar and pestle.

    1. Thanks. I love your comment. How big is that house in Italy? Room for a guest?

    2. I might have to try this. I make my own version of pesto but seems expensive. I might have to measure ounce by ounce and compare. I do tweek it a bit to make less expensive. I use walnuts and some pecans and use Romano and parm cheese. I buy a pound of basil and use extra virgin and reg olive oil. It's delicious and I freeze it. Must try this and be totally conscious of all ingredients and compare. We live pesto and use it as often when we have it. It's great on chicken with a mex twist.

    3. Thanks, Simonette. I've been buying organic pignoli or pine nuts at Costco and using a handful as garnish over a dish of pasta with pesto.

  2. Does anybody know how long the Kirkland pesto lasts once it's opened? I see the "use or freeze by" date, but I didn't know if there is a time limit to how quickly it must be used once it has been opened.

    1. Hi. I have a have a half-full bottle of the Kirkland pesto with a use or freeze by date of Oct. 28, and I expect it to stay fresh-tasting at least until then, if the past is any guide. I've noticed that the use-by date has been extended recently from the pesto I bought in the past.

      I've also frozen the pesto on the date marked on bottle, and it tasted fine after it was defrosted, in which case you should use it as soon as possible.

  3. Do anyone knows the source of enzymes in the Parmesan cheese, used in the Basil pesto is it animal sourced or not?

    1. No. I don't.

      Rennet is an enzyme found in an animal's stomach that turns milk into cheese. But there also are industrial enzymes, according to this:

  4. My husband purchased the Kirkland Pesto and put it in the cupboard. I see now, 2 days later. it reads "Keep Refrigerated" on the label. Is it still usable if it has not been opened?

    1. I wouldn’t take the chance, but you can return the jar for a full refund given Costco’s generous return policy.

      The Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto is displayed in a refrigerated case, and the use by or freeze dates are pretty reliable. But I wouldn’t use it if it hasn’t been refrigerated for two days.


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