Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil sounds interesting, looks off-putting and costs $9.99 a can. Maybe you’re intrigued by it – but can you really justify such a purchase? If you write a blog where that’s your only function you can!
Let me save you some time, and ten bucks, right now. This oil is not worth your hard earned cash, but before I start maligning it, let’s talk about what Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil is in the first place.
Toasted pumpkin seed oil owes its entire, modern day existence to the region Styria in south east Austria. Styria is probably most famous for being the home of 2004’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner Elfriede Jelinek. If for some reason you’re unfamiliar with Jelinek’s musical use of voices and counter voices in such important works as The Piano Teacher, then I should probably mention that Sytria is also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At any rate, toasted pumpkin seed oil is, as Trader Joe’s puts it, “a distinct culinary specialty in Styria”. The fact of that matter is, that’s a gross understatement. The pumpkin as we know it is a New World crop – with no existence in Europe until Chrisopher Columbus brought some back with him from his exotic expeditions. The famous orange gourd spread to Austria where, in the 1600’s, someone got the bright idea to roast the pumpkin seeds then, instead of eating them like a barbaric ape, run them through a press and collect the intensely dark green/brown oil that dribbled out. It was an instant hit.
Such a hit, in fact, that the Empress of Austria felt compelled to ban the stuff in 1773 out of fear that people were guzzling it all up. The edict stated: “This healthy oil is unique and much too precious for using it in tasty meals and therefore should rather be used as a medicine. So it shall not be used as a culinary delicacy anymore but shall be collected and distributed only by the apothecaries.”
The medicinal qualities of the oil being somewhat dubious, it eventually returned to general use in Austria where it is generally consumed in one of three common ways: as a simple salad dressing, as a dip for bread or, strangely, as a condiment for vanilla ice cream. What it absolutely cannot be used for is cooking. Trader Joe’s even warns you against this right on the can, and I quote: “Don’t use it for cooking as it burns easily.”
Given all that, plus the high price tag, plus the strange and enigmatic can, you’re bound to assume this is some dynamite stuff, right?
Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this obscure oil, I was totally nonplussed by it. The big selling point of the pumpkin seed oil is its “intense nutty flavor”. And it certainly is true that the oil has a strong nutty taste – but it also tastes an awful lot like slightly burnt pumpkin seeds. Stronger, and longer lingering, than the nutty taste is this slightly charred taste, and of course the very pumpkin-y flavor of the pepitas.
On paper that still sounds like it should be reasonably good, but in reality it was very flat, and somewhat bland. Feeling certain that I must be wrong, I conducted an informal tasting panel with the oil and some of Trader Joe’s fine artisanal bread. All four voices found the same as myself – the oil is okay, but there’s nothing particularly winning about it. As one taste tester put it – it’s fine, I’d eat it if I had it in front of me, but I’d never request it. When you’re trying to sell 250ml of oil for ten bucks, that’s quite the damning review.
I’ll wrap this up on two final thoughts. The first, and most perplexing, is why Trader Joe’s didn’t wait until their annual Pumpkin Madness in October to trot out this product. It really doesn’t seem to have enough value to stand on it’s own, but it would have looked wonderful next to the pumpkin cider and pumpkin trees.
Second, my favorite thing about the oil was it’s color. The TJ’s product copy calls it “eerily dark green”, and while that’s about right it’d actually be more accurate to say it’s “eerily dichromatic”. When you pour this oil onto a white plate, it’s a thick blackish red, almost like a balsamic vinegar. When spread out thin, however, it becomes an intense spring green. That may not be enough to win me over, but it is pretty cool.
Really, the main issue here is that Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As far as bread dips and salad dressings go, it’s alright but I’d go for some nice olive oil of this stuff every time. At least I can cook with the olive oil. If it wanted a little extra nuttiness I’d pick up some dukkah as well.
Like the Himalyan Salt with Truffles before it, Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil might make a good gift for your gourmand buddy, but that’s about it. It’s not that the oil is without value, it’s just not worth the price of admission.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless they drop the price.
Would I Buy It Again: No, I already have more than I need.
Final Synopsis: A nutty specialty oil that costs more than it’s worth.